Breaking Open

Sometimes I can’t learn from my mistakes right away. Often when it comes to food & emotional eating, not to mention healing and finally weight loss, I have to make several mistakes before it really sinks in. I used to get really upset with myself about this, “Ugh! Didn’t this happen the last time? Why do I always do this?!”, until my negative self-talk basically spiraled into “you don’t deserve this” and I’d punish myself by continuing my emotional eating behavior and starting the cycle all over again.

Meditation has helped me learn to forgive myself after these things happen. Keeping a healing journal has made me realize that certain foods exacerbate my PCOS symptoms, which make me more prone to cravings and less attentive to my emotional needs, prompting a binge response from my emotional response & nutrient deprivation. Adding fuel to the fire by beating myself up over all this just makes everything worse and triggers a new cycle. In the middle of an emotional eating episode, I get caught up in all sorts of emotions about “why am I doing this” and “why can’t I stop” and “what the heck is wrong with me that this is happening AGAIN”.

Maybe it happens again because the message just hasn’t gotten through yet. Often our panicky thoughts cover up our truer, calmer, intuitive-eating selves. Foods that deprive us of nutrients trigger signals in our body to keep eating in order to get the right nutrients. For me, I had to learn that even some healthy, primal-approved foods weren’t working for my body. Because auto-immune Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is the root cause of my PCOS, I’ve got to avoid foods like eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades, and a few others until I can heal enough to be able to deal with those foods again. These foods are NOT THE CAUSE of my condition, but they exacerbate it enough, and cause me significant emotional stress, that I need to take a break. Not forever, but for a solid amount of time – I’d say at least 3 months.

Everybody is sick of hearing that “these things take time”. What I’m here to say is that the time is worth it, and if you have a purpose to hold you through the long haul, things get easier. The frustrating repetition is a way to bring new awareness to your body and give you pause for thought before that next emotional eating and/or shame spiral. The two ways I can easily divert myself away from emotional eating is 1. by thinking about how that food will make me feel after I eat it (usually no better off & even worse emotionally) and 2. by asking myself “What kind of nourishment do I need right now?”. Usually it is emotional  or spiritual nourishment, or a break from my own negative thoughts. Then what do I do?

  •  Laugh it off, or dance it off. Life doesn’t have to be so serious.
  •  Share with friends. People in my life are heartwarming and healing. Sometimes I talk about my issues, or other times I just enjoy the moment with them and forget my worries.
  •  Look at my nourishment menu and
  • Add something back into my life that I didn’t know I was missing.
  •  Meditate. It helps me to love and forgive myself.
  • Get. out. and get some space. My small apartment never has me more than 6 ft, literally, from my kitchen. Sometimes I just need a break from the headspace that proximity brings. Running errands, exercising, going for a walk, biking without a particular destination – it all helps me cope & heal, especially emotionally.
  •  Write it out. Whether it be by journal, blog, letter or email to a friend, getting it out on paper and free from my head is so unbelievably cathartic.

It took about 4 -6 months for me to figure out what was going on in my body and what made my PCOS symptoms worse. These foods had only a subtle influence on my digestion, so I was never really sure what was the problem. But after 3 months of tracking my PCOS symptoms in a monthly cycle calendar*, I found out that eating these foods left me prone to severe mood swings, irritability, extreme fatigue, intensified acne, and just a general feeling of being emotionally down. I’ve never been consistent with a diary, but having a healing journal – something with a good spiritual purpose – has made it easy to track these things and pay greater attention to what was going on in my body, rather than the perceived reality I was creating in my brain.

One hour before writing this, I was feeling unsatisfied with breakfast and itching with wild hormones from a bad week of PMS. I needed nourishment, but not the food kind. However, I tried to bury my shame and emotions in a bag of walnuts, particularly a feeling of lack of self-worth, as I became aware that an emotional binge was happening AGAIN. The food itself doesn’t matter in this case, even though it could be considered healthy for most people, because the thoughts I had were just as potently damaging to me as when I buried my emotions in container of Ben & Jerry’s. I’m not going to make excuses for my emotional eating just because what I’m eating is now “healthier”. But I AM going to shrug it off, because self-bullying after a binge makes everything worse. One or two months of practicing forgiveness after poor eating choices, not always binges but usually emotionally-triggered, has helped me roll off the punches after each bout in the ring. But I want to get out of the ring all together, because when you fight yourself you’ll always lose. We all know how to be cruelest to ourselves, because we know exactly where the old hurts are.

Forgiveness and acceptance – accepting that sometimes these things will repeat themselves. You feel shame on some level, you eat, and then you forgive. Again, and again.  My friend George from Civilized Caveman Cooking once posted a quote along the lines of “Sometimes the things that break you down were just trying to break you open all along”. Often it isn’t about taking away something, ie trying to eliminate emotional eating, but adding things back into your life. For a few months, I had a steady practice of forgiveness for the mental beatings I was giving myself. I created a nourishment menu to address my emotional needs. I established a base of meditation in order to help me find the courage to address my emotions and shift away from all the destructive patterns that come from shame. I infused my recovery with a spiritual purpose by using a healing journal and sharing much of it through my writing. All of this, of course, is on the basis of a whole foods, toxin-free diet, which puts my body in a better place because I focus first and foremost on getting the right nutrients rather than what my pant size currently is. Because I had a strong foundation that addressed my healing on all levels, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, and because I tried and failed many times, repeating what seemed like the same circle with no end in sight, one Saturday morning I broke open instead of breaking down. And now that I’ve found a new level of openness, I have even more trust in myself that I will, eventually, with that little bugger of a thing called time, heal.

I’m not afraid of the repetition anymore. I know I won’t fix myself after one more mistake, because there is nothing to fix. I am not broken. I am a whole, beautiful person deserving of self-love, forgiveness, trust, and the love and respect of others. I deserve happiness right now. Not when I’m a size 6 or can do 57 push-ups. But I’m not afraid to repeat and potentially fail again, because I’ve got a new level of awareness that will help me piece through the maze of emotional eating and complex conditions like PCOS and Hashimoto’s. Each failure actually brings me one step closer to figuring it all out, as long as I don’t let self-bullying, a lack of self-worth, SILENCE, and shame block my path permanently. And then I go back to this quotation:

Repetition is not failure. – In those frustrating moments when you find yourself standing face to face with an issue you battled before – one bearing a lesson you were sure you’d already learned – remember, repetition is not failure.  Ask the waves, ask the leaves, ask the wind. Repetition is sometimes required to evolve and grow.

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And to think all this happened because of a bag of walnuts. Life really is miraculous.

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*** I think it is really important to note that in my healing journal, I don’t just keep a “food diary”, because in the past that gave me lots of anxiety to track every single bite. I just write what foods I ate, not the amount, and most of my journal has to deal with tracking supplements and treatment protocols, my emotions of that day, noting good habits I’ve established (aka celebrating the little victories) and thereby reinforcing the positive emotions they bring, and tracking my digestion by paying attention to my eliminations. Thanks to Matt Robinson’s guest post at SCD Lifestyle for introducing the best way to start a healing journal. Check it out here.