Throughout my years of healing my own relationship with food and letting go of compulsive eating, and also talking with many, many people on their own journeys doing the same, I’ve identified some common myths about healing compulsive eating. These were myths that I believed and many people with whom I work also believe(d).
Myth #1: You can’t fully heal compulsive eating
“How can I heal my compulsive eating if I’ve never experienced not being a compulsive eater?” This was a question I asked myself frequently during my own journey. The earliest memories I have of myself have include compulsive eating — binging on holiday candy, eating way too much pizza on my family’s Friday pizza and movie nights. I even remember hiding in the pantry to eat candy when I was about four, because I wasn’t allowed to have more and so I wanted to sneak it.
When I realized I’d been a lifelong compulsive eater — something I didn’t realize because I literally had no “before compulsive eating” context — my heart sunk because I wondered if it would be possible for me to heal it. Some people start eating too much in their teens, or even their adult life, but there may have been a period they can remember where food wasn’t really an issue before then. But for me, and for many people I talk with, food was never not an obsession. I couldn’t really even imagine what it would be like. What would I think? What would I feel?
Some people believe food addiction cannot be fully healed. Essentially, once a food addict always a food addict. Even some major organizations and groups dedicated to overeating teach that you cannot be totally free from it; you can only manage it. I absolutely, completely do not feel this to be true.
Most of us don’t look at a newborn baby, tiny features, innocent eyes looking with wonder at the world, and think, “Oh yep, that one’s a compulsive eater and it’s doomed to be that for it’s whole life.” We don’t feel that new babies come into the world tainted, addicted, anything other than pure and gorgeous and brilliant. So that must mean that for compulsive eaters, even ones like me, who started very young, we didn’t come into the world that way.
I believe that our soul’s true nature, as it is meant to be, is not damaged. It is not beyond repair. Our food addiction is not beyond repair. We can return to our divine blueprint no matter how bad our eating is. It doesn’t matter whether we haven’t yet experienced our soul as healed from compulsive eating.
I believe that we absolutely can be free from compulsive eating. Not partially free – completely free.
Myth #2: Not Compulsively Eating Simply Means Getting Better at Restricting
In fact, every time I’ve tried to get better at restricting, controlling, pushing, pulling, and forcing, I’ve eventually rebelled. In some cases I’ve lasted one meal and then rebelled, in some cases a few days before rebelling. In other cases, a few months. But I always rebelled and ate junk food or reverted to binge eating and overeating.
Truly healing compulsive eating is all about releasing the emotions and beliefs that are causing us to use food as a drug in the first place. And when those underlying feelings are released by way of feeling them, we don’t have to try to not be compulsive with food. You won’t feel drawn to use food to cope. It won’t occur to you. You won’t have to keep an obsessively vigilant, controlling eye on yourself all the time. Think of a compulsion you’ve never experienced — say, to use certain drugs or alcohol, shopping, gambling, or sex — do you have to think about it all day to keep yourself from doing it? Is the reason you don’t engage in those addictions solely because you’re good at controlling yourself? Probably not, if it’s really an addiction you’ve never had. You simply don’t have the draw, and there is no struggle around it at all. And that’s what it will be like with food.
Myth #3: You’ll Have An Epiphany And Then It Will All Be Over
Oh, how I would have given anything to just wake up one morning and have my obsession with food gone. Just taken from me. And if I had to be involved with the whole thing, perhaps I could have a particularly profound epiphany, where I shed a few meaningful tears, smiled at rainbows streaming across the sky and walked off into a sunny field with Enya music playing, leaving it all behind me forever. But the truth is, healing compulsive eating involves emotional healing, and taking risks, and pushing our comfort zones and going into our fears. And it requires doing that consistently, more and more until those root causes of our behavior are gone.
My own journey with compulsive eating hasn’t looked like having one or a few epiphanies or dramatic moments and then spontaneously and magically not being drawn to food at all anymore. In the beginning, I worked through some feelings and beliefs, and I ate, say, 10% less. Then I worked through more emotions, and I overate 30% less of the time. Then I released more emotions, and then it was 60% less. Then 75%. Then 90%. And I’m still working with my eating, but it doesn’t affect my life in any major way anymore. I have come into balance with my natural healthy weight and maintain it without struggle. I don’t fear food anymore. I don’t worry about what I’m going to eat next.
That being said, healing compulsive eating doesn’t necessarily have to take a long time. It doesn’t have to be something you struggle with for many years to come. The times where my compulsion has reduced the most, for good, have been the times I’ve chosen to be the most open to emotional healing. And the times my behavior has stagnated and it doesn’t seem I’m healing anymore have been times I was resisting feeling my true emotions. The more I’ve been willing to feel the depth and fullness of my anger, anxiety, fear, hopeless, or sadness that were the reasons I used food, the faster my behavior changed.
And I can see in retrospect that having to do the inner work is a blessing. Healing my relationship with food ended up requiring that I find myself. That I heal the emotions I had about my past. That I began to honor my soul and follow some of my passions. It meant letting go of people who were unloving and choosing people who were loving. It meant finding spiritual connection. In the end, the fact that ending our compulsive eating is not just over one day is actually a gift. That is, if an inspired, joyful, content life full of freedom and love sounds good to you. 😉
Myth #4: You’ll Love Your Body All The Time
Though not all people who experience compulsive eating have body insecurities or body image issues, nearly all of us do. I didn’t realize it for most of my life, but in my mind’s images of what things would be like when I wasn’t tortured by food anymore, I visualized never feeling discord with my body. I sort of thought freedom from food equaled a totally healed relationship with my body.
Many of us eat partly because we are upset or angry about our bodies, and so of course, healing emotions around how we feel about our bodies almost always accompanies healing compulsive eating. But even when we do achieve our ideal weight, we may still feel physically unattractive in certain ways. For us to feel comfortable in our skin and to feel at ease with ourselves, it may require some further introspection into why we criticize our bodies so much or shrink from life based on our physical appearance.
Myth #5: Your Life Will Be Glorious And Perfect
Many compulsive eaters have images in our minds about what our life will be like when we are free from food obsession and don’t have extra weight anymore. We don’t realize it, but usually these images are romanticized ones: strolling along the beach in a swimsuit, rocking it in yoga class, getting along with everyone, being the perfect mom, having the perfect romantic relationship forever.
When you heal compulsive eating, life will still be here. You’ll still wake up, do the dishes, grocery shop, scrub the bathtub. Unloving people will still be unloving people. You’ll still lose things and have to deal with finances. You’ll have challenges with your family. People you love will get sick and people you love will die. Unexpected life events will happen. And so, we need to start looking at the fantasy that everything will be perfect, and ask ourselves what we would do if everything was not perfect? And actually, the things we are convinced will be fixed by our not having food issues or extra weight anymore are often the things we need to address first in order to not have food issues or extra weight.
The truth is, though, that many things do get better when you heal compulsive eating. When you’re not obsessed with food, you can enjoy your life more. You have more room in your head and heart to be creative and follow your passions. You are more present when you interact with other people. And if you are very overweight and you lose weight, it may be more enjoyable to do physical things, like dancing or biking or yoga. And it’s easier to play with your dog or your kids. And those things are truly delicious.