Over the past few months, I’ve been writing and sharing what has become a mantra: that binge eating, overeating and other food compulsions are healed through relationship – through connection.
Many of you have written to ask – this sounds so beautiful – but what does it mean?
Many of you have also written to say: connection is simple, but not easy. How do I do this?
Respecting our human vulnerability
Connection, indeed, is simple in theory, but not necessarily easy in application. For we’ve all been wounded in relationship, and we all bear these scars.
Inherent in relationship is vulnerability. For when we connect, we’re opening ourselves to greater intimacy, exposing our neediness, and putting ourselves in a position of depending upon another, of receiving help.
There may be fear – is this safe? Will I get hurt? Will I be okay? It is the risk we take in healing through connection.
While the potential rewards are great, this opening takes courage. It takes trust for our hearts to open, and for our defenses to soften.
It helps if we approach ourselves, our defenses, and our wounds with reverence: with gentleness, compassion, and non-violence. And that is it’s own relationship, it’s own learning curve!
Simple, yes; easy, no.
Moving from an idea into action
So how do we move from an idea – “the answer is connection” – into action, where it’s more than just a rallying cry?
It begins with a shift in understanding – how we see the “problem” of overeating. Then we bring this idea down into the nitty gritty of your daily life, into your daily experiences with food.
This is not necessarily easy either, for the results aren’t immediate. Much of what you try won’t work the first time. It will require creativity, courage, and resilience – finding your way.
You will be asked to trust, to allow time for growth to unfold. This takes patience, and faith.
And: this is a worthy, esteemed, and noble challenge – one I know you’re up to. You wouldn’t be here, reading this, if you weren’t. Something in your heart longs for this. Trust this, and trust yourself.
Internal and external connection
I find it helpful to break connection down like this. Connection/relationship moves two ways – internally, towards yourself – all your many and varied emotions, needs, experiences, and selves.
Connection also moves outward, externally, towards others – with the people whom you love, and who love you; with your community; with our culture, and with Source.
A change in consciousness
The opposite of connection is disconnection. Historically, our culture has been mired in disconnection – how we relate to each other, to our planet, to children, to other cultures, to our emotions, and to our human vulnerability itself. So most of us have lots of painful residue from experiences of disconnection.
Today we’re seeing a change of understanding – a change of consciousness – in how we understand and approach children, our humanity, addiction, our messiest behavior, our needs, our vulnerability, our emotions, our need for relationship and more.
Our perspective is shifting, and we’re moving from a state of disconnection/separation and into connection/a deeper understanding.
We can rightly call this change of consciousness what it is: a profound change of heart.
A shift in how we approach children
I see this change of consciousness arising in many places, but I personally have seen it appear in parenting and how we understand children. (This is probably because parenting is where I’ve spent most of my time these past 20 years!)
When I was a child, a whiny child was just being a brat and needed punishment, a child who was having a tantrum was trying to manipulate you and should be ignored, and most of us were spanked, scolded, or shamed when we misbehaved.
Today, this is starting to shift: a whiny child is now seen more as a hurting child – a child who feels overwhelmed, disconnected, and who needs their parent’s support, love and care. There is greater compassion and understanding for children’s needs, emotions, and development and how this impacts behavior.
A shift in how we approach addiction
You can also see this change of consciousness in addiction. Dr. Gabor Maté, Johann Hari, and others are offering a new perspective – where it’s no longer seen as a problem of will power or choice, and something to be punished, but a cry of deep pain and a need for support and healing. And while it’s not a perfect document, our surgeon general’s new report is affirming that addiction is not about will power, or morality.
In both of these examples – parenting and addiction – you can see how a change in how you see or define the ‘problem’ leads to different feelings, thoughts, assumptions, reactions, responses, and caring.
I see parallel shifts in how we understand food compulsions. The old way of thinking is to look at these things as behavior problems. In fact, the old way of thinking about food parallels the old way of thinking about children.
Seeing food compulsions through a lens of separation
This old way of thinking is a lens of separation. When we view overeating from a space of disconnection or separation, our overeating is filtered through the eyes of:
- frustration/anger/self attack/disgust/shame
- an obsession on fixing the self
In response, we resort to some form of violence. We punish ourselves. We try and control or suppress our ‘bad behavior.’ We use bribes, carrots, sticks, punishments. We compare ourselves to others. We feel frustrated and disgusted by ourselves.
We talk to ourselves in painful, violent ways – “You’ll never heal. What’s wrong with you? You are such a worthless piece of s**t.”
This hurts us deeply, creates more separation, and compounds our food suffering. It leads to an obsession and fixation on ourselves, and our food problems, and worsens them.
We can even experience separation and violence in spiritual or self help approaches to healing. They may be more subtle, but their messages often contain elements of shame and judgment that arise from mental concepts.
There’s often a subtle blaming of the self when we’re struggling.
Healing food compulsions through connection
Now let’s try an alternative perspective. When we see overeating from a space of connection, our overeating is filtered through the eyes of:
- acceptance/a deep invitation, where all parts of ourselves, all our needs, and all our experiences are validated, and welcomed
- trust/faith in the healing process/trust in our ability to steer ourselves through hard times, loss, and painful situations
- rest/ease/room to make mistakes
- respect towards our human neediness
In response, we offer ourselves non-violence: connection, deep listening, empathy, validation, limits/boundaries (connection is not the same thing as permissiveness, a free for all), help, and support. We offer help, not punishment.
With this new perspective, we experience shifts in how we relate to ourselves, how we understand ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, and how we respond. Instead of compounding our pain, we ease it, and we ease the overeating and binge eating.
And instead of increasing separation, we bridge it. Like the archetype of the loving mother, we feel compassionate towards our human vulnerability, and we move in to help care for it.
What is being born through you
So shifting out of this approach of separation and moving into an approach of connection is your (our) beautiful and necessary labor. Like all labors, it asks us to surrender to it: to support and midwife this birthing.
By choosing to respond to your cravings, binges, overeating, and sugar addiction with compassion, connection, and respect instead of disconnection, punishment, and judgment, you’re not only easing your own pain, and midwifing your own healing, you’re also helping to bring about this change of heart, this shift in consciousness into the world.
You’re assisting something greater, something beyond your own relationship with food. How beautiful!
How connection heals
So this is our task: to bring more connection and less separation into all the ways we relate to our desire to binge, overeat, or use sugar/food.
We bring connection into how we see and understand ourselves, how we label ourselves, how we label our behavior, how we treat ourselves, how we talk to ourselves, how we listen to ourselves, and how we care for ourselves.
And when we judge ourselves, or speak harshly to ourselves, we bring connection to that, too. (Connection is not perfection. In fact, connection is a big, wide, deep container that holds all.)
It’s this ground floor, daily connection with yourself – as well as the connection that you have with others, and with Source – that fosters healing with food. It’s the womb of growth.
You can call this connection love, loving relationship, forgivness, or secure attachment.
At the root, they’re all pointing to this: that connection is how we grow, how we transform, and how we heal.