There’s a fascinating connection between our emotions and our relationship with food. Jenny was worried because she thought of herself as an “emotional eater.” She weighed more than she wanted to, and she had developed a habit of using food to fill the gaps in