Throughout my years of healing my own relationship with food and letting go of compulsive eating, and also helping many, many people in 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). Here are a few.
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 included 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.
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 pick up eating too much in their teens, or even their adult life. I had never functioned without food being 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. Once a food addict always a food addict. 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.” 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.
Quite simply, 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 “far gone” we believe we are in our relationship with food. 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 a few days before rebelling. In other cases, quite a few months. But I always rebelled and ate junk food or ate too much in quantity.
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, we don’t have to try to not be compulsive with food. You just don’t feel drawn to use food to cope. It doesn’t occur to you. You don’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? Is the reason you don’t engage in one of those because you’re good at controlling yourself? No. You simply don’t have the draw, and there is no struggle around it.
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. 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.
My own journey with compulsive eating hasn’t looked like having one or a few epiphanies or dramatic moments and then not being drawn to food. In the beginning, I worked through some feelings and beliefs, and I ate, say, 10% less. Then I worked through more fears and grief, 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. I have come into balance with my natural healthy weight and maintain it without struggle. I don’t fear food. 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 taken the greatest leaps in lessening have been the times I’ve chosen to be the most open to emotional healing. The more I’ve been willing to feel the depth and fullness of my grief, anger, fear, sadness, or anxiety 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 my past. That I begin to honor my soul and follow my passions. It meant letting go of people who brought me down 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 huge 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, the vast majority of us do. I didn’t realize it, but in my mind’s images of what things would be like when I wasn’t tortured by food anymore, I didn’t think I’d ever feel discord with my body. I sort of thought freedom from food equaled a healed relationship with my body.
Many of us eat 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. 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, rockin’ it in yoga class, getting along with everyone, being the perfect mom.
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.
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.