I used to think that food was the only thing I could depend on. It was my go-to coping mechanism when I had to deal with anything.
A bad breakup? Bust out the ice cream. Stretches of loneliness that seemed to last forever? Get out the jar of peanut butter. Anxiety about moving to a new city? Hand already in the box of Oreos.
Food was comforting, dependable, and soothing. Spoonfuls of ice cream pacified my heartache, pieces of cake calmed my anxiety, and handfuls of Cheez-Its made me forget about whatever problem I was facing.
After years of stuffing my face instead of facing my life, food began to lose its appeal. I realized it wasn't as consoling, reassuring, and encouraging as I once thought it was. Because, at the end of the day, even after nights of never ending handfuls of Oreos, I was still heartbroken, lonely, or frustrated in my job.
It was then that I realized how really afraid I was.
I was afraid to risk opening my heart to a new man after my relationship ended.
I was afraid of letting anyone see my weaknesses and terrified of vulnerability.
I was afraid to bear my soul, of allowing someone to see into the depths of my character.
I was afraid of letting my friends see who I really was, because I'd spent so much time going along to get along.
I was afraid of leaving the town I grew up in and following a path that disappointed my parents.
I was afraid of the "me" that was buried underneath all of these feelings I never expressed.
And so food became my way out of being afraid.
When we are too scared to step into the hardships and struggles of our lives, food becomes an easy out.
Moping around eating Oreos seems easier than facing the heartache and sadness of a breakup. Binging on ice cream after dinner is more appealing than accepting you don't like your stable, reliable job. Hating your body unless you are a size two is easier to swallow than realizing, that on the inside, you've never felt good enough, acceptable enough, or lovable enough.
It's easier to deal with feeling fat and being overweight than it is to mend a broken heart (scary!), follow a career we are passionate about (risky!), or allow ourselves to dream big (unrealistic!). Stuffing ourselves until we are full gives us focus, gives us a purpose.
Tomorrow, I'll run for 60 minutes and do 10 minutes of sit ups.
I'll eat healthy, lose 10 pounds by June, and look awesome in my bikini.
I'm gonna lose weight for the wedding and look fabulous -- that will show him.
Food gives us an escape, so we don't have to process all of the heartache and pain. We never have to deal with life's big questions when we are knee-deep in our obsessive focus on dieting, binging, then trying to lose weight again.
We don't have to deal with what's underneath it all:
Will I ever find love again or will I spend my life alone?
Can I create a life out of my passions and not disappoint people along the way?
How do I express my emotions and desires without feeling rejected?
How can I accept myself and my body if I only think being thin is acceptable?
Can I follow my heart even if it doesn't make sense logically?
What will really make me happy?
These are the hard questions.
Food is much easier. It's tangible, it's black and white, and it's solution oriented. When we focus on the battle of losing weight, kick starting a new diet every week and obsessing over what workouts we will do, we don't have to face the bigger, overwhelming issues and fears.
But underneath it all, they are still there. And they won't go away until they are addressed.
It takes courage to sit with the pain of loss, soul-aching sadness, or crushing disappointment that something didn't work out the way you wanted. But when you do stay with yourself, when you don't betray yourself by jumping immediately into the food, something amazing happens.
That sobbing-til-you-heave sadness begins to turn into hope.
That heart-wrenching disappointment starts to morph into optimistic expectation.
That deep, heavy despair becomes intense faith that it will all work out.
The self-doubt and insecurity turns into confidence and heart-centered living.
When you don't betray yourself by running away, by eating your sorrows, and by drowning your pain in food, you allow space for healing. Your heart begins to mend, your soul begins to shine, and your smile returns. You are open and receptive to the lessons you were meant to learn, and carry them forward, with more knowledge and more wisdom.
This is where the shift happens. It's that space and allowing that brings change. And when your life feels full and you truly feel alive, food loses its appeal (and you'll never have to spend night after night devouring the box of Oreos again!).
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.