GUEST POST: UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL EATING
Nourishing and pleasuring my body through eating has been an ever changing learning process over six decades; an evolution from states of unawareness and delusion to discernment and a deeper understanding of what truly nourishes and sustains me. My “eating journey” has been one of cravings, aversions and eventually physical discomfort and illness. I loved sugar in all its manifestations from frosting to fig newtons. I gravitated toward sugar all day long from breads and jams in the morning to drinks and dessert in the evening and sugar snacks in between. My tell tale signs came in the way of skin rashes and digestive issues. Like all of us, my body kept trying to function as best it could as it spoke its messages louder and louder beckoning me to take notice!
Truthfully, my present way of eating did not come easily or naturally . Like most of us, I became interested and attached to foods that were introduced to me in childhood. The 1950’s brought in an era of an increase in sugar intake and a move away from eating nutritionally dense foods that truly nourish. I was not breastfed but instead fed a formula of condensed milk and corn syrup! Pictures show that I was an overweight baby with a red rash on my face and bottom. This condition disappeared when I began to eat table food, although I remember being constipated a lot as as a child and the skin rashes always returning in various ways to inform me of problems. Unfortunately I did not make the connections; instead for decades I had no awareness of the foods that fuel my body and move through me with ease. Instead I wondered what pill or skin cream would make my skin look better and what laxative would relieve me. Looking for the answers outside myself proved to be futile.
“Eating is our first primal relationship between self and the world . It is how we are sustained here; it is how we are first nurtured. “ Charles Eisenstein, The Yoga of Eating
Searching for nurturance in the wrong places could describe my early relationship to food. Sweets abounded in my childhood home and became a solace and comfort as well as an expression of fun that highlighted celebratory events. In truth sugar got hooked to enjoyment , to a reward, to a special comfort, to a job well done. It’s comforting effects even drove away insecurity and loneliness .
Could I have avoided this? If born into a nutritionally aware and nurturing family that beautifully took care of my physical and emotional needs, would I still have experienced separation and thus be in some need of external nurturance? Would I still want to be reassured of my connectedness and “okayness”. No matter what would I have slipped into some kind of comfort eating unknowingly, only to awaken to the truth when my body gave out in some way?
In his book,The Yoga of Eating, Charles Eisenstein states, “The experience of eating relates on an absolutely fundamental level to our sense of security and comfort. In ideal circumstances the infant learns that the universe is fundamentally nurturing, that growth, change and transcendence are safe and there is no need to cling to the womb of familiar conditions when they become restrictive, when it is time to move on.” He goes on to say when this doesn’t happen which is the case for many of us, “The result is an unquenchable craving for security, an existential uneasiness in our relationship to the world, a dread of growth and change, and a deeply troubled unnatural relationship to food.”
When I first read the Yoga of Eating a new way of understanding my relationship to food began to emerge. I investigated my emotional eating and realized that it is based on a wish to feel better! It started unconsciously a long time ago and is an old maladaptive pattern of trying to take care of myself. All my attempts to improve my health through a raw food diet, eating for my blood type diet, and a low fat diet were actually making me crave all the more!
“Remember that the need for nurturance is a genuine human need. To combat an unmet need with will power is both foolish and futile. Only when we heal the wound of separation and accept and love ourselves with out judgement does the need for external nurturance gradually wither away.” Charles Eisenstein
As I continue to shift to a more conscious way of eating, I acknowledge how deep the patterns went and how much I used food to distract me from the unpleasant! Caring for myself in a different way means trusting my body to inform my food decisions. Now I’m more aware of sugar being a substitute for life’s sweetness ? I notice excessive food as a substitute for other nourishment that I am needing. I listen to my body to find out what it wants. I’m now a believer in the Taoist adage, “Eat when you are hungry, drink when you are thirsty, sleep when you are tired” I also believe in enjoying celebratory food and drink on special occasions so I might add a last part to the Taoist adage. “Savor the delight of celebratory food!”
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Victor Frankl
So I find my breath between stimulus and response and I am conscious. Just like in yoga classes I let the breath be the bridge between my body and mind. The breath puts me in closer communication with my higher intelligence where I discover that my body is a wise friend. I stop trying to restrict the foods I eat and instead allow; staying present and curious about the whole experience; distinguishing between psychological cravings and true hunger and then sensing the after effects of eating as well. The realm of food has become a place to experience a good kind of “selfishness”, a practice of being good to myself that has led to a healthier diet. My body tells me what it wants. I just need to be present and listen.
“As soon as you trust yourself, You will know how to live.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Chris Morton, M.Ed., RYT, has been a yoga teacher for over twenty years. Her earlier career teaching young children inspired her to learn more about the mind body connection and ways to optimize intellectual and emotional understanding. She has taught college courses in fostering emotional intelligence through, mindfulness, yoga and creative conflict resolution.
Currently she is teaching yoga and meditation in Newburyport at Ajna Yoga Center and seeing clients individually in her home. For more information contact: