Feed My Heart

Basket of muffins
Basket of muffins

My next article will be the start of a series on my diet journey, but this post was so timely, so I decided to skip the line. In brief, I’ve put myself on a diet that limits almost all of my comfort foods, in favor of healthy proteins and vegetables.

One of the hardest parts of eliminating my favorite treat foods from my diet is having to relearn how to cope emotionally.

Food was my friend growing up when I had no friends. The strange bookworm who seemed to have no social skills was always welcomed by pizza and French toast and ice cream. Food loved me unconditionally. Food cared about me when I felt very alone. Food asked nothing of me and only gave me comfort.

It’s only now I realize food also allowed me to bury my pain behind calories, which made me so volatile. Like nuclear waste, my problems didn’t go away when I ate, they just felt dormant. Unfortunately, when I was full, it would often have me exploding verbally with rage and insulting those around me.

This week, someone I respect made a joke that unknowingly ripped at a raw nerve. I felt so many feelings, pain, confusion, fear, trauma, shame and self-loathing. Worse, I let this person see how wounded I was, which made me feel weak and helpless. I had been stripped of my emotional armor and was completely vulnerable to them.

After that discussion, I had a long train ride, from the Upper West Side to Coney Island, and plenty of time to think. Normally, I would have just sought out my food friends in the picture. Without the benefit of a muffin to staunch my pain, I had to actually sit down and deal with my feelings.

I began by asking myself, what did I feel?

I felt weak because I cared about someone, which gave them control over me. Food was a relationship where I had complete power, but friendship was giving someone else the power.

I felt anger that this person had gotten me to care so much. Food was much easier to care about.

I felt ashamed of them seeing me cry. Food often tasted better when I was in tears.

I felt worthless and unworthy because I didn’t feel I deserved their respect or their belief in me. I felt I was failing them constantly, by not being better. Food had much lower standards.

I had to sort out these feelings alone, without my usual comfort procedure.

I began with the first emotion. Yes, friendship meant allowing others to see me vulnerable and that could leave me feeling weak. This person and so many others might reject me and our friendship. They could emotionally or even physically hurt me.

Of course, that was true even when I was stress-eating. In fact, by eating my feelings, I let people hurt me more because I’d eat instead of standing up for myself. I am vulnerable to my friends, but I’m also capable of defending myself. I am choosing to be weaker in my boundaries because I’m giving them permission to come closer to me, a sign of strength and trust.

I moved to anger. My anger was frustration that I wasn’t in control and I had put myself into a situation where I could be hurt or rejected. “So let them try. Being my friend is a gift. If they hurt me or reject me, it’s their loss.”

I transitioned to shame. There’s nothing shameful about letting them see me in pain. Without intending to, they had hurt me, and my tears were natural. I’m allowed to have feelings and I don’t have to eat them away and smooth things over.

I moved to the root of the feelings, being unworthy and worthless and not deserving of their esteem. I eat to cover up those feelings, and now, they were staring me right in the face. No amount of blueberry muffins can soothe that gap.

There’s no easy answer. I am going to have to work on my self-esteem and emotional health, instead of burying it away. I’m going to have to dig deep and learn how to become at peace with myself. I’m going to have to learn to trust my friends and shed my fears of losing them.

I feel empowered to finally start dealing with the actual problem, instead of eating away and ignoring the problem.

I want to feed my spirit now, and I’m fairly sure the hard work will be even sweeter than cake.

Of course, that still won’t help with cravings.

But that’s another article.

Writer, lawyer, Kravist, friend

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