When I’m working with someone around food and body dissatisfaction, inevitably there comes a conversation about an upcoming social gathering with food. Potlucks and buffet tables conjure all manner of anxious anticipation.
Will there be enough? What will there be? Is there anything I can eat? I’m going to binge, I always do; I can’t help it with all those baked goods. I’m going to take only enough to not be noticed because I can’t possibly eat that food.
It feels overwhelming to be face all of that abundance and choice (or, depending on your perception, powerlessness and limitation)in a social setting to boot.
If food is a primary way that you communicate desire and pain, you can gather a lot of information about your relationship to life by how you behave at a potluck or buffet. How you eat, as Geneen Roth says, tells all.
Perhaps you casually race to the front of the line, afraid you’ll miss out. Got to get mine before it’s gone. Or maybe you hang back, cutting cake for everyone and popping bites of it into your mouth between each slice. None for me, I’m trying to be good. Do you feel that eating is a solitary pleasure, one to save up for later? It’s the only thing I have to look forward to. Or maybe your goal is to eat the bare minimum, to be always hungry. I am in control of myself. It’s weak to be needy.
Our attitudes toward food reflect our deepest beliefs about what it means to desire, to need, to receive.
I always tell clients the same thing: Slow it down. Take some deep breaths. Find your way into your body. Notice if you feel like a freight train picking up speed or a rabbit about to bolt. Get a plate. Take what you really want. Allow yourself to have this plate of food, full permission.
People always (understandably) want to move right to weight loss or how to not be crazy obsessed with what they are going to eat for dinner. But before we can dive into the work of differentiating mind and body hungers or explore the tender dynamics of deprivation and satiety they have to learn to allow themselves to eat.
There’s no way around this part.
Permission to want what we want and to have what we have is a tremendous step toward recovering our wholeness.
This applies to food, for sure, but it goes far beyond how we eat.
When we deny our hungers, be they for sweets, love, comfort or creative expression, we miss what is under our noses.
The very thing we are starving for is often at hand but we block ourselves from receiving when we feel unworthy or have fixed ideas and expectations of how it should look.
It’s entirely possible to eat a gallon of ice cream and feel desperate for more. Or to sleep with a succession of lovely strangers and feel more alone than before the spree. To have a closet full of shoes you hardly wear and absolutely need that next pair.
Hungers denied don’t disappear. Subverted, they come out sideways.
The Buddhist image of the Hungry Ghost, with a mouth the size of the eye of a needle and a belly huge as Crater Lake, describes the situation perfectly.
The hunger is huge; the ability to take in sustenance miniscule.
When we can drop out of the relentless demands of the mind and into what is actually here, in front of us, we might find that we have everything we need to be totally satisfied right now.
Breath, child, cup of tea.
Sometimes we will be hungry for a period. Our heart’s desire feels buried or remote.
We can practice being with the direct experience of longing and allow it to move us in the direction of its fulfillment.
Either way, the situation is entirely workable.
Can you name what you are truly hungry for?