Our relationship with food -- how, when, what and why we eat -- is a direct expression of our underlying feelings, thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. It has to do with stances we take that get reflected not only in our relationship with food, but in all our relationships. It just so happens that the relationship with food causes enough conflict, grief, shame and hurt that we're willing to look at it.
Most of our suffering comes from resisting what is already here, particularly our feelings. All any feeling wants is to be welcomed, touched, allowed. It wants attention. It wants kindness. If you treated your feelings with as much love as you treated your dog or your cat or your child, you'd feel as if you were living in heaven every day of your sweet life.
Staying requires being curious about who you actually are when you don't take yourself to be a collection of memories.When you don't infer your existence form replaying what happened to you, when you don't take yourself to be the girl your mother/father/brother/teacher/lover didn't see or adore. When you sense yourself directly, immediately, right now, without preconception, who are you?
Imagine not being frightened by any feeling. Imagine knowing that nothing will destroy you. That you are beyond any feeling, an state. Bigger than. Vaster than. That there is no reason to use drugs because anything a drug could do would pale in comparison to knowing who you are. To what you can understand, live, be, just by being with that presents itself to you in the form of the feelings you have...
At some point, it's time to stop fighting with death, my thighs and the way things are. And to realize that emotional eating in nothing but bolting from multiple versions of the above: the obsession will stop when the bolting stops. And at that point, we might answer, as spiritual teacher Catherine Ingram did, when someone asked how she allowed herself to tolerate deep sorrow, "I live among the brokenhearted. They allow it.
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When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you. You walk around ashamed of being yourself. You try hard to make up for the way you look, walk, feel. Decisions are agonizing because if you, the person who makes the decision, is damaged, then how can you trust what you decide? You doubt your own impulses so you become masterful at looking outside yourself for comfort. You become an expert at finding experts and programs, at striving and trying hard and then harder to change yourself, but this process only reaffirms what you already believe about yourself - that your needs and choices cannot be trusted, and left to your own devices you are out of control (p.82-83)
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hell is wanting to be somewhere different from where you are. Being one place and wanting to be somewhere else... Wanting life to be different from what it is. That's also called leaving without leaving. Dying before you die. It's as if there is a part of you that so rails against being shattered by love that you shatter yourself first. (p. 44)
compulsive eating is basically a refusal to be fully alive. No matter what we weigh, those of us who are compulsive eaters have anorexia of the soul. We refuse to take in what sustains us. We live lives of deprivation. And when we can't stand it any longer, we binge. The way we are able to accomplish all of this is by the simple act of bolting - of leaving ourselves - hundreds of times a day.
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It's never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale. We are unrepeatable beings of light and space and water who need these physical vehicles to get around. When we start defining ourselves by that which can be measured or weighed, something deep within us rebels. We don't want to EAT hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to BE hot fudge sundaes. We want to come home to ourselves. (p. 174-5)
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Weight (too much or too little) is a by-product. Weight is what happens when you use food to flatten your life. Even with aching joints, it's not about food. Even with arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure. It's about your desire to flatten your life. It's about the fact that you've given up without saying so. It's about your belief that it's not possible to live any other way - and you're using food to act that out without ever having to admit it. (p. 53)
Our work is not to change what you do, but to witness what you do with enough awareness, enough curiosity, enough tenderness that the lies and old decisions upon which the compulsion is based become apparent and fall away. When you no longer believe that eating will save your life when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed or lonely, you will stop. When you believe in yourself more than you believe in food, you will stop using food as if it were your only chance at not falling apart. When the shape of your body no longer matches the shape of your beliefs, the weight disappears. (p. 80-81)
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When you ignore your belly, you become homeless. You spend your life trying to erase your own existence. Apologizing for yourself. Feeling like a ghost. Eating to take up space, eating to give yourself the feeling that you have weight here, you belong here, you are allowed to be yourself - but never quite believing it because you don't sense yourself directly... I started teaching a simple belly meditation in which I asked people to become aware of sensations in their belly (numbness and emptiness count as sensations). Every time their mind wandered... I asked them to begin counting their breaths so they could anchor their concentration. Starting with the number one and saying it on the out breath, they'd count to seven and begin again. If they were able to stay concentrated on the sensations in their belly centers, they didn't need to use counting as a concentration anchor... you begin the process of bringing yourself back to your body, to your belly, to your breath because they - not the mind medleys - are here now. And it is only here, only now that you can make a decision to eat or not eat. To occupy your own body or to vacate your arms and your legs while still breathing and go through your days as a walking head... Meditation is a tool to shake yourself awake. A way to discover what you love. A practice to return yourself to your body when the mind medleys threaten to usurp your sanity.
