The healing path out of overeating is an unwinding path, a spiral of healing and growth.
I got several emails this week from women who feel utterly discouraged. They’ve been doing lots of powerful healing work, and while they see internal shifts in how they’re relating to themselves – they’re kinder and more aware of the feelings under the food – they’re frustrated that these shifts are not carrying over externally, into shifts in how or what they eat.
They’re still overeating and bingeing and are frustrated by weight gain.
Here’s my response:
I want to normalize this for you and share that this is a normal, natural part of the journey. I went through it. Most people who stop dieting and take an inside out approach to healing food suffering (and this includes those of you who are fans of Geneen Roth’s work) go through this. In fact, in both Geneen Roth’s books and in Intuitive Eating, another inside out guide to healing, the authors describe how the inside out approach usually looks messy for a while. So let me reassure you: you’re not doing anything wrong.
In the meantime, here’s why it’s so darn messy:
When we turn inwards, what happens is that all the emotions, unprocessed grief, and needs that we had buried, avoided, ignored, or eaten around come up to the surface. These hurts arise, asking to be felt, honored, and digested.
As you feel and move these emotions, the energy behind the drive to binge or overeat softens, drains and unwinds.
Feeling more or feeling worse?
As you’re processing these inner dynamics, it can feel “bad” because you’re feeling painful feelings. It may look like things are falling apart. We often confuse feeling “bad” or “painful” feelings with being bad, or being in a bad place. But it’s simply something you’re moving through as you move through these emotions.
You may feel frightened as the scale rises, as you go through rounds of intense overeating or bingeing, or as these big feelings come up. You may compare yourself to others and think there’s something wrong you.
When you’re in this space, it is easy to feel alarmed, anxious or to panic. This can show up as incessant, racing thoughts that say things like, “This doesn’t work,” or “you’re doing it wrong,” or “you’re going to end up at 300 pounds.”
Healing is a grieving and feeling process
There’s nothing wrong. You’re just healing. During this part of the journey, your main tasks are to heal and grieve. Grief is messy. It takes time. It takes energy. It can be draining. It’s a big process, and it takes commitment.
On the other side of this grieving (and healing) process, you grow. Growth is the fruit of healing, and it can appear as:
- less overeating and bingeing
- feeling less driven to overeat or binge
- feeling more empowered, peaceful and calm around food
- being able to access a calm, inner space what to eat, and being able to follow that internal guidance
- feeling less anxious about controlling food
- the freedom to eat pleasure foods without bingeing
The mercy and patience to grow
So the task before you is this: can you give your heart, body, and mind the space it needs to heal? Are you willing to give yourself mercy while the pain is healed?
Most of us want to skip the healing and go right for growth. Of course! We may feel impatient, we may feel irritated at our human messiness and wounding, and we may be frustrated: we want to fit into our clothes, stop obsessing about food, and stop bingeing.
It feels incredibly vulnerable to be a messy human being who’s in process – particularly if you live in a Western culture that prides itself on behaviorism, quick fixes, individualism, and manifest destiny. This fosters both external and internal pressure to “get yourself together” and to be in control.
So healing takes courage and inner strength – including the courage to allow your healing process to unwind, and to unwind in its own time.
What if your journey with food is an emotional practice?
When we get reactive, when we overeat, when we do the thing we wish we hadn’t done, it’s easy to blame and judge ourselves and close our hearts. To get through the messiness, I offer this suggestion: what if you didn’t make the messiness wrong?
Could you accept that it just is? Can you accept that it’s part of the journey? Can you accept that it’s perhaps a necessary part of the journey?
Your relationship with food is an emotional practice. What does this mean? Through food, you’re learning to embrace, make room for, and accept a wide range of emotions. You’re becoming a deep human being, doing emotional labor. And through this labor, yes, things are born – both in you, and in the world.
This emotional practice perspective makes room for all aspects of the journey, and all emotions. In other words, there is room for the messy healing. It is included in the journey, not outcast.
The path to change
When we’re healing, and it’s messy, we think it will never turn around. But it does and it will. Yes, it takes time. It’s a process. And yet as the hurts are healed, as they’re cared for, as the trauma is healed, energy becomes free for growth.
You will find your way back home again. Eventually, you’ll go back to grounding, to the routines that help you. You can use less energy for healing and more towards growth. You’ll pick up a bit of exercise; you’ll reflect on your food choices. You’ll pause and ask yourself, “Do I really want to eat that?” You’ll start taking those baby steps forward.
What to do now
In the meantime, when you’re in the healing stage, receive lots and lots of loving support. This is particularly true if you’re healing trauma.
Recognize that you’re healing and care for yourself accordingly. Extra sleep is great. So is time with people who love you and remind you of your goodness. Spend time in nature. Call on love. Cry. Hold your heart. Watch a movie that makes you laugh. Connect with trusted loved ones and friends.
Your humanity is not wrong, but something tender and precious. There is a beautiful tenderness in your very vulnerability. Caring for your tender humanity – all of it – is a doorway to belonging, to Divinity, to wholeness, to forgiveness, to peace.
If you’re wanting more hands on help for overeating or binge eating, please explore this page on Overeating 101. It offers further explanation on the inner dynamics that feed overeating and binge eating and how to drain them.