“It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessons. But it is never gone”. Rose Kennedy
Just as the wounds remain, so too does the urge to eat until the pain goes. I am fascinated by reality shows like “My 600lb Life” because I know that I could be that person. It is my greatest fear to be morbidly obese. I don’t look at them in judgment but in empathy, because I know they could not get past the pain. They could find no other peace or solace except in food. There was no other option except food and failure which would lead to a slow death. That is why it is my greatest fear. Not that I will be a recluse or will be totally dependent on my family for everything. Not because I may be ridiculed or made fun of. Not because I may not be able to walk and suffer from numerous ailments. But I fear that one day, I may reach the point where giving up is my only option and I will ultimately succumb to the pain of the past.
I became an emotional eater in college. I was away from home and my meals were no longer prepared by my parents and I was responsible for purchasing my own food. That meant that I could eat whatever I want, when I wanted and how much I wanted. If I didn’t want to eat vegetables, I didn’t have to; if I wanted to eat pizza every single night, who was going to stop me? But what quickly became the freedom to choose turned into a nasty little habit to cope with less than desirable feelings. I was also unable to effectively manage stress and cope with the struggles of life. I turned to food to help ease the stress and pain of life and I didn’t even realize it was happening. Had a rough class, go to Burger King and get the whopper instead of a cheeseburger. Boyfriend acting up, just eat Oreos and make that midnight run to Taco Bell for nachos and Pepsi.
Food has one function and one function only and that is to serve as fuel. Food is the fuel needed to support the ongoing work of the body’s cells, the beating of the heart, inhaling and exhaling of air, maintenance of body temperature and sending of nerve and hormone messages to direct these activities. These are the activities that maintain life. Food is also used as energy for physical activity. Food provides the energy necessary to keep my body going. Food should not provide the comfort to cope with tragedy, stress, anxiety, depression or any negative or even any positive feeling.
So how did I develop such a dysfunctional and abusive relationship with food? Why did I see food as a coping mechanism instead of the energy needed to maintain life? I was unwilling to face the truth about myself and my life. I was unable to use effective strategies to cope with stress. And I had very poor eating habits. These three factors led to me becoming an emotional eater.
I lived in denial for a very long time. I was the proverbial, looking good on the outside but feeling bad on the inside. Except I didn’t quite look that good on the outside because I was overweight. I will never forget the day I read a book about black women and self esteem. I can’t remember the name of the book or the author but when I read the words “someone told us when we were young how to feel about ourselves. Who taught you the value to place on your life”, a light switch went off! In that moment I realized that every issue I had was because of the dysfunctional and abusive relationship I had with myself. It was at that moment I decided to do the necessary and heart wrenching work of figuring out why I had no self -love and my self esteem was non existent. That meant going back to a painful tragic past and going toe to toe with some demons and winning. This took years of intense prayers, counseling and finding the inner resolve to push through and fight for my life. I was worth it and I finally began to see it. I was worth the fight. I deserved to be happy, to hold my head up and love every part of me, regardless of how flawed, scarred or damaged I or others considered me to be.
Once I began to deal with my inner demons, I had an opportunity to join weight watchers and I began running. I lost 18 lbs and became a life long runner. I learned how to eat smaller portions, eat nutrient dense foods and running gave me an outlet for my stress and anger. If I had a bad day my first choice was to run to the park and not a pack of Oreos or to a man for comfort. It was an amazing journey of transformation. I developed a healthy relationship with food. I learned how to eat intelligently. I began to love and respect myself and my body.
But here comes life. The past will always rear its ugly head. The present will bring new circumstances and situations you’ve never encountered and the future will be a mix of sunny skies and dark clouds. Past victories can’t win future ones. Each battle must be fought on its own. And each battle a choice must be made. Do I run back to food as my comfort or do I employ the new strategies I’ve learned. The truth is, you never really overcome being an emotional eater. The urge is always there. But the urge to push through and find another coping mechanism is also there. And that is the real beauty of life. The ability to choose. I won’t lie, some days I say forget the gym, forget running and give me a damn apple fritter! But you know what? That apple fritter did not negate the years of work I’ve done to love myself and develop a healthy relationship with food. I know it was a moment and will remain that. A moment. My name is Kathleen and I am an emotional eater. But I am also an overcomer, a fighter, and determined to live a healthy life and I will win. I will not succumb to the pain of the past.