Self-compassion is what you need to overturn the pity and negative emotions that come with every fat day. When you look at the reasons why you are overeating, and recognize that you were only doing the best you could with the limited resources you had, you will forgive yourself and break the cycle of shame. According to Geneen Roth, an international teacher, speaker, and writer of best-selling books on emotional eating, a binge is your body’s way of having a tantrum. In a healthy relationship with food, what you eat is intended to nourish your body physically. When your body’s energy reserves run low, your brain receives the message from your organs that you need to eat to build up your energy.
What is ‘mouth hunger?’
To the emotional eater, when you feel emotionally threatened, overwhelmed, unsafe or in trouble, you will experience a psychological type of hunger that is known as “mouth hunger.” Unlike the slow and gradual build up of your body’s physical hunger, “mouth hunger” is rapid fire and impulsive; sweeping over you like a wave of emptiness. Although your body is not actually in physical need of food, it responds as though it is desperately hungry. Oftentimes during these times you’ll experience stomach pains or cramps. According to Dr. Nancy Bonios, strong emotions like sadness and hurt can feel like deep pits of emptiness and trigger your body’s unconscious desire to eat.
My Experience of Dealing with Depression by Gaining Weight
I can relate to this sensation of instant hunger that comes with intense and overwhelming emotions. For years I went through a long depression, grieving the absence of several loved ones in my life. I felt so sad, so hurt and deeply betrayed. As a result I gained about 40 pounds.
Now when I look at my bigger body and notice the rolls of fat and extra chunkiness, I don’t feel angry or disgusted, but rather I feel sad and deeply self-compassionate. I was raised in an alcoholic and abusive home so self-compassion was a foreign concept to me. In fact I used to think of that as being weak and stupid.
I was 45 when I recognized my father was a toxic person in my life. Before then I used to idolize him. I made excuses for him convincing myself that it was okay for him to verbally and emotionally abuse me. Somewhere along the way I picked up the bad habit of talking to myself in the same shaming and dismissive way he used to talk to me. I don’t do that anymore.
Now I recognize that his inability to love and accept me is his loss, not mine. There’s a lot that I can’t control, but I can commit to be kinder to myself every day. I give that to myself in the form of self-compassion and self-care.
The sadness I feel comes from a deep regret of the precious time lost for all the years where I felt the unconscious need to stuff my emotions because I didn’t know how to speak up for myself.
My Fat Has Served Me Well
I know that my fat has served me well. For a long time, it felt like eating was the only thing that I could do to handle the drama that was going on in my life. For years as a child, living in a chaotic home, it allowed me to hide and be invisible. Just like a baby needing a pacifier to calm them, food has been my go-to whenever my emotions have gone on overload.
Hiding stashes of food to eat in secret gave me a sense of being able to control some small part of my life. But now so many decades later, I’ve found my voice and discovered a new source of strength. And although I still struggle with some of my old habits of emotional eating, I’m ready to release the weight. Because I recognize that I’m worth living a long and happy life.
At 56, I realize that nobody is going to give me back the time I lost. And as long as my weight presses down on my heart and organs, the clock is ticking on my life. So I officially give up and relieve myself of the job of trying to manage everyone else’s life, Now I can finally focus on taking care of myself. I’m not worried about losing weight quickly or looking cute to fit into a dress, because I’ve already taken the biggest step to creating mental, physical and emotional health for myself. Letting go.
My experience of learning to listen to my body’s hunger
As a woman who has struggled with emotional eating for over 45 years, I always thought that the reasons behind my overeating, stemmed from my lack of self-discipline, and weak-in-the-knees will power. At least that’s what I was told by my father since I was a kid. As I grew to adulthood, I swore that I had a bottomless hunger which could never really be satisfied.
As a consequence of that, I always used to think of myself as a ‘volume eater’, dare I say it, “a garbage can.” It didn’t much matter if I ate a whole bag of potato chips, a pint of ice cream, and a pound of chocolates during a binge or an entire bag of frozen steamed vegetables and a head of lettuce with diet dressing when I was “in the zone.” I just always thought of myself as a big eater and accepted that as being who I was.
When I made the decision to stop dieting and learn to pay attention to my body’s physical hunger and eat in response to it, I was amazed at how often I was getting triggered with stomach pains that I mistook for being hunger signals. I thought that I was hungry, but in some cases after only eating a full meal less than an hour earlier, I knew that I wasn’t. As I began to delve deeper and explore my emotional needs, and took steps to meet them, those pains disappeared.
As I began to see things differently and questioned much of what I believed that kept me angry, scared and feeling small, my runaway appetite began to diminish. It was a miracle to me that my bottomless hunger could actually be satisfied without eating huge amounts of food.
Today I’m a Happy Vegetarian
I began this journey with a decision to stop dieting back in August of 2007. For most of my life, I’ve eaten anything and everything with no concern for my health,assuming I would live forever.
Last year after visiting my mother in Florida and seeing her deteriorate so quickly that was the wake up call I needed to get really serious about making changes to protect my health.
