Here this week, I’m celebrating a decade of work – the 10th anniversary of Growing Human(kind)ness. This anniversary brings up much in me – namely, gratitude and wonder! In service of this anniversary, and in honor of the new year, I’ve been tweaking my vision for what I yearn to offer in 2017. Today I want to tell you a bit about that deeper vision, and how you can join me.
Making sense of food compulsions
Ten years ago, when I first began writing, and even before that, when I was searching for answers to heal my own 20 years of eating disorders, I followed an intuitive hunch that there was something else underneath food compulsions.
I found the answer, surprisingly, in parenting. For by 2007, I was the mother of four children – a graduate school unlike any other! As I learned about parenting and child development, and as I learned more about myself through mothering (the relationship of motherhood will, indeed, bring up all your own untended losses and shine a light on your own “stuckness”) the threads began to weave together.
What was disjointed and overwhelming – why do I binge? Why can’t I stop obsessing over sugar? Why do I hate my body with such intensity? – began to coalesce, and make sense.
During this time, the books that were most helpful for me in healing my own eating disorders weren’t about food or overeating. They were parenting books. And so my mentors and teachers became primarily developmental psychologists.
The answer to addiction is connection
My own journey mirrored our culture’s journey.
Over the past decade, our understanding of developmental psychology, attachment theory, neuroscience and brain development has deepened and intertwined with our understanding of addiction, vulnerability, and eating disorders.
People like addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté; his co-author, my mentor, developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the growing field of interpersonal neurobiology (of whom Dr. Dan Siegel is the most known) and author Johann Hari are singing a chorus: that “the answer to addiction is relationship and connection, not sobriety.”
They are tying the threads together between development, connection, and addiction.
In 2012, I “officially” added my voice to this chorus when I published this blog post on how attachment can heal overeating. This voice has been guiding me since, and it’s this voice that will continue to guide my offerings for the future.
I get frustrated by overeating approaches that focus on fixing behavior without an understanding of what’s underneath. It hurts my heart when they don’t work and foster shame, heartbreak, and discouragement in those who suffer.
I want to channel and move this frustration into an opportunity to foster change!
Changing how we see
I yearn to fundamentally change how we see – how we look at food compulsions like binge eating, overeating and sugar addiction. By changing how we see, we can change how we respond, how we relate, and how we support healing and growth.
It’s the first place we start.
As I see it, secure attachment – not fixing behavior – is the solution to overeating and food compulsions. Secure attachment – loving, connected relationship with self and others – is what fosters the safety to heal, and what fosters the safety to grow out of a reliance on food for comfort, pleasure, and self soothing. Secure attachment is what fills the hole that food is filling.
In changing how we see, we move from the head – from a place of separation, rigidity, judgment, and intellectualization – and into the heart, a space of connection, compassion and holding. In changing how we see, we foster a change of heart, what you may also call a change of consciousness.
This change of heart opens the door for Life to move – what truly unfolds and heals.
Why we need to move away from an overfocus on ‘self regulation’
With this shift in perspective, the way out also becomes clear – supporting the healing process with loving relationship, connection, attachment, and compassion. This feels so much different than a “top down” attempt to control or eradicate behavior. It’s a fundamental shift from behaviorism and control into development and relationship.
It’s also a shift away from a focus on skills and self regulation.
I feel strongly that this healing process is not a solitary one, but communual. Fundamentally, it is a shift from isolation into connection, and this includes leaning in relationship with others – what some call healthy dependency and others call interdependency. (Trauma therapist and interneurobiology expert Bonnie Badenoch has an excellent video here on the myth of self regulation.)
I believe that Western culture’s overfocus on the self – the belief that “I need to regulate better, that I need to get myself together” – is one of the threads that is contributing to the increase in overeating and binge eating we are seeing today. It is not the solution.
Here’s how it could be different – when someone struggles with cravings and wants to binge or overeat, a self focused approach would focus on the skills this person needs to learn to manage their emotions without food. A connection based approach asks this question – what kind of support might help that person in the moment when they are wanting to overeat? And answers with, “connection.” In this case, someone may be encouraged to reach out for support in those moments of intensity rather than trying to manage the cravings on their own.
It’s not that internal resources – like the capacity to feel the impulse to binge without acting on it – are wrong. But our overfocus on them is based upon a misunderstanding of how they are developed. They are grown from the inside out. And it is through relationship – through connection – that these internal resources are built. That’s why relationship and connection are so important. They are the foundation for growth and healing.
Seeing the order in eating disorders
I feel passionate about sharing this new way of seeing, for I’ve witnessed how it fosters clarity, relief, understanding, and ease. This perspective removes the burden and shame of eating disorders and sees their order, not their disorder.
It places them in a positive, life affirming, love affirming, humanity affirming position – versus a negative position, something dangerous or scary to cut out and control.
As my friend Isabelle Tierney puts it, food compulsions and eating disorders are “an attempt to feel good.” They are a cry and a thirst for love, and are rooted in a longing for goodness, connection and wholeness.
How to join me for the coming year
I’m going to be sharing this approach in two ways. The introductory course for this material, this new way of seeing, is When Food is Your Mother. (You can watch a preview of the course material in this webinar here.)
I’ll also be writing and speaking to this approach on my blog and webinars. I hope you’ll join me in this adventure!