I can taste the salt on my tongue as I reach for the bag of Juanita’s chips. “Just a few,” I lie to myself while simultaneously planning my next move to something smooth and sweet. I spot the dark chocolate chips. I move on to pistachios, then Cinnamon Chex. I feel as if I am split in half as I stand in front of the pantry shelves going back and forth between salty and sweet, back and forth between moments of delectable pleasure and those of deep, desperate shame.
I used to call it “snacking” and blame it on anxiety. A sugar-coated label like this was easier for me to swallow, rather than admitting I was an “emotional” or, worse, “compulsive” eater. I was happier thinking those were terms to describe other women, the ones who Facebook-confess eating whole pints of ice cream in one sitting or staying up until 2 AM binge watching Downton Abbey. They certainly did not pertain to disciplined early risers, like me, who start the day with long cardio workouts and green smoothies.
As I stand in front of the pantry on autopilot, going back and forth between salty and sweet, unable to stop, the size I wear and how many miles I can run don’t make me an exception.
These things don’t matter.
Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food and God unabashedly illuminates this truth when she writes, “The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. No matter how sophisticated or wise or enlightened you believe you are, how you eat tells all. The world is on your plate.”
The way I eat. Not how I look or how much I weigh. Not what food rules I make for myself or whether or not I eat low-carb. My deepest beliefs about myself and my place in this world show up on my plate, or, in my case, in handfuls of “snacks.”
I wish I could say my pantry ping-pong represents my zest for life, my belief in an open heart and mind or my longing for adventure, but the darkness, the separateness, that comes with compulsive eating is all too familiar. I am on a quest to uncover the deep-seated beliefs that drive me to “snack” in front of the pantry. Through prayer, brutal honesty, quite a few therapy sessions, and a turkey sandwich, here are the lies I uncovered:
I am not worthy of lunch. “I can make it until dinner on this 210-calorie energy bar.” I have told myself this lie thousands of times as I dismissed the desire for a hot meal and focused on my to-do list. I could have written entire books with the amount of mental energy I spent trying to decide which healthy yet inexpensive snacks would substitute for my lunch each day. Until I described this process out loud to my therapist, I was convinced it worked for me. It was nothing short of a heroic act of self-care when, last week between meetings, I found myself at the deli counter in our neighborhood grocery store with a pencil in one hand and the custom sandwich order form in the other. With each checked box – gluten-free bread, avocado, turkey, and bacon – I felt more and more empowered. Buying myself a real lunch on a busy day was a way to slay all the convincing voices in my head saying I am not worthy of the time or money or effort it takes to nurture my body. For me, choosing lunch is choosing truth; it’s turning my back on lies that tell me I am better off depriving myself and staying busy.
I belong in the space between. Denying myself lunch leads me to a comfortable, familiar place. In this place, I don’t have to make decisions. Or commit to anything. I don’t have to risk or be vulnerable. In this space I know so well, I don’t even really have to show up. I call it the space between. In my emotional eating, it is the space between meals. In my life, it is the gap between an accepted offer on a new house and mortgage signing day, the decision to sell my portion of the business and a conversation with my partners, or a yes to a new puppy via email and the physical mailing of the deposit check. It is also a space for me to stay on the outside of groups of friends or camp out in the fear-based expanse between who I really am and who I think I should be. These are the spaces I cling to, the places I think I belong. Their iterations are endless, but they all have one common thread: self-protection. Knowing what I need to do but not committing to it keeps me from having to be All In, and safe from all the things: failure, abandonment, rejection. So, taking my turkey sandwich to the checkout line and swiping up for Apple Pay is a practice of commitment, a baby step in the direction of All In because saying yes to lunch means saying no to the snacking space between.
My mind is my safe place. In front of the pantry, I inhabit a space of detachment. My mind tempts me with lies and tricks; I leave my body and neglect my soul. In my mind, I can make sense of things. I get to analyze why my daughter threw that fit and rationalize my less-than-ideal reaction. My own answers and explanations trump spiritual ones. When my mind is my dwelling place, I don’t have to be present to the uncertainty of now, the mystery of life. Yet it is when I am fully aware of my thoughts, senses, and feelings that I feel closest to God. Experience tells me the opposite is also true: when I am not integrated in body, mind, and soul, I am unable to encounter God. In the midst of compulsive eating, I do not find God. But, en route to my meeting, with a bona fide lunch in my hand, I experience a union of body, mind, and soul. And with each bite, I taste the love of a God who is the source of my worth and who patiently waits for me to commit.
I don’t know if I will end up in front of the pantry again, but I know I want to treat my body better. I am pretty sure that what I really believe about myself, true or not, drives more than just the way I eat. Most importantly, I believe that something as simple as a turkey sandwich can become a divine encounter that speaks the truth about my worth. It reminds me that I belong wherever I can be fully present, that there is always space waiting for the wholly integrated version of me to be All In.
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Featured image courtesy of Hill Smiley Photography
I never know how to finish the sentence, “I am a…” Like you, one day I am many things and another I am convinced I am not enough. But, every day, I do my best to listen to the Spirit within me, create something meaningful and love others deeply. I write, make art, meditate and pray. I try and fail and try again – as a mom, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, friend and follower of Jesus. I practice grace and self-compassion. And, every day, I learn something new about trusting the me God created me to be. You can connect with Holly on her blog or Instagram.