It’s no secret that I have relationship issues with food. I obsess over food. I think about food in carbs and calories and pounds that will pile on to my body. But, most recently, I have noticed that my relationship with food is mindless and numbing. I eat impulsively – without thinking about whether I’m hungry or if it’s even enjoyable. I eat distractedly – shoving food into my mouth, but too engaged in my iPhone or a TV show to even care.
And, like most people who struggle with relationships (be it food or personal or something else), there’s a reason for our repetitive behaviors. Something that may have happened in our past. Some traumatic experience we went through. Some coping mechanism that we turned to when things got difficult. There’s a reason behind every single one of our behaviors.
For me, I’ve realized that a lot of it boils down to my childhood – growing up as a “big girl” when the world around me was oh-so-small. With an active and fit physician father and a mama who was worried about our terrible genes and our family’s history of high cholesterol and diabetes, I knew that they would do anything and everything to make sure that I didn’t fall prey to any health issues.
That meant signing me up for personal training. Or paying a nutritionist to hold my hand and hold me accountable. Buying me nicer workout clothes so I would feel confident when at the gym. Reminding me of my family’s medical history. Sending me to a weight loss summer camp so I could be around other kids struggling with the same issues. Being there to hug me when I broke down in tears when my clothes didn’t fit right.
They did everything they could. With everything they had.
But, when you’re a child and you want to do things to please your parents, you do the not-so-pleasing things in private. Because if they can’t see it, they won’t be disappointed.
So I learned how to eat when they weren’t watching.
I’d take $20 out of my mom’s purse while she was in the shower so I could buy snacks at school. When she left the house to go run an errand, I raided the pantries and shoved every single “bad food” in my mouth. Not even pausing to enjoy the taste. But just to get the food INSIDE of me. Because it was forbidden. And I had to do it quickly.
I learned how to hide my candy wrappers and empty chip bags at the bottom of my backpack or squeezed in between the pages of a textbook. (And then, obviously, tossing them out in the girl’s bathroom at school the next day). Sometimes, if I was quietly eating something upstairs, I’d walk out onto our balcony and toss the empty packages into my neighbor’s yard. It would be too risky to walk down the stairs to toss the trash in our garbage can outside. For starters, my mom could intercept me at the bottom of the stairs before I reached the garage door. But, also, the crinkle of the bag could out me and it was far too dangerous. So throwing it over the wall – into the neighbor’s yard – was a tactic I used on occasion.
Now, as an adult, I don’t shy away from indulging in sweet treats or forbidden foods. I even throw away my wrappers in the trash can without covering them up with paper towels or other big items. (#Adulting)
But the thing about relationship issues is that they don’t disappear altogether. Especially when it’s a really bad, unhealthy relationship. An on-again, off-again relationship where, over time, you start doubting your ability to be “normal.” You question your sanity and your self-control.
We carry all of our past experiences with us. But, when a relationship is really toxic (like mine is/was with food), there will be days when old patterns and behaviors emerge. Sure, we may get better at managing and coping with things. But they still show up from time to time. And, if we’re not in tune with our bodies in that moment, there is the potential to fall back into our self-destructive habits.
A few weeks ago, while we were in SoCal for the holidays, I experienced a brief moment when my past popped into my present.
My dad had left for work and my mom announced that she was going to her room to get ready for the day. She started heading upstairs and I could hear her footsteps as she made it to her bedroom. I could hear her walking around her room. I knew the creaks. And I knew all the sounds. I knew exactly where she was. I could hear the sound of her closing her dresser drawer and then walking over to her closet.
So, while Ankur and I were sitting on the couch (and I was listening to all this movement upstairs), I ran over to the kitchen, opened up one of the cabinets, and pulled out the Tupperware of brownies.
I quickly popped open the lid, shoved a brownie in my mouth, slammed the lid back on, and then placed it back in the cabinet. It happened so quickly. I inhaled the brownie. I can’t even remember if I chewed it.
No thought. No hunger. Not a single craving for a brownie.
Just a mindless moment. A get-this-food-inside-of-me-before-she-comes-back-downstairs moment.
After it was done and I confirmed that my mom was still upstairs getting ready (because my ears were perked up during the entire minute and a half of the brownie binge), I had a coming-to-life moment.
What the hell was I doing?
I was so confused by my behavior. I felt like I was a 10-year old again. Creeping around my home. Being hyper-alert to all the creaks and the movement so I knew where all the people were before I inhaled the forbidden food.
In that moment, I realized just how MUCH my childhood experiences were still with me. They never left. I have gotten better at dealing with them. But, they never truly disappeared. I was clearly triggered by being in the same space around the same people and those behaviors resurfaced. Trying to do things quickly, quietly, and without any evidence. To make sure I didn’t disappoint people that only wanted the best for me.
It’s so screwed up. After 20 years, I was still tip-toeing around my home. Afraid of being caught.
I wanted to point fingers. I wanted to blame somebody else.
What I really wanted was to be the victim.
I wanted my crazy, erratic, emotional-eating behaviors to be someone else’s fault.
Maybe that mean kid in elementary school who told me I was too fat.
Or that cousin in India who told me that there wasn’t enough fabric to make pants my size.
Or a family member for side-eyeing my food to make sure it was perfectly portioned.
But it’s not.
It’s not their fault. And it’s not mine either.
The truth is that it’s no one person or one experience that made me the way I am.
Every single person in the world has things they struggle with. We all have wounds that need to be healed.
And I may not be responsible for my wound. But I AM responsible for my healing.
Nobody can work through these issues FOR me.
I can sit back and play the victim and blame life for screwing me over and giving me the short end of the stick.
Or I can get up each day and do the work.
And remind myself that wounds are healed only when we treat them with love and compassion.
Question of the Day:
- Are you currently going through a healing process of your own?
- Do you see some of your old habits and behaviors resurface after several years?