For most of my life, during times that I’ve been, well, emotional… I’ve always reached out to food for comfort.
You kind of do that when you don’t have people to go to.
I mean, I have people — sort of. I have my childhood friend, to whom I could tell just about anything.
But she’s far enough away that it’s not practical to run over for the sole purpose of having a shoulder to cry on.
That’s the way it’s always been — if I did have someone within a reasonable distance, there was always something making it impossible for me to find that shoulder to cry on when I needed it the most. Anything from her having to take care of her kid(s) to being out of town to having to take care of the hubby…. Or, my most heartbreaking experience was when the shoulder I wanted to cry on was attached to a body that was dying of cancer.
I’m not trying to be all negative or anything. I’m just stating a fact.
Sadly, it happens.
And sadly, my way of coping has never been the best.
There have been two times in my life when I didn’t turn to food for comfort.
The first was my first semester of college, during which I was so sad, lonely, depressed, scared, and desperately wanting somebody — anybody — to love me, that I turned almost anorexic. During that semester, I ate a grand total of 10 meals a week. They talk about the Freshman 15 — my experience was that instead of gaining 15 pounds my first semester, I lost around 30 pounds.
The second time I didn’t turn to food for comfort was during semester break my sophomore year. My brother told me that my mom had told him that he could have my room because I wasn’t going to come back.
I was so angry at hearing this news that I went on a hunger strike that lasted for almost two days. I told myself, “If no one else cares about me, why should I? If no one else wants to take care of me, why should I?” I spent those two days crying and wanting to do anything and everything to destroy myself because life just hurt too much.
Food does have a wonderful ability to comfort, soothe and distract.
But, when it’s used solely for the purpose of comfort, it can kill.
Not only does it increase one’s risk of weight-related disease, but turning to food can cause what I like to call “relational deficiencies.”
You know, like when you’re so caught up in something that you neglect everything else in your pursuit of that one thing.
I’ve been there.
I’ve done it — oh, not intentionally, of course. I’m so relationally minded that I could never purposefully fill a void that people are supposed to fill with something else.
But somewhere along the line, I’ve been hurt by people to the extent that even though I know that turning to food has the potential to kill me eventually, it feels so much safer than actually opening up to someone.
I’ve been stuffing myself with physical food in an attempt to emotionally nourish myself.
Unfortunately, the properties of physical nutrition are not the same as the properties of emotional nutrition.
While our bodies need things like Vitamin C and calcium, our souls crave intimacy, affection and self disclosure. We want and need to be deeply known, to be accepted just as we are, and to have a place of belonging and a purpose.
This week, a friend of mine challenged me to begin using a fitness app that she likes. With this app, you put in your current statistics and your goals and it gives you a daily calorie intake goal. You enter the foods you eat, your exercise, etc., and it calculates how many calories you have consumed and how many you have left.
At first, I said “no thank you” to this idea.
I’m not into these things.
She said to do it anyway.
So I did.
I instantly fell in love with it because it helps me stay focused. It helps me choose to eat fruits instead of chocolate and chef salads instead of cheeseburgers. It’s been 6 days and I feel so much better. And- I can almost fit into the pair of pants that I discovered were too small 2 weeks ago.
I was doing really, really well with this fitness thing.
And then something happened.
My first reaction was this almost uncontrollable urge to find something to eat.
And then I realized, for the first time ever, that this food thing is a problem.
Cookies can’t empathize.
Cheetos can’t listen.
Ice cream can’t give advice.
Chocolate can’t hold you and cry with you and offer support and encouragement.
Only people can do that.
(Note to the super-religious who would argue that only God can do those things: I respectfully beg to differ. God initially intended it to be that we would first get those things from Him, and secondarily get them from people. He walked and talked with Adam in the Garden. He was physically present with Adam. However, somewhere in the chaos of the pit viper and the cumquat, humanity chose to disregard God and His presence, which left us down here and Him up there and a huge void in between. It’s not that God doesn’t WANT to do those things. It’s that He is now severely limited because of the choice that humanity made. I am not saying that it’s impossible to find comfort in Him. I’m saying that because of that choice, God doesn’t physically comfort us without using PEOPLE to do it.)
So, I’m challenging myself to seek friendships instead of potato chips. Emotionally or spiritually focused conversations have more potential to bring comfort than ice cream or chocolate or snack cakes ever could.
I’m just not so sure how to do this.
What if people are busy?
What if people are shocked that I’m not as perfect as I was raised to be?
What if people resent me because I’m honest about my struggles?