By Jan Holden
It is hard to understand what led me to the Food Company’s baked goods counter as it is a place that I normally avoid like the plague. But I had entered trying to find some specialist ingredient for a friend and somehow I was drawn like a magnet to the crack counter. Like an out of body experience I heard myself order two caramel shortbreads. One is never enough, is it?
Sat in the car with my boxes, I swear they winked at me! I can hear you thinking, “this is ridiculous! A confection of sugar and fat can’t possibly wink!” but I also know that some of you will immediately identify with me and know what I mean when I say that the food spoke to me, loud and clear, shouting “EAT ME!”
I’m sufficiently far down the line in understanding my food addiction to know that this would be a bad idea. I know the cravings that follow a chocolatey moment, even a little one. But this was two massive slabs, and in my mostly clean eating body these days, a carb overload of significant proportions. I ate one, felt very sick and left the other. Over the course of the next week or so, it continued to haunt me. I’d be minding my own business, going about my daily life and the image of the shortbread in it’s box would flash up in my mind like a million light bulbs going off! “I’m still here! EAT ME! I’m still here! EAT ME!” So, dear reader, I did. Again, I experienced the hollow emptiness that followed the sugar high, the sweaty heat in the night as my blood sugar swung up and down and the disappointment that I didn’t just chuck it in the bin. Oh how I mentally struggled with this.
Don’t bin it, you really want it! Enjoy it! Eat it consciously! Nothing wrong with a bit of fat and sugar now and again, it’s your favourite!
No, bin it! You don’t want it really, you are just feeling compulsive, it will start all the cravings up again and you are still in them from the last week’s episode. It pushes you into shame and secrecy. Don’t do it!”
I wanted to share this story with you because this is the honest, sad reality of not just my mind but I’m sure, many others too. Sad that I waste my precious life debating with myself whether or not to eat a fricking shortbread, or two. Sad that I find the prospect of eating it so exciting, so stimulating, that I cannot wait to repeat the experience even though my belly felt physically sick having eaten the first one. Sad that I still can’t trust myself fully to turn away from something I know will not support me or help me in any way, but that still has a hold on me after over three years of turning away from crappy sugary junk.
But the good thing is that I do know now how to return to some state of balance following my binge. It’s simple really. I have a dialogue with my “natural eater”: the part of me that gently suggests and quietly asserts my right to eat what I need, knowing my weaknesses and foibles. She talks to “compulsive eater” a more vociferous, angry, dominant part of me that just pushes and pushes and pushes until I give in. I conduct these exchanges in the car mostly and I assume that fellow drivers think I have a hands free mobile!
But CE tells me that she is driven to behave like this, not because she like shortbread, or any other binge food, but because she is sick of me not listening to her. She is my shadow side, dealing with all the ugly and difficult emotions that I refuse to acknowledge. Emotions like despair and helplessness that you would never guess exist alongside the capable, cheerful exterior that I inhabit most of the time. So food becomes the battleground, the struggle, the day to day conflict, when actually the struggle is nothing to do with food. Food becomes the “go to” prop, the default position, that temporarily, sometimes only momentarily, soothes and calms but then leads me to want more, and some more, and yet still some more.
Last time NE had a chat with CE, CE said she was tired of being the bad guy, after all, she was only doing what I had always done in the past. This new strategy was just that, new! So cut me a little bit of slack! It was only a shortbread (or two), remember the days of the post supermarket French stick eaten whilst driving home? Now that was actually dangerous and not just for your wildly swinging blood sugar levels! NE took the point and quietly asserted that she could help if only I would tune into her.
So, here is my personal strategy which I offer, not as a solution, but as my daily intention to care and nourish myself well. Yours, I’m sure would be different as we are all unique! You might not fancy the two way chats either…..
1. Forget being perfect, you are good enough. I do not need to be 100% anything; raw/wholefood/vegan/vegetarian/plant based. I just do my best. To that end, I shop and buy colourful food that pleases the eye and looks like it has some vital energy in it. For me this means nothing limp or beige or processed and nothing which was produced through violence (my personal feeling, I’m not judging anyone else’s choices here). These foods suit MY body and I love my body so I want to give it the right sort of loving and nurturing.
2. I eat three meals a day and only eat what I have taken with me when I work. That little “rule” saves me from the sugarfest that surrounds me at every turn. They don’t say “one pop and you can’t stop” for nothing. I refuse to have my appetite manipulated by pretend food made in a laboratory. When confronted with processed junk, which unless you live in a hermetically sealed bubble is hundreds of times a day, I say to myself “thank you God (I’m not religious but somehow this works for me), that is not my food”
3. I am accountable not just to myself, but to my family and friends too. Living without shame means being open about really uncomfortable, hidden parts of myself. Being able to tell my nearest and dearest how I truly feel has been transformative for me. Writing this blog is a form of accountability too. You, dear reader, get to share my shortbread struggles! So finding a space to share your story, anonymously or personally, helps us all. I would love this site to be a place where we can all do that. Once Emily is home we will develop the site to make it much easier to do that, as I know she is really keen to create a community here.
4. When I start actually obsessing or cupboard cruising, I have a technique that my friend Helen shared with me. I go into the back of my head, sit down metaphorically and observe my brain. As the thoughts whizz round urgently, the relaxed and calm yogi makes the odd comment “oh, that old chestnut, coming round again, and again? Come on, what is it really about? Really? It’s about Kettle chips? Really?” And on we go in my head, sorting out the reality and the fantasy. I mean, would a bag of crisps really make this situation better? Sometimes yes, but now, more oftentimes, no.
So you are now witness to the daily riot that goes on between my ears. I have Natural Eater and Compulsive Eater to thank for helping to balance my overall wellbeing. They give a voice to the turmoil that sometimes threatens to derail me. I have yoga and meditation to help ease me into my body, to quieten my “monkey mind” and my calm yogi who sits in the back of my brain offering soothing reality when I want to get back into the food that I know no longer serves me.
This is my strategy. My life. It’s not about the shortbread!