My Journey of Emotional Eating – The Long Version

by Courtney on March 17, 2010

As I said I would, here is a summary of my journey with emotional eating. That way, when I begin to write about practices and insights which have helped me to heal, you’ll know where I’m coming from :) I know it’s long…

Somehow, I never learned to eat when I was hungry or stop when I was full, even as a child. Also, as young as 1st grade, I noticed thinness in other girls and desired to be thinner myself. I’m not sure where either of these issues (eating + body image) originated, since I had a very positive childhood and was very loved by my family, and my brothers, both close to my age, have neither of these issues. However, I did adore Disney princesses and Barbies, so pop culture could definitely be an origin. Whatever the reason, I had been a compulsive eater since I was a child.

I was never an overweight child or teenager despite my overeating patterns, because I was a gifted and high achieving athlete in competitive swimming and water polo. As I grew up, my compulsive eating continued, and I became more and more fixated on thinness. Around age 14 or 15, I became cognisant that I was more attached to food than other people were. It did not change anything, but I realized I had some kind of issue.

By the summer before my senior year in high school, I was utterly fed up and frustrated that I wasn’t as thin as I’d like to be. I was at a normal and perfectly healthy weight and had an athletic build, but when Victoria’s Secret models, Barbie and Jasmine are the representations of adequacy, “healthy” means zilch. So, I continued with my intense varsity swimming and water polo training schedule as I had been doing for years, which each day consisted of 3-5 hours of exercise, and simply started eating very little. I became very thin, but was still toned from all my training. I looked exactly as I’d always wanted to be. I didn’t look scary skinny, I just looked slender, and no one guessed I had developed an eating disorder, but it was in full expression. My eating and body were 90% or more of what I thought about, and I would often weigh myself up to 10 times in a day.

That winter, I was encouraged to watch “Supersize Me”. At the time I was completely uninterested in nutrition. Though I was striving to stay at a low weight, the last thing I was thinking about was nutrition. I didn’t care if all I ate in a day was a bowl of sugary cereal or all I ate was a bag of Wendy’s fries and a frostie. However, I watched it and realized how damaging, long term, fast food was going to be for my health. I started eating less fast food. Around that same time, the book Fast Food Nation, by Erik Schlosser, was popular. Many friends were reading it, and kept reading me passages from it, enough that I gained interest and chose to check it out in the library one day. Something resonated deeply within me about the idea of eating closer to the earth and I understood fully how processed foods damaged the body. I was still heavily influenced by my eating disorder tendencies to deprive myself, but I ceased eating fast food, started eating more whole foods, and some organic foods.

This was enough of a change that people started calling me a “health nut”. My friend bought for me, for my 18th birthday, the book Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau. I wasn’t yet interested in natural health; just some level of nutrition, so this book sat around for a couple months. When I read it, everything resonated. I began eating mostly organic food, and I stopped taking any kinds of medications. I bought a shower filter, began using natural toothpastes and other body products, and I started researching things like qi gong, vibrational medicine and herbology.

By this time I had begun to gain some weight; I wasn’t able continue my extreme deprivation of food. My health actually started to improve, as I moved back towards a more normal weight and I was doing so many other great things for myself. However, the deep imbalances that fueled my dysfunctional relationship with food, which have zero to do with what kind of food is eaten, were still there.

By the fall before I began college, I had developed a deep interest in natural health and was developing an interest in spiritual growth. Out of nowhere (I still can’t say what moved me to choose it), I checked out the book Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch, from the library. I also checked out the book The Food Revolution by John Robbins, not knowing what it was about except that it had great reviews. My world was opened up by that book. I cried several times during reading it. I didn’t want to eat animals anymore, could never participate in their suffering, and didn’t want to live in a way which caused so much harm to the earth. This new feeling of what it was like to live in harmony with the planet was healing on some level for me. I went vegan immediately.

Then, I graduated high school and stopped competing, and although I was eating healthier foods, bingeing was still was a regular occurrence. I gained more weight. A strange period in my life began. It was one of crazy emotional eating yet simultaneously, a growing passion for the earth, for spiritual growth, and for nutrition. I spent all my free time studying natural health practices, attending yoga, having spiritual and personal growth based discussions with others, learning to meditate, reading books, and so much more. Soon, my craving to fully pursue a spiritual path and study nutrition, and immerse myself in a community that had the same yearnings, was in full swing. That’s when I came to the Tree of Life. By the time I arrived, I had gained nearly 60 lbs within 2 years, from my lowest weight.

Ever since, I have been doing just that: studying nutrition, following a spiritual path, and focusing a great deal of time and energy into working through the greatest difficulty of my life thus far: uncovering what is underneath and behind my use of food and unlearning the things I have learned which have contributed to damaging beliefs. In essence, I have been using my relationship with food, as Geneen Roth says, as “a path to almost everything.”

A word before I finish this post. The past that I have just recited is a story. It does not exist any longer. Even writing it today, it feels like I’m writing about someone else’s life. Our stories about what we’ve been through and what it means, are just that: stories. They are not who we are, they do not limit us and they do not define us. They do not even matter except that sometimes they can give us some perspective which helps our healing and our growth. They are platforms and opportunities for understanding. I still work through emotional eating, but it no longer consumes my life. I don’t think about it that much. I am at a normal weight. I never weigh myself, and I don’t binge anymore. But most of all, eating has been and is an avenue to myself, others, my passions in life, contribution, and the Divine.

Here’s to healing! See you soon!


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