It’s been a month since my last blog post. My goal is to publish at least twice per month, but in the past few weeks I’ve had some unexpected (and upsetting) change come my way. I sat down to write a few times, but I just didn’t have it in me.
But today I’m grateful to be back doing what I love, and I’m returning with a message of hope for anyone who has ever struggled with emotional eating.
It’s pretty simple: my boyfriend broke up with me. It wasn’t a dramatic event. There was no infidelity, no screaming, no ugly words. He said he “didn’t see long term with me,” and so he didn’t see the point in our continuing to be a couple.
I was shocked and confused. It was the last thing I expected him to say that evening. He was always affectionate, and considerate, and treated me like a lady. We had great conversations. He typically texted me first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We joked that we were “Olympic level cuddlers,” right up to the last week we were together. It certainly wasn’t perfect, and there were a few issues that gave me pause, but I really thought I loved him and that we could build something together.
But sitting on my couch after going out to dinner like we usually did on a Saturday, he was done. We talked for a bit. He asked if he could hug me, and I let him. I hugged him back. Then he “wished me the best,” and left. I turned away because I could not bring myself to watch him walk out the door. When I heard the door close, I finally allowed myself to double over with the sobs I had been holding back because I didn’t want to fall apart in front of him.
“Uh, that’s a sad little story, Jennifer… you mentioned something about hope?”
Stay with me, I’m getting there. A bit of background…
For as long as I can remember, since I was a tiny child, I have eaten to deal with my feelings. Any negative emotion sent me running straight for the comfort food (ice cream was my first obsession), as much as I could get my hands on, until I was stuffed full and numb.
Those binges led to deepened feelings of shame and self-loathing, which again required me to eat in order to forget. This horrible cycle repeated itself day after day, month after month, year after year, through childhood, adolescence, and well into adulthood. With it eventually came obesity, deteriorating mental health, and a host of physical ailments: acid reflux, plantar fasciitis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, insulin resistance, and chronic back pain, just to name a few of the conditions I’ve been treated for over the years.
I would occasionally break out of this cycle for a short time through a drastic diet program. I would lose some weight, but my inability to deal with my own internal life inevitably sent me back to the foods I craved. The vicious merry-go-round of binge-shame-diet-binge would commence once again.
I felt utterly powerless, like a prisoner in my own body. Hope was a cruel joke.
The urge to eat was physically powerful: at its worst, I felt like I had a heavy weight pressing on my chest, my hands shook, my entire body was a live wire crying out for ice cream, chips, and chocolate. I didn’t want to live that way, but I didn’t see how I would ever get off the merry-go-round.
“Wow, Jennifer, you are seriously bumming us out here. For the love of God, where’s the hope?”
The hope is this:
When my suddenly ex-boyfriend left that night, I was heartbroken.
And I didn’t have to eat over it.
Not only did I not eat over it, I did not have to fight the compulsion to eat over it. The desperate urge wasn’t there.
So what did I do?
The next day, Sunday morning, I was supposed to go to Ludus first thing for my own training, and then see two of my clients that afternoon for their sessions with me. When I woke that morning, eyes swollen and sinuses congested (I am not a pretty crier), I thought about not going. And if I had a friend in a similar situation, I would not fault them one bit if they chose to stay in bed.
But I knew I needed to go. My training and my clients are not a choice; they are what I do, regardless of whatever is happening in my personal life. I have come too far and worked too hard to crawl under the covers over a man I knew less than a year, no matter how much I thought I cared about him or how great he was at spooning.
It was hard and I felt like a zombie, but I went. Even through my intense sadness, I felt good about myself for keeping my commitments and doing what I needed to do to take care of myself and my clients.
Compare that to a similar situation just two years prior, that I described in my earlier post “The MyFitnessPal Trilogy Episode 2: Breakups, Binges, and Bottoms.” That time when a romantic relationship ended, it sent me on a month-long eating binge that almost derailed my training efforts at Ludus Magnus.
I cannot pinpoint the moment this compulsion left me. It has definitely been a process, rather than an event. It’s as if I’ve had my head down, putting bricks in the foundation of my daily habits through commitment to training, and treating my food choices as a one day at a time proposition, rather than an all-or-nothing test of my character. And then one day I looked up from that work, and the landscape of my life surrounding me was totally different.
I have logged every bite I put in my mouth for over 800 days now, good, bad, or indifferent, which helps me to be mindful of my choices. Making an indulgent choice does not mean that I’m weak or worthless, and should give up on myself. It is what it is: just one choice, in one moment. I don’t expect my food to be perfect, and I’ve shed much of the shame I used to associate with it.
I don’t kid myself that I’m “cured” of emotional eating. I know that beast still slumbers deep inside me. I must keep adding bricks to my foundation, just like I’ve done over these last three years, to keep that compulsion in its cage.
But even if I go through an emotional trauma sometime in the future, and sit down with a spoon and a tub of ice cream, that wouldn’t undo all of my progress. It would be one choice, in one moment. The next moment is an opportunity for a different choice.
It’s been a few weeks now since that Saturday evening on my couch, and I’m slowly feeling better. I really tried to let myself experience whatever sadness came my way without having to fix it, or medicate it, or over-analyze it. Just sit with it until it passed.
I’m a very fortunate person with many different kinds of family in my life: I have my biological family, my family of friends, my family at work, and my family at Ludus, so many wonderful people offering their support and encouragement. And I must say that my clients have been a saving grace over the past few weeks. Even when I haven’t wanted to go, I kept my commitment to them. Helping them helps gets me out of myself, and inevitably leaves me feeling re-invigorated and hopeful.
To anyone out there who is struggling with emotional eating, and you feel powerless to “put down the spoon,” this is my message: I see you, and I know the anguish and desperation you feel. You don’t have to live that way forever. There is a way out.
Hope is not a cruel joke.
Hope is real.
If you are ready to embrace hope and try something different, please call me at 614-517-2520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to join my clients already working with me at Ludus Magnus!