What’s behind overeating? What’s behind the fixation on food? If you keep looking behind and behind and behind, you’ll find it isn’t really about the sugar or food at all.
For years, I approached the holidays with anticipatory dread. I dreaded the celebrations at my children’s schools, invitations to neighbors’ homes, and holiday strolls because all kinds of treats would be there. I worried about overeating, overdoing it, and bingeing.
Likewise, I dreaded going home for the holidays. I felt ashamed of my longstanding overeating, and wanted to hide any evidence that I was struggling. So I was always striving to “get myself together” and hide my vulnerability. In my mind’s eye, this meant “achieving optimum health” – being at my best (lowest) weight, following my food plan to a tee, and being sugar free.
This made life isolating, stressful, and very small.
Anxiety: the driving force
Underneath this fixation on food and my weight was tremendous anxiety. My anxiety wasn’t really about the food, but about other things that were going on in my life that were deeply frightening and alarming to me. But I couldn’t see this.
I thought the real culprit was my out of control desire for food and sugar. And underneath this, I thought the real culprit was my “badness.” Out of that mistaken belief arose all my attempts to control, fix, and get myself together foodwise.
As the years went by, my healing journey was co-opted by this same anxiety and trepidation. It created a fixation on eating right and “figuring out the right thing to do” – a kind of orthorexia – and an obsessive working on myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Draining the alarm underneath the food fixation
Thank God it didn’t work – the best thing that ever happened to me is when I “failed” to “fix myself” through striving and straining. This broke me open to drain the alarm that was underneath my bingeing, to connect instead of isolate, and to feel the grief about just how scared and lonely I’d been.
In turn, my food and sugar obsession began to unravel and unwind.
While the details of my story may seem personal to me, it’s quite common and ordinary. Underneath most challenges with food you’ll find some sort of undigested loss, separation, or alarm. You’ll find grief and fear and a compulsion to fix the self.
It’s one reason why working directly on the food or sugar “problem” is often not the answer.
Holiday anxiety and food
This topic is timely because the holidays are upon us, and this can bring up a lot of anxiety around sugar and food. You may feel some of the dread that I felt, worried about bingeing or pressured to “hanker down” and “get yourself together.” You may feel that same striving to figure it all out.
I’d like to gently offer an alternative.
Bringing love into your relationship with food
Sometimes, we don’t need a course about “doing,” working on the self, or creating specific behavioral changes with food like eating less sugar, or bingeing less.
Instead, we need to heal our relationship with food itself – how we relate to our food struggles themselves.
When we focus on relationship, there’s less pressure to ‘make changes happen.’ This creates a loving space where the anxiety and fear under the food can soften – and where growth can unfold.
This “new life” can appear as behavioral changes like more mindful sugar consumption, less bingeing, and more conscious food choices. But it’s change that arises from the inside out, without the painful striving, stress and tension of “doing it right.” It’s an unfolding that moves through you, and that carries with it ease and peace.