The conversation around our relationship with food is very dear to me because my struggle with food and eating took me to my first rock-bottom. And rock-bottom is always a good thing: it gives you no choice but to heal.
From a very young age (like, before-kindergarten-young), I coped with my environment by focusing on what I could control: what I allowed myself to eat. The benefit, as I saw it at the time, of monitoring what I ate was to become as thin as possible, and to feel good about my “right” food choices. Besides, thin is good and people like that. I’d learned this rule very early on and followed it religiously.
The real benefit of staying preoccupied with food is that I stayed tuned-out to the inner pain that I didn’t understand or know what to do with at the time. This strategy successfully got me through high school, out of the house, and into college.
Like most of the coping mechanisms we teach ourselves when we’re very young, mine outlived its usefulness. After a lifetime dieting, I was very disconnected from myself, from my body. I was fifty football fields away from knowing what emotion I felt. I stayed quite busy but my world was really empty of meaning.
I had no clue how bad I felt.
But I got a clue, toward Christmas one year. The boy I’d been dating for the past three months attempted suicide. It alarmed me how much his brush with death did not alarm me. It all felt very normal. I knew it was unusual, how comfortable I felt with a deeply depressed person. I concluded it reflected that I was a “really deep” person, when really it provided a mirror of the truth of my own inner state.
I grew more preoccupied with my own eating habits. I’d eat nothing all day but go to Starbucks for a Caramel Macchiato and savor each sip. I’d eat a box of cereal after starving myself all day and feel insane amounts of guilt for days. I’d sit in my bed watching Sponge Bob Square Pants or reading poetry, drinking nothing but Diet Coke. I’d eat incredibly healthy food for a week in moderate portions, and then eat candy for five days straight.
The point of all of it was simple: to keep me busy. To keep me from feeling.
But I couldn’t stay busy enough. I felt incredibly, incredibly unhappy with the world that I’d surrounded myself with. My friendships were facades. What was the point of anything??
I was at rock-bottom.
Around this time, a new friend who would become one of my dearest, also chronically dieted. She said to me, “I wish I would just eat when I was hungry, and stop eating when I was full.”
This idea fascinated me and boggled my mind. I couldn’t shake it: she described a way of eating that required zero food rules, or food-monitoring. What would I look like, if I wasn’t on a diet?? I was so desperate for relief from the hell that I lived in that I comitted to learn to eat this way, no matter how long it took me or what it cost me to get there. I was prepared to find out what I really looked like, what I felt, when I listened to what my body wanted to eat.
I didn’t see any other options to get up off of this rock-bottom, so I took the leap.
The Yoga of Eating was born.
The Yoga of Eating saved my life.
I came up with three gate-keeping questions to ask my body before eating anything.
The Yoga of Eating got me sober around food. Like all addictions, my food-control issues were simply a symptom. I needed to reach the underlying problem and I couldn’t get there while I was “using.”
The Yoga of Eating is a meditation to heal our relationships with food.
Join me in this meditation by reflecting on your last meal. Do this to deepen your connection to yourself, and deepen your healing around eating and food.
Ask your body:
#1 Is it good? Is this food something that my body wants? That I want to put into my body? Is it good food? But this questions not only the quality of the food, but how I obtained it (was I stressed? Was I even present?) and where the food comes from. Does every step in this process feel good to my body? If I hate the grocery store that I go to, and feel angry purchasing it, is the food there really something I want to put into my body? If I don’t respect that juice company, is their product really something that I want to put into my body?
#2 Is it kind? Does my body want to eat this? Is it kind to my body to put this food into it? This one is really tough. My mind has a belief that XYZ is healthy so I should eat it. But – does my body want to eat this salad? To hear the answer to this question, we have to go inside. We have to slow way, way down. We have learned so many rules about our health and nutrition that we let our heads steer our food choices without realizing it. Your body may not want to be a healthy eater (for now). Our bodies may need to rebel against the tight reigns of control. Or, your body may want to be free from sugar and caffeine buzzes. We have to grow still enough to hear the whisper of our bodies.
#3 Is it necessary? Am I physically hungry? Is it necessary that I eat this, right now? If we’re bored, or actually looking to experience comfort, then we do not feel physical hunger. In The Yoga of Eating, we do not eat when we are not physically hunger out of respect for our bodies. Not only do we refrain from eating if we are not physically hungry, we also always, always eat when we are feeling hungry. This is the most important step in the Yoga of Eating for tuning into our bodies, to connecting to our physical sensations. If we aren’t hungry, we simply eat that good + kind food choice later. Wait an hour. And, just as importantly, we keep food with us for when we get hungry.
Each step in The Yoga of Eating is deceptively simple. Each question, like the meditation it is, requires honest reflection.
It’s taken me home to my body, again and again. My hope is that there is some aspect in The Yoga of Eating that helps you find connection to your body, too.