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When we give up dieting, we take back something we were often too young to know we had given away: our own voice. Our ability to make decisions about what to eat and when. Our belief in ourselves. Our right to decide what goes into our mouths. Unlike the diets that appear monthly in magazines or the thermal pants that sweat off pounds, unlike a lover or a friend or a car, your body is reliable. It doesn't go away, get lost, stolen. If you will listen, it will speak.
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Weight (too much or too little) is a by-product. Weight is what happens when you use food to flatten your life. Even with aching joints, it's not about food. Even with arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure. It's about your desire to flatten your life. It's about the fact that you've given up without saying so. It's about your belief that it's not possible to live any other way - and you're using food to act that out without ever having to admit it.
The big horrible thing isn't the plane crash or the earthquake or the diagnosis. When those things occur, we act, we know what to do. We live or we die. Hell is what we do in the meantime. It is the ways we starve our souls as we prepare for the future that never comes as planned. The true disaster is living the life in your mind and missing the one in front of you.
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I think we all have a hunger that's hard to name. A lot of people who come to my retreats have never named it before, or else they've named it in church, but they can't actually see the connection between what they're doing with food and this yearning. I call it "the flame" that they have: They yearn for big answers to live a big life. But they have to start with the most basic fears.
What is pronounced these days is staying on the Internet for hours. It's really about distraction. We are living in such an over stimulated culture. There's a nervous energy of always having to be focused out there. People have a hard time just being happy, settled, and content. We're not taught how to just be by ourselves, be present. We always want to change the channel in our minds because we don't like what's going on. It's uncomfortable.
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The truth is that it's not about the weight. It's never been about the weight. When a pill is discovered that allows people to eat whatever they want and not gain weight, the feelings and situations they turned to food to avoid will still be there and they will find other more inventive ways to numb themselves.
For some reason, we are truly convinced that if we criticize ourselves, the criticism will lead to change. If we are harsh, we believe we will end up being kind. If we shame ourselves, we believe we end up loving ourselves. It has never been true, not for a moment, that shame leads to love. Only love leads to love.
No matter where you go, no matter how many gifts you give and receive this holiday season, unless you are actually present, it all flies by as if in a dream. Satisfaction in anything--a meal, an interaction, a gift, a sunset--depends on your willingness to take it in. Breathe. Feel your arms and your legs. You are allowed to love every little thing about yourself and your life. You are allowed to take up space and be all that you are. Really you are.
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And if you worry that not finishing the food on your plate is a slap in the face of all the hungry people everywhere, you are not living in reality. The truth is that you either throw the food out or you throw it in, but either way it turns to waste. World hunger will not be solved by finishing the garlic mashed potatoes on your plate.
We need to build our friendships on truth and wholeness. We need friends who can be with us in our loneliness, not people who will cheer us up so that we don't feel it. We need friends who get furious with us when we are not being real or true to ourselves, not when we don't do what they want us to do.
Our work is not to change what you do, but to witness what you do with enough awareness, enough curiosity, enough tenderness that the lies and old decisions upon which the compulsion is based become apparent and fall away. When you no longer believe that eating will save your life when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed or lonely, you will stop. When you believe in yourself more than you believe in food, you will stop using food as if it were your only chance at not falling apart. When the shape of your body no longer matches the shape of your beliefs, the weight disappears.
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It matters whether you see yourself as someone who is capable of effecting change or whether you see yourself as someone whose voice does not count. It matters whether you treat yourself with reverence or with carelessness. Every bit of work you do on yourself matters. Every time you choose love, it matters.