It seems like people are awakening to the truth that the relationship between women and food is a pretty intense one. That’s why books and movies featuring the complexities of this issue are so appetizing. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)
After all, what is it about food that makes us so compelled to overindulge? Why is our relationship with food as tortured as our relationship with ourselves? Or with God, for that matter? And is it possible that our relationship with food is actually a consequence of our relationship with ourselves and God?
As an emotional eater who has spent most of my life on a personal quest for healing as well as making healing possible for others through Heal Your Hunger, I have some very relevant experience and answers to share on this critical subject. As usual, I’ll keep it to my own journey. If you can relate, well, then come along with me!
Though at one time I didn’t relate to being an emotional eater, food always played an overly significant role in my life. I thought, “I just like food,” and that was why I thought about it all day, and wasted too much time and too many calories eating it.
The truth was, underneath being obsessed with food, I was rife with fear. I experienced indiscriminate waves of anxiety and worry, and “overwhelm” could have been my middle name. Of course, I didn’t let anyone know this about me. My way of compensating was to be a “can-do” girl, getting things done at lightning speed and ultimately trying to get my life and others to be exactly as I thought they should be. If I got everything to go my way, then I would be less afraid and much more at ease (or so I thought).
The bottom line is that fear drove me to become a control freak. If I was “making things happen” then there was less time and opportunity to worry about “what might happen” or “what if it doesn’t happen (my way)”. Those abhorrent possibilities made me feel out of control. I liked to feel in control. I liked to have power over my circumstances and leave nothing to chance. Chance, after all, was just an invitation for those vulnerable feelings of uncertainty.
The problem with being a control freak is that I ended up stepping on some toes. NEWSFLASH: People don’t like being controlled and they don’t like being told what to do. Even worse, they don’t like the shifty, manipulative ways that I would try to get them to do what I wanted them to do. I couldn’t come right out with it (that would have been a scad better); I had to act like the things I wanted them to do were in their best interest, or that I was doing them a favor, or somehow pretend that my motive was something other than simply wanting my way.
My controlling ways resulted in two scenarios: Either people saw through the manipulation and resisted me, copping some resentment in the process and causing me much distress over not being liked (a fate worse than death for an emotional eater); or, I got away with it (they did what I wanted) and I ended up feeling very guilty for being insincere and selfish – for railroading someone into doing what I wanted (disregarding their needs in the process). Either way, I ended up with emotional turmoil that only several doughnuts or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s could numb.
Which brings me to the all-important role food plays in this. You see, I didn’t “just like food”. I needed food to drown the chaotic emotions I felt inside: All that fear, anxiety, worry, and guilt. When I overate, I became oblivious to all those feelings and could ignore the fact that things weren’t as perfect as I wanted them to be. I wanted to be happy – for everything to be “fine”, so I’d use food to cover over the truth that I pissed people off when I attempted to control them; that I pushed myself way too hard and tried to do too much in a day; that I wasn’t as “good” as I tried to get people to think I was…that I was actually very judgmental and angry because nothing ever seemed to go my way, in spite of my “valiant” efforts to make them do so.
These are the raw truths that, without food, seemed like too much to face, let alone change. Instead of examining the fear and subsequent control issues, I just covered the whole mess up with excess food, fat, obsession, and self-loathing.
The solution to corrosive fear is love. Not just any love, but pure love, such as God’s. Seeking a relationship with God can provide the calm and peace necessary to transcend the fears, worries and anxieties that beset emotional eaters (and all people, of course). The problem is: How do I build this relationship with God when God seems so far away, so punitive, and so abstract?
Not only that, but how do I listen to God when I’d rather “play God” in my own life?
To me, this is the real crux of the problem, and the real reason why “women, food, and God” is such a perplexing issue. As much as I needed spirituality in my life, as much as I consciously wanted spirituality in my life, handing over control of my life to God (and to a God I mistrusted, no less) seemed like far too tall an order for this control freak.
Oh, there were times that I’d cry out, begging to know God’s will; I was confused and lost and I just wanted to know what God would have me do. But then, once I started to have a better sense of God’s voice, it terrified me because His direction was far from what I wanted for myself. So my new cry became: “Gee, God, do I have to??”
That’s why overeating is so handy for the emotional eater. Binge-eating not only snuffs out the yucky emotions we don’t want to face, it also muffles that still, small voice of God which is constantly whispering the truth in our hearts. That truth usually means having to make changes—changes in my illusions, positive and negative, about who I am, and changes in my life circumstances.
Maybe I’ll have to face the truth that my job, while giving me an ego boost, is causing me too much stress and jeopardizing my health. Or I’ll see that I’m in an unhappy marriage that I should have left years ago. Perhaps I’ll see that I’m not as “Suzy Sunshine” as I think I am, and that I’m more “Bitchy Betsy” instead.
Yes, it’s challenging to face and follow God’s will when it’s hard and when it goes against our will, or the will of people around us (Mom and her sisters keep hinting about kids, but I may not even want kids). It’s tricky to follow God’s will when we’re in a relationship and have the will of our spouse to consider. It’s hard to follow God’s will when doing so might cause us to be unpopular and risk upsetting the apple cart.
That still small voice inside, that whisper of truth that bubbles up at the end of the day when distractions are down and the kids are in bed, may not be easy to hear, but burying it with food isn’t a solution. That voice—also referred to as “inspiration”, “guidance”, “Holy Spirit”, or “God’s will”—is a “protective directive” that, when followed, will only bring peace and happiness.
It’s when we refuse to listen that we consign ourselves to a lifetime of emotional eating and escapism. But that’s not really the life you had planned for yourself, is it? Taking a trip to India may make you feel spiritual, but if food and other numbing substances and activities are what you still turn to when the going gets tough, perhaps it’s time to find a more sustaining way.
Facing down our fears and forging a relationship with God isn’t just a good idea, it is vital for overcoming our food struggles. This is because worshiping fear and playing God in our lives (read: control freak) is exactly how we became emotional eaters in the first place.
Healing is a lifetime journey, and for dyed-in-the-wool emotional eaters like me, it’s a journey not to be embarked on alone. Coming to understanding the true problem and therefore the necessity for a spiritual solution is the best way to begin.
Feeling stuck? That’s because nobody can do this alone. I’m here to help. Book your complimentary Breakthrough Session with me to begin your journey to healing.