For a lot of people, their eating feels like a compulsion that they can’t change and feel in control of. I know I’ve experienced this. We use food to create a feeling, and we feel whole, until we pay the toll. I recently heard drug addiction described this way, and while it’s obviously not totally comparable, there are some parallels to be found.
Both are typically born of a desire to escape difficult feelings and create positive ones. But really, just like drugs, eating masks our ability to feel anything at all, and this escape comes at a cost: the toll.
Tune in this week to discover where you’re trying to fill up the holes so that you can feel whole. I’m sharing how food helps us feel whole, temporarily, and how to identify the physical and mental cost of using food to escape instead of learning to truly feel your feelings.
This is Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown, episode 143.
Welcome to Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you’re a successful woman who is ready to stop struggling with your weight, you’re in the right place. You’ll learn everything you need to know to lose weight for the last time in bitesize pieces. Here’s your host, Master Certified Coach Natalie Brown.
Hello, everybody. I heard something this week from a fairly unlikely source that I just had to share with you and expand on a little bit. I was listening to an interview with the lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Anthony Kiedis, and he was talking about his struggles with addiction throughout his life. He’s now clean and has been for a couple of decades but something he said about the experience of being addicted to drugs was just so wise and so profound. And I couldn’t help but relate.
I have not been addicted to drugs but I have certainly experienced my disordered eating feeling like a compulsion that I couldn’t change and wasn’t in control of. He said, “I felt whole putting cocaine and heroin in me until I had to pay the toll.” We feel whole until we have to pay the toll. I just want to put a disclaimer in here. I am not trying to directly compare or equate the experience of cocaine and heroin addiction to disordered eating. They are two distinctly different things.
But there are some parallels, both are typically born of a desire to escape difficult feelings or create ‘good feelings’ which they don’t actually do, rather they mask our ability to feel. And with both that escape comes with a cost, a toll. One of the things I love and appreciate about his statement is how it expresses the reality of using an outside solution to mask or escape inside feelings which is that it works. It gives us the temporary experience of being whole, meaning it fixes the problem of the moment.
It brings us the feeling of relief, of joy, of fun, of being carefree, of postponing our troubles for another day, of letting loose, of freedom. When you have that moment of letting yourself eat something you have been restricting, of sitting at a restaurant and ordering whatever without a thought about what’s right or wrong, with only thoughts of what will taste good. Of rewarding yourself with a treat after a long day. Of eating whatever you want all weekend, of eating to the point of being full to the brim.
For that moment we feel whole. That feeling of whole is what we are looking for, that is what we are using food for, to fill up the holes so we can feel whole. Every time we go to that outside solution, food in whatever form, we reconfirm to our brain that it is a solution that works. See, I feel what I want to feel, full and whole. And our brain takes careful notes about what foods do the job, or how much food does the job. And it catalogs those notes away for next time, problem solved, solution recorded and saved.
And then the next time we feel the emptiness creep in or the uncomfortable feelings threaten to break us open, we eat the food and we feel whole until we have to pay the toll. Sometimes the toll comes an hour later when our body protests with intense heartburn or painful bloating. Sometimes the toll comes the next morning when our brain gets busy beating us up for doing it yet again. Sometimes the toll comes week after week as we watch the scale go up and up.
Sometimes the toll comes at our yearly checkup as the doctor shares maybe some news about how our inside health has changed. Maybe our blood sugar is elevated, or cholesterol is high, or blood pressure is not where we want it to be. Maybe the toll is difficulty getting up and down the stairs or having to opt out of a family hike because we aren’t sure we can make it up the mountain and back down. Maybe the toll is knee problems, or sleep issues, or difficulty putting our socks and shoes on. The toll comes in physical forms like that sometimes.
There are often physical consequences of our reliance on food as a solution for our feelings. But there’s a much higher toll that comes as a result of us not being able or willing to process and feel our feelings. When we use food to escape instead of feel, the toll is mental and emotional. Maybe the toll is feeling disconnected from your body and an enemy to yourself. Maybe the toll is feeling you have to hide under big clothes at the beach instead of being able to play in the waves with your kids or grandkids.
Maybe the toll is the vicious things you say when you see yourself in the mirror. Maybe the toll is staying home instead of going out with your friends because you don’t want to be seen. Maybe the toll is not asking for a raise or a promotion because you don’t feel you deserve it because of the body you have. Maybe the toll is not sharing your ideas or your feelings because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. The whole feeling we think we are getting from the food is a counterfeit. It isn’t really making things better. It isn’t actually filling the holes.
Growing up my dad loved the vacation movies with Chevy Chase. And there’s a scene in Vegas Vacation where Chevy Chase is on a tour of the Hoover dam with his family. At one point he’s picking at a loose rock on the interior wall while the tour guide is telling them some facts and he’s very bored about the dam. And the little rock that he’s picking out, falls out and a tiny stream of water starts shooting out. He hurries and chews some gum and puts the chewed gum over the whole to plug it and it works for a second.
And then another stream of water starts shooting out from a different hole behind him and on and on with intensifying clarity. This is us and food when we try to use it to fill the holes, it works for a minute until it doesn’t anymore, until the feelings bubble back up to the surface and we have to reach for more food to tamp them down. We have a counterfeit sense of wholeness until we have to pay the toll.
True wholeness is much different than we imagine. It’s not about feeling only full of joy and gratitude and devoid of sadness or disappointment. It’s not about feeling only love and the absence of fear and doubt. Feeling whole is about connection to our humanity which is by nature, unique, varied and wild, not perfect and predictable, but changing, and shifting, and flowing, and evolving. Wholeness is feeling a spectrum of emotions willingly and courageously.
Wholeness is being curious, and compassionate, and accepting of ourselves along our journey, it’s highs and lows and everything in between. It’s not filtering out the half of life that is rough, and challenging, and refraining. It’s opening up to the complete messy and beautiful experience.
I want to challenge you to take some time to notice what you are considering to be that whole feeling for you right now. Is it authentic or is it counterfeit? What are some of the tolls that you are paying as a result? Awareness as always is the first necessary step if we want to make a change. Have a fantastic week, everybody. I’ll see you soon.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you want to learn more about how to lose weight for the last time, come on over to itbeginswithathought.com. We’ll see you here next week.