A Bowl of Disappointment
What were you hoping to find at the bottom of that bowl of ice cream? What were you seeking from the last crumbs in the package of cookies? What did you long to see or feel when the last potato chip was gone?
I want you to know that I know that there is always a good reason for eating – for emotional eating, compulsive eating, or binge eating – any form of out-of-control eating. It’s often a search for something you can’t find any other way in that moment. A drive, an urge, a compulsion that needs to be expressed right now. Something that is fighting to be seen, heard, felt, let out – and sometimes reaching for food is the only way you know how to find it.
It’s like searching for the prize in the box of cereal – the toy in the package of Cracker Jacks.
Only, like the cheap, plastic toy or the silly paper tattoo at the bottom of that box, when we look at the bottom of the empty bowl, we end up disillusioned. Sure, for a few minutes (or maybe even a little bit longer), there was that moment of relief. Of satisfaction. Of release of all of that tension.
But that relief quickly turns to disappointment. Disappointment that we didn’t learn our lesson last time. That the answer still cannot be found even when all of the food is gone. That the good feeling – the contentment – was so fleeting.
So what was it that you were hoping to find? Was it relief from physical pain? Was it soothing your emotional discomfort? Taking away your stress, the tension in your mind and body? Or was it simply a few moments of escape from a life or a body that isn’t the way it is supposed to be?
No matter what the reason, I am certain that it was a good one. And that – at least for a little while – you did find the relief you were looking for. Because if it didn’t work at all, it would be so much easier to stop doing it.
And even though when that last cookie has left the package empty at last, reality floods back in and we realize that we screwed up again, that instant of comfort is what we hold onto – that one moment that allowed us to escape the pain, the discomfort, the unbearable tension. And that memory is the one that is carved out into our mental patterns – our actual neurology – and it is what brings us back to seek that release again and again.
Except that it didn’t really work. When we look closely at the bottom of the bowl, at the last few crumbs in the package, nothing’s there. Not only is the food gone, but there are no answers left in its place. No comfort. No escape. No relief. Just nothing.
Nothing but the feeling of regret. Of disappointment in yourself. Of self-recrimination – or worse – self-hatred, self-loathing. For forgetting that is was never there. That no matter how many times you sought what you needed in an uncontrollable binge – you never truly came out of it feeling better.
So you kick and you scream and you cry and you beat yourself up for being so stupid and out of control when you know oh-so-well that that is not where you’ll find the real fix. If only you knew where else to look.
I won’t insult you by pretending that the fix that has eluded you for all this time can be found in a succinct paragraph at the end of a blog post. Because if it were that simple, you would have figured it out already.
But I will offer you two things. First, please take a step back and acknowledge yourself for taking care of yourself in the only way that you knew how in those moments that you turned to food for support. I mean it – while the solution may not have been ideal – the intention to feel better was completely valid.
And second, it doesn’t always have to be this way – you do have other choices – even when it feels like you don’t – there will be a day that you find the real way through your pain – without food, without punishing yourself. So, for today, hold your head high and be confident that your ability to self-soothe, to practice self-care is continuing to evolve, to shift, to unfold in new ways that work even better than food ever did. And while that shift is in the works, remember that right now, in this moment, with each breath, you are alive, you are here, and that is enough.