“The time will come, when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome and say, Sit here,
Eat. . . . You will love again, the stranger who was your self. . . .
Sit. Feast on your life.”
–Derek Walcott, from Collected Poems, 1948-1984
OK, I admit it! I bought a bag of Candy Corn, a bag of caramels, and two dark chocolate Hershey chocolate bars at the store a couple of nights ago!
Candy corn? Really?
It’s just that I adore those cute little sweet orange, yellow, and white slices of October life! It’s probably a childhood thing. No problem . . . except when one is grabbing a handful every time one passes the candy dish.
We are approaching the dangerous Bermuda triangle of over-eating—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas! It’s an apt time to ask ourselves why eating becomes compulsive and how we can become more conscious about food.
In some ways it isn’t like me to just start munching on junk food. I am a convert to healthy eating: fresh asparagus stalks gently roasted with a little olive oil; deep red apples loaded with antioxidants because of their hard work growing a brightly pigmented skin to protect themselves from the sun; the perfect salmon salad made with fresh greens, chunks of avocado, grapefruit, warm asparagus, and topped with pine nuts! mmmmmmmm.
As a child, my parents let me eat all the candy I wanted to, and what is fascinating about that freedom, is that I would eat a little and save the rest for later.
But now I’m a woman in her sixties with a slower metabolism and the annoying pull toward emotional eating. I can at times lose a sense of passion and purpose about life and instead just trudge through life doing my duty.
In the past several months I lost weight, then I regained some, but not all, and perhaps writing this article is a way to recommit to what worked.
This is what worked: I was nurturing my passion for life, my purpose for being, and as I did my need to overeat was calmed. I was so engaged in writing I was concentrating on finding the best word, versus the best chocolate. Instead of running to the fridge, I was riding my bike, basking in the wonder of nature.
I discovered from the classic book, Overcoming Overeating, Living Free in a World of Food, by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Hunter, that restricting food invites rebellion. And that ‘living a rich, full, self-accepting life,” is crucial to calming cravings.
This book first came out in 1988 and was based on groups the authors held to help people move from stuffing food into their mouths to slowing down and savoring. One of their first group members was Susie Orbach, the author of the classic, Fat is a Feminist Issue; and Geneen Roth, who not only overcame an eating disorder, but went on to write numerous books on women’s struggle with eating, including her best seller, Women, Food, and God.
The central principles offered up by Hirschmann’s, Hunter’s, and Roth’s work are learning to be mindful about eating by recognizing true hunger; eating only when we are hungry; eating what we want; and treating ourselves with kindness and compassion.
I attended a Geneen Roth workshop several years ago. She invited us to participate in an interesting exercise. We each were given one chocolate chip nestled in a tiny, pleated, white paper cup. When Geneen gave the signal, we put the chocolate chip in our mouths and very allowed it to slowly melt, savoring it as we did. It is truly astonishing how much flavor and enjoyment one chocolate chip can offer when we slow down and savor.
I have a friend who has maintained her weight for years. She has an interesting technique for Las Vegas buffets: she allows herself two bites of every entrée and slowly savors each bite. And when she’s not working and is at home, she has a sewing room set up in which she creates and plays. She becomes lost in the possibility of beautiful fabrics!
Foundational to my journey has been this principle: When I lose myself in a purpose, I lose the need to eat compulsively. As I savor life, I savor food, versus just stuffing the nearest edible into my mouth. When I lose sight of engagement with purpose, I am lost to the pull of compulsive eating.
Life is a gift asking to be opened. I want to open the opportunity held in each moment of life and the presence to embrace life’s wonder.
I recently spoke with a woman who had been struggling since retirement. She was without a place to go every day, without structure and deadlines. She was depressed and floundering. As she looked within, she recognized a burning desire to revisit a place where she lived as a youth for several important years. She followed her yearning.
As she walked the streets where she had wandered as a young woman with her friends; as she visited the home where she had lived with her parents, now long gone; she realized how precious life is, how quickly the sands of time hit the bottom of the hour glass.
She came home with a new appreciation for life and for living fully. She recommitted herself to capturing a new sense of purpose: spending time with loved ones, nurturing friendships, helping others in need, writing, reading, and traveling. These kept her passion alive!
In his groundbreaking work on overcoming addictions and compulsions, Patrick Carnes says it is never enough just to stop. The journey is not complete until we have moved into a state of being that is sometimes called “flow.” When we are in flow with life we have clear goals, we are focused on constructive activities, we have a stronger sense of self and connection with self. We are less worried and experience a sense of control. We enjoy the satisfying feelings of focus and task completion.
We can approach the abundance of holiday food with conscious intent. We can savor each bite – feast, versus just eat. But most importantly, we can feast on our life!