When I stopped dieting, it was because I glimpsed the possibility that my crazy eating was the sanest thing I'd ever done. If I didn't reject it, try to be good or measure up to an external standard of right eating or right body size, if I was curious and open about each part of it -- what I was eating, how I felt while I was eating, what happened in the moments before I suddenly found myself hacking away at frozen cake in an attempt to get the whole thing into my mouth ten minutes ago -- the eating itself would lead me back to the feelings, beliefs, fears that created the addiction. Once I understood what I was using food to do, I could ask myself if there was a more direct way to have what I wanted without hurting myself in the process.
One night after I ate an entire pizza, three pieces of cheesecake, a bag of potato chips and a pint of pumpkin ice cream, I sat down to write instead of going into my usual whirl of "I can't believe I did that,I am a pig, out of control, hopeless" After about half an hour of writing into the center of the feelings (using a method I've since called "writing inquiry"), I realized I believed that being thin meant being in relationships, and given my history of picking "projects" instead of people -- men who, like broken cars, needed years of tuning up,
“Once I saw the tangled wisdom in my eating, it began to unravel itself. Without dieting, without force.”
then left and gave someone else the benefit of all my hard labor -- I wanted to be alone. But since being thin and being in exhausting relationships were synonymous in my mind, I kept eating to protect myself, believing that being fat made me so unattractive, no one, not even a battered VW bug would want me. When I understood the connection I was making between being fat and being alone, I didn't have to force myself to eat less; awareness and clear seeing did it for me. Eating whole pizzas and stuffing myself with ten thousand calories at a time no longer seemed exciting. I didn't have to use willpower. I didn't have to shame myself. I didn't have to lock the cookies in cabinets and give the key to my neighbor. I didn't have to throw my pizza in the garbage and cover it with moldy cottage cheese. Once I saw the tangled wisdom in my eating, it began to unravel itself. Without dieting, without force. It was as if I'd been living in a dark, stale room for thirty years and someone switched on the light. I couldn't go back to believing that light didn't exist. No one was more surprised than the me I'd taken myself to be: someone who was destined to trudge through life with fat thighs and an appetite she couldn't control.
The real miracle wasn't that I lost weight or that the biggest problem of my life was no longer a problem, it was that all this time, my longing -- which expressed itself in distorted eating -- was for the right thing but I didn't know how to listen, to be attentive. All this time, my self -- destructive eating was a valiant though misguided attempt at being fully alive. Like a plant naturally curves to the light, I could trust the curves of my heart. I could trust that what I wanted most was to be whole. I was too busy pushing myself, driving myself, judging myself, hating myself, thinking I knew what I was supposed to change into and how to do it. I was like a caterpillar who spent seventeen years shaming myself for not being a better, stronger, thinner caterpillar without ever once considering that being a butterfly was possible. In the end, breaking free from emotional eating is about finally trusting that something else exists besides pain, sorrow, hatred, suffering, and that there is a rhythm, an order, and a natural push for light in every single one of us.