Overeating is so often misunderstood, devalued, and feared.
Overeating is so painful, and equally frustrating – something you long not to do but find yourself doing anyway. It can bring up embarrassment and shame about being “so out of control.” In fact, this shame can lead to deep seated feelings of self judgment and self hatred, where overeating – and those who overeat – are seen as moral failures.
This “moral failure” perspective is all around us: it’s the sea we all swim in, a symptom of our greater culture: what we value and esteem as a whole. We feel its ebb and tide and pull. Western culture in particular, with its values of individualism, self realization, and personal achievement, breeds shame, guilt and inadequacy when we fail to measure up to these idealistic standards of “togetherness.”
The lack of “success” or “togetherness” can be equated with a lack of character, will, desire, or spiritual or psychological attainment. In other words, you’re only as “good” as you are great: in control.
You find seeds of this moral failure perspective in the dieting and weight loss culture, in our families, communities, spiritual communities, self help and personal growth culture, health and wellness culture, and our culture at large. There is so much focus on the individual, personal responsibility, and on “fixing your overeating or weight problem.”
One of my teachers, elder, teacher, and farmer Stephen Jenkinson, calls this “competence addiction:” the addiction we have to feeling competent, in charge and in control of all things. It’s a paradox – the more we think we should be more in control or competent, the more ashamed or embarrassed we feel about our undeveloped, still growing, messy parts. They become outcasts to overcome – like overeating – rather than a vulnerability to be embraced.
I want to be blunt: I think the “moral approach” to overeating is soul killing. It breeds shame – a deep shame of being human; a shame that can pervade our very beingness – self hatred, and inadequacy, not to mention perpetuating and feeding the overeating itself. It compounds addiction, compulsion, isolation, and paradoxically, self absorption.
This is the soul’s cry: what if we no longer viewed overeating as a moral, right or wrong behavior, but instead as this: a wise, attuned response in the face of powerlessness, overwhelming emotional pain, or undigested grief.
What if we approached overeating with reverence, with an understanding that the drive to overeat has intelligence and wisdom in it – and is something to be listened to, and not simply cut out or overcome?
What if we wondered: what if overeating is not the frightening thing that we think it is, that we take it to be?
Do we dare to allow overeating to harbinge a visit, to dine at our table, to be a guest at it?
When I wondered and befriended and sat with my overeating and binge eating, I found that underneath overeating lies a very, very tender expression. I found my human vulnerability, and all the ways I tried to cover up, protect, and shield myself from being hurt; all the ways I tried to care for myself when I felt powerless or unsafe; all the ways I was working so hard to eradicate this self hatred, this deep shame for being human.
I found very human, very tender needs. My heart and the front of my body felt achy-sore as I touched into these painful places – little fontanels of my being.
Under each food binge, under each extra plate of pasta, you’ll find fontanels: the soft, squishy spots of your vulnerability. They are places of grief, places of loss, places of hurt, and yes, places of wisdom, courage and heart. What if they’re not the frightening things you take them to be?
What if we let the “moral failure” perspective of overeating – and of ourselves – die, and be laid to rest. Could something new be born in its place?
That’s something to wonder about.