You see, there are people I know who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for a long, long time…people I relate to and admire and root for, people with whom I feel a kinship, people whose own struggles with food inspired me along the way. And I’m witnessing this nightmare happening to them. It is one of the most difficult and painful things to witness….because I know what it feels like, and I know that it could happen to me...again.
I remember one time in my life when I joined Weight Watchers and lost about 65 lbs over a period of about a year and a half. Then, after a (great) job change, I maintained it for a while before I started slipping. I found a psychologist and began going to therapy. I didn’t want to gain it all back; I wanted to sort through all the crap that led me to abuse food in the first place, work through it and let it all go once and for all. Over the next year or two, I slowly regained all of that weight (plus more, of course), while never missing a Weight Watchers meeting, and seeing a shrink once a week. I know it can happen.
It’s a dark and scary place…where your mind is so very clear on what you know you should do, and what, on several levels, is in your best interests overall, while your heart is wounded deep inside; it’s feeling pain and wants to be comforted, and you know that you can find instant comfort if you eat (or drink) things you know are not good for you. And then this strange but overwhelming sense of urgency starts to build up inside as the thoughts in your mind and the feelings in your heart grow more and more intense, until you just can’t handle the conflict anymore and you give in and eat that pie or ice cream or pasta or whatever it is, and you silence the racket...and soothe your pain…for a short period of time. And then after a while it starts up again…and again. And it becomes a cycle that leaves you feeling powerless and defeated.
You know what’s scarier than that? It’s when you get so tired of the struggle to end the cycle that you draw the shade on your mindfulness, closing off the part of your brain that was so clear about what was in your best interests overall, and you start responding only to the pain, and the urgent need for comfort.
I want to jump in a car or on a plane and fly to my friends and shake them back to mindfulness, and then wrap my arms around them and let them know that they are safe. I want to cry on their shoulders because I’m scared for them, and let them cry on mine. I want to stand by and hold their hand while they pull themselves from the cycle, because I know that I can’t do it for them. I want to shower them with love and comfort and stability as they go through withdrawal and get angry and bitchy because they’re no longer using food as emotional rescue. I want to sit beside them and wipe their tears as they allow the real issue(s) to break into their consciousness. I want to hug them again for mustering the courage to face the pain, and not try to bury it anymore. And then I want to walk and hike and bike with them once they have their sea legs again and are back on the healthy living track.
Whether I know you or not, if this cycle of despair sounds familiar, then know that I am rooting for you. I believe in you, even if you have lost faith in yourself. It is in you to crawl out of the cycle; you can do it. When you feel the next round coming on, and you feel that desperate urge to dive into something for comfort, or for some other emotional reason, try this instead:
- Find a private place to sit, whether it’s in your home, in your car, or in a bathroom stall somewhere.
- Close your eyes and imagine you’re sitting on the beach. Imagine the sound of the ocean as the waves roll in, lapping around your feet, and then back out.
- After a while, the waves come further in, rolling over your legs, and you’re your waist, and then they flow back out again.
- Another wave comes in and washes up to your chest. It scares you; it feels really strong, and you wonder if you can handle the next one. And then it rolls out again.
- You see the next wave coming, and it is big. You start to panic. Take a deep breath, hold it in, and let the wave wash over you. It may even knock you backwards, but then it, too, flows back out to sea. You sit up again and exhale. You got through it. It was just a moment…5, maybe 10 seconds. It knocked you down, but then it flowed away, and you got up again.
- The next one rolls in and it’s up to your chest, and then back out. The waves are getting smaller and smaller, until the ocean is calm again.
Those moments of panic, those seemingly overwhelming urges to eat for comfort are like waves, and you can ride them out. Let the feeling wash over you, and know with certainty that, like a wave, it will recede and flow away.
Someone wrote me recently and asked, “What have you learned to do with sadness, since your habit was to eat in response?” My reply: “I honor the feeling (and the reason for it) by letting the sadness wash all over me. I let it envelop me like a dense, heavy cloud, or like the tide washing in and covering me -- because I know that it's temporary... Just as a dense cloud eventually dissipates, and the tide will flow back out, sadness will wane, but the best way to get through it is to feel it, and not try to suppress it with food.”
I am rooting for you.