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Food & Dieting: Are You Mistaking Out of Control for Freedom?

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post which you can read here.

When I was at the beginning of breaking my emotional-stress-binge eating habit, I was highly resistant to looking at my actual food choices.

I was willing to consider eating less, or consider eating at more consistent times throughout the day to help my energy and mood but I WAS NOT going to change my habits from the foods I liked to eat.

“I am not going to lose my freedom to choose!” I would adamantly proclaim to anyone I was talking with about this enormous upheaval in my life.

Maybe you have felt similarly- wildly committed to certain foods.  I hope that you’ll see through this article that the food, for me, (and perhaps you too) was merely a poorly designed band aid on top of a real need for legit emotional coping, self care and a better relationship with my body.

The more my eating habits came into balance- where I was making the radical step of eating 3 meals a day (I’m not joking when I say radical, one of my sneakiest strategies was to skip meals so I had justification for binging later)- or where I was adding in more vegetables at each meal instead of solely eating meat and carbs; I began to see that my attachment to the foods I refused to give up was actually not freedom at all, it was my wildly out of control coping mechanism that I was frankly, really afraid to let go of.

If I didn’t have all my coping foods, what would I do when I felt….well, when i felt anything

In having this realization, I then recognized that the thing I was so adamant about was not actually freedom, it was fear.  And that fear, lead to out of control behaviors. Whatever I could do to soothe the fear.

 It was fear I wouldn’t be able to care for myself and my emotions without food.

It was fear I would be filled with so much anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to move through my work day.

It was fear that I actually had no real idea of how to have a sane and functional relationship with food and so I would rather choose chaotic and out of control because, hey, at least it was familiar right?

Eating was my way of dealing with most any feeling/emotion/thought I had that took me from a baseline of normalcy to most any level of high or low.

Got a raise or a guy asked me out? Let’s go get ice cream!

Had a bad day because my boss is a jerk and I feel insecure?  Then let’s eat an entire bag of chips on the way home from work

Out in public with friends and feeling overexposed and self conscious? We definitely needed to order appetizers.

You see, I was so un-attuned to what freedom with food really meant because I was constantly being controlled by my emotions and my not-so-effective strategy of out of control emotional-stress-binge eating.  It was a vicious cycle.

And thank the heavens, I broke it.

I did the work, one meal at a time, one emotion at a time, to learn what it meant to use food as pleasure and fuel and to STOP using it as an emotional salve and band aid.   

I started to listen to what my body was asking for, which was usually my attention to whatever was happening for me in the moment.

I began to learn that if I did what my 1st grade teacher advised, breathed and counted to 10, the urge to crawl out of my skin and into a bag of chips lessened exponentially.

I learned new coping strategies for the challenging parts of life.  And piece by piece, my preoccupation with food and gripping to “I won’t change what I eat” suddenly began to shift on it’s own.  I remember the day I reached for a bowl of cereal because I was anxious about a project I was working on and not only did it not really taste good, but I was left with a stomach afterward.   

And then I came to realize, I had always had the kind of uncomfortable feeling in my abdomen after eating cereal but had generally just ignored it because the emotions I didn’t know how to deal with took precedence over the signals my physical body was sending me.   Thinking I had freedom around food had failed in me in really listening and understanding my body.

I didn’t have freedom.  I had out of control, addicted to food kinds of behavior that led me further from freedom, from self mastery and from self confidence, not closer.

And freedom, self mastery, self confidence and ease with food were the things I really, really wanted for myself.

So I learned to re-direct my priorities away from clinging to eating whatever I want and instead, toward really learning to listen to my body and my emotions and choosing what truly worked for me best.   And learning is the operative word here.  This isn’t an overnight process.  But it IS a long term, sustainable solution; the best I’ve found after 20 years of dieting mayhem and food confusion.

Now that I work with women professionally around their relationship to food and body, I recognize that the problem actually ISN’T the food, really ever.  What changes the game for good with food and body confidence is being willing to put yourself and your life experience first; to nurture that and understand and tend to it the way you would a treasured gift or a beautiful flower garden.

Because when it really comes down to it, that’s what our life is- a beautiful gift that we have contorted and buried under unhelpful coping strategies that we call freedom but are really just an out of control way to stay stuck in the way we see ourselves and how we show up in the world.

Isn’t it time to stop burying yourself under bad food habits and instead say yes to the fullness of who you really want to be?

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