I was talking to a client this week about her habit of binging on junk food when she worries about her son. Her son is 33 and autistic with highly violent tendencies. The drywall in their home is riddled with holes from where’s punched through the walls. He’s given her husband black eyes. He recently moved into a group home and she’s deeply worried about the quality of the care he’s getting there.
At night she eats Double-Stuffed Oreo cookies by the bag.
“I know,” she said . “I’ll try harder.”
“Don’t try harder,” I told her. “You’ve been trying long enough. Relax a little, release some of your white-knuckle grip on the situation. You can’t control it all. It’s not your job to control it all. You are in a very tough situation and you are navigating it absolutely the very best way you know how. Draw on whatever support you have around you from people and from the divine energy of the universe (whatever that means to you) and hand over a little of the burden – even just energetically. Know that you are an amazing mother, trust that things will unfold as they will and that you are strong enough to handle whatever comes. You do not need to try any harder.”
I hear people beating themselves up all the time about diet and lifestyle struggles and they often end with some version of, “I just need to try harder.”
But it’s not about trying harder.
It’s not about having more willpower or locking away all the Double-Stuffed Oreo cookies.
It’s about stopping.
It’s about being nowhere but right here, right now.
Even if right here, right now sucks.
Even if right here, right now hurts and feels truly awful.
It’s about inhaling and exhaling.
It’s about relaxing and letting go and simply noticing that you are craving the cookies because they numb the awful a little bit.
And then it’s about stopping, not trying to escape the feeling, but rather sitting with that feeling, examining it, turning it around and upside down and looking at every nook and cranny of it and deciding if eating is the best way to love it.
Because that’s all any feeling wants. To be seen and heard and noticed and loved until it doesn’t need to hurt quite as badly.
Your path to making peace with food does not come through force or control.
It doesn’t come from trying harder.
It comes from understanding that you are not your thoughts. That the tired or bored or sad or lonely or worried or scared are just thoughts and that you don’t need to be so afraid of them that you frantically grapple to escape or numb them by eating as many cookies as you can get your hands on.
And that, in fact, the cookies do absolutely nothing to really help you work through any of those feelings. So the feelings just stick around.
Peace with food comes from understanding that the only way to end emotional eating is to be brave enough to just stop and sit with the feeling. Trust that you can hold it and feel it and not break apart. Know that you are capable of handling any feeling.
Because it’s just a feeling.