7 Things I learned from overcoming my food addiction
We live in our heads. We think we’ll figure out things cognitively. We work and rework a problem, often grinding it into a bad habit instead of solving anything. Our current culture seems to promote thinking, rethinking and overthinking.
The most obvious example of this is dieting. When we diet, we put very poor, body-depriving habits onto a situation we want to change. Over time, dieting can morph into something much bigger and more diminishing: disordered eating or food addiction. No food plan, diet or expensive supplement can change the way our minds work, especially when enmeshed in a negative habitual thinking pattern.
After over 20 years of struggle, I finally got it. I was stuck with both a fat body and the thinking that created it.
I didn’t want a size 0 or even a 2 or 4 body. I didn’t want skinny jeans or a miniskirt. I wanted freedom from the mental anguish of food addiction, and I knew freedom was going to require going inside and changing. Thinking only got me more immersed in failure, shame and body hatred.
I wasn’t afraid of freedom — I was hungry for it. I wasn’t intimidated by the work involved — I was challenged.
If I wanted to make fat OK, I could change my mind about it — that would be a function of the mind. Though I have no quarrel with anyone wanting to do that, it didn’t feel healthy to me.
Losing over 90 pounds — and maintaining it for over 15 years — taught me how to get out of my mind and — slowly, incrementally — reclaim my body. I now believe it is the only way to lose weight and not regain it. Here are some of the things I received from my efforts:
1. Greater intelligence
Can you actually get smarter by using your mind less? Yes! The body has a wealth of valuable information we actively ignore when we overthink. I learned my body actively hated and rejected most of the foods I thought were healthy and ate for weight loss. It was constantly giving me — I was just hating on my body more because I didn’t want the feedback. There’s not much chance of success taking that route.
2. Owning my body
As a 242-pound woman, I thought a person could only own their body if they were thin. I use the term “owning” as feeling totally comfortable and confident inside your own skin. The women I knew who had body confidence were all thin. You can own your body at any size, but you can’t fake owning it. It shows. I learned I don’t have to be thin, perfect or classically formed to own my body — but there is nothing more powerful. When you own your body, you know who you are.
3. Greater emotional resilience
I think fat is stuck emotion made visible. As we live complicated lives, feeling less than positive about our bodies and treating them as the enemy — degrading, hating and starving the physical body — it reflects back on us, gathering a coat of fat for protection from negativity and the next starvation diet. Feeling fully connected to my body, my emotions are ever-present and easily discernible, certainly not as scary as built-up emotions buried in fat. This ever-present range of emotion gives my life depth, beauty, intuition and a profound, intimate connection to myself.
4. Mental clarity
When I began to eat for fuel, energy and vitality, my mind cleared. Yes, I was working to gain greater clarity on how my mind got involved, sabotaging me constantly, but this was something more. I learned the brain is not actually the most important organ in the body — the most important organ is the stomach, where everything begins. The mind doesn’t function well without proper nutrients.
5. Sexual expression
Sex invites us into the lusciousness of the body and its pure expressive nature. Great sex that anchors us even more deeply in the sensuality of the body is impossible if there is judgment and criticism towards the body. Connection to the deep well of sexual feeling is located — think about it — in the belly, often blocked by excess food. It’s common to substitute eating or binging for sexual expression, or to block feelings that may temporarily have no place to go due to circumstances of life and your current partner status.
Most experts have the opinion that addiction cannot be healed. Furthered by the 12-Step Model of Recovery, which has helped many manage their addictions, few look beyond management to healing an addiction. When I realized I no longer felt that uncontrollable, compulsive leering urge towards food, I felt a freedom I’d longed to find my whole life.
7. Connection to soul
Beneath every breath, there is the soul. It is simply impossible to feel the soul, or discern its deep longing, if disconnected from the body. Indeed, I’ve come to believe most yearning for food, alcohol, drugs or other addictive substances or behaviors is a yearning for the soul, for connection to self and for true nurturing.
Given the wide range of gifts I received from doing the “inside job” of losing weight, I look back and wonder why I waited more than 20 years.
My advice, given my history and success, is to seize the opportunity and regain your amazing, brilliant body and gain an ally who’s always by your side.
Pat Barone, M.C.C., is a professional coach and creator of the Own Every Bite class — a body-centric approach to permanent weight loss. Pat's weight loss of over 90 pounds has been sustained since 2000.