Today, 11 years after giving up dieting, I am very happy to say that food and I have a much more loving relationship. Back in February I made a decision that I wanted to stop eating meat. My reasons had to do with discovering the cruelty that animals face in the food industry. That was my trigger point for change. Since then I’ve watched a ton of YouTube videos and done additional research and learned more about the medical benefits of my decision.
For the past 13 months I’ve been very happily living as a vegetarian, so I don’t eat meat anymore. I don’t see it as giving up anything, rather as adding more life to my years.
Although this decision was triggered by my love of animals, it gains strength each day by my commitment to improve my health and to avoid disease. I recently learned that in addition to animal products, dairy is also directly associated with disease.
I’m not looking to convert anyone who is not ready, because I respect the process of change. Now my biggest priority is getting healthier. Because nothing is more important to me than recapturing my health and vitality, I am quickly moving towards veganism; a whole food/plant-based style of eating.
I feel strongly that I’ve been able to make these radical lifestyle changes at this point in my life because I spent so many years learning how to have a more peaceful relationship with food. As a result of that I have been able to tap into how my body feels and recognize that there are several foods that make me feel ill when I eat them. I would never have been able to accept this in the past because I would have seen this as restriction and deprivation.
Now I recognize that avoiding those foods is an act of love, nurturing and self-respect. As a recovering emotional eater, I learned that no amount of Oreos, potato chips or pasta can heal the emotional hurts in a hungry heart. Now I know that asking for a hug or opening up to express myself is a million times better and more effective than trying to reach for some fleeting sense of fulfillment and happiness found in a cookie jar. Tangible substances like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and food can not fulfill our deeper emotional needs.
Here are several tips to help you begin your own recovery:
No more deprivation Stop dieting and eat the foods you love and toss out the rest. Begin to choose foods to eat for the sake of enjoyment and satisfaction. Toss out all the old fear-based beliefs and judgments. Food is just food. It’s not good or bad. You don’t get extra points for eating a celery stick if what you really want is a piece of cake. It’s so important to change the way you think about food and create a new healthy balanced relationship with it.
Forgive yourself It seems so silly but it’s such an important part of the process of learning to make peace with food and friends with your body. By being willing to let go and be okay with yourself after you’ve eaten too much, you significantly reduce the level of stress in your body. After all, if you give into the old habits of body bashing and beating up on yourself, you’ll only compound your frustration and that will eventually bring you full circle to your next binge.
Question the ‘shoulds’ We’re always in the process of judging ourselves, others and the world around us. When something doesn’t meet our standards, we feel disappointed, ashamed, frustrated, and often an aching sense of loss.
When you feel “mouth hunger” be open to considering the presence of these emotions. By taking time to re-evaluate and pay attention to what rules and beliefs drove you to eat in the first place, you’ll go a long way toward becoming more self aware. Increased awareness brings with it a sense of peacefulness and a greater opportunity for compassion.
In their book, “When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies: Freeing Yourself from Food and Weight Obsession,” authors, Jane Hirschmann, C.S.W. and Carol Munter, C.E.D.S say, “once you learn to stop yelling at yourself for eating in a ‘regressive way’, you can move on to explore the real feelings of disappointment that produce your mouth hunger.”
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- What needs to happen for me to allow myself to feel successful?
- What makes me think of myself as a failure?
Also challenge the limiting ‘should’ beliefs that keep you in self-pity. For example:
- I should be more independent, expressive, satisfied, sensitve, etc.
- I should be more like her, thinner, more successful, more accomplished, etc.
- I should be stronger, better, more capable, wiser than that, more understanding, etc.
Accept where you are right now In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming, a branch of psychology devoted to teaching people to have more choices in life) there’s a saying, “it’s only feedback, not failure.” As the late great Heath Ledger’s Joker says in Batman: The Dark Knight, “It’s all part of the plan.” Changing your eating habits is a process. It will take time. You will learn from each of your ‘mistakes.” Without them, you would never know how far you’ve come.
Tap into a bit of fresh perspective One of the things that I learned from my mentor, Jack Canfield is the formula to build up a healthy self esteem: IALAC. (I am lovable and capable.) Repeat this sentence to yourself silently while either alone or in the presence of others, “No matter what you say or do to me, I’m still a worthwhile person.”
If you’re not buying it, and you’re still hating on yourself for overeating, tap on the side of your hand as you repeat it several more times. Tapping on this part of your hand activates acupressure endpoints or channels on the body which helps you release stress build up and eases the tension.
Commit to Listen to Your Body Every time you reach for food when you’re not hungry, know that this is your body’s way of telling you that you’re in need of something else besides food. Be curious and willing to find out what that is.
In closing, it’s so important that you understand that only you can break the cycle of your shame and guilt around overeating. I’m here to help. Are you ready? Still feeling fat and frustrated, obsessed about picking yourself apart for overeating? Don’t beat up on yourself. Join my Facebook group, “30 Days to Lovin’ the Skin You’re In” and get a fresh perspective. Because seriously your body is not the problem, but hating yourself is. Let me teach you how you can re-parent yourself by using self-compassion and stress-relief to boost your confidence, feel better and get healthier from the inside-out.