Let me take you back to Valentine's Day 2006 -- the height of my obsession with food.
I was 26, a first-time homeowner, married, and at my lowest adult weight. Random people at the inn where I worked, both coworkers and guests, seemed to approve.
"You're so tiny!" my boss said.
"How do you stay in such great shape?" asked a fellow front desk employee.
"You look like a model," said a 50-something judge visiting from New York. (I was neither tall enough nor slender enough to be a model; men who are hitting on women half their age assume looking like a model is the best a woman can do in life.)
From the outside, my life probably looked pretty good.
On the inside, however, things were much less shiny.
I wasn't very happy in my marriage. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I was obsessed with losing weight. I hated my body. I had a serious obsession with food, thinking about it almost constantly.
Except when I was exercising, of course; then I was concentrating on keeping my abs tight.
I remember that Valentine's Day clearly, not because it was incredibly romantic and made my marriage better (in fact, we split four months later), nor because we did something out of the ordinary.
No, I remember it because planning the menu consumed me.
I thought of almost nothing else for what must have been a week straight, maybe two. I obsessively researched recipes, went over the details of the meal (especially the dessert) over and over and over, and felt haunted by thoughts of how the meal would look, how it would taste.
Nearly a decade later, I don't actually remember what I served as the main course, but I do remember what I served for dessert: Heart-shaped (of course) vegan (because I was on yet another restrictive diet) chocolate (because even in the depths of my crazy, I could never break up with chocolate -- nor will I ever) mini cakes with raspberry filling (you know, 'cause it's red like a heart).
It's not an exaggeration to say thoughts of this cake were consuming my soul. (Okay, it's a little bit of an exaggeration.)
You know what happened when I served and ate that cake?
In fact, it was kind of disappointing.
There was no way that teeny cake could have ever fulfilled what I was missing. I thought I wanted something that tasted good, something decadent, something special to eat.
But that wasn't it at all.
No amount of obsession with food made me happy. And I did plenty of it: meticulously planning my meals, fixating on the "best" way to eat, inventing new recipes that would be healthy "enough," combing restaurant menus for days before an outing so I could plan my meal well in advance.
It makes me shudder to think of it.
So let's move forward. Let me tell you how I ended my obsession with food, and how you can do it, too, even if you aren't in quite such a dark place.
There are really only two things that I did:
I let myself eat the food.
I stopped trying to lose weight.
When I was in the midst of my eating disorder and obsession with food, I am positive I read a book or two or 10 that said those exact same things, but I didn't want to hear it.
I absolutely could not let go of the idea that I had to lose weight. And in order to lose weight, of course, I had to not let myself eat the food. Not the food I wanted, not the food that was "fattening," not the food that was "unhealthy," not the amount of food that would satisfy me. (Of course, all of that went out the window when I was binge eating.)
If you're stuck in this place yourself, please let me save you years and years of pain: no amount of hating your body will ever make you thin enough or good enough. No amount of food restriction or research on the right way to eat will ever make you healthy enough.
In short: You are already enough. Right now. Right this second.
And when you let that wash over you, when you feel yourself believing it, let yourself imagine what life would hold for you if you felt that way all the time.
IT FEELS SO MUCH BETTER!
(I had to yell that so you'd know it was important.)
This actually leads me to one more thing that I did to end my obsession with food:
I found ways to fulfill my real needs.
This one is kind of hard. I have a theory that some of us who get stuck in obsession with food and body do so because we're afraid to concentrate on what's really important to us.
It's easier to let yourself believe that when you're thin enough you'll attract the right mate, or feel confident enough to take that tap class, or brave enough to start your own business.
Do it now.
Live today like you're already enough (because you are).
In short, if you want to end your obsession with food, you have to:
Allow yourself to eat whatever you want.
Stop trying to lose weight.
Figure out what it is you really want out of life.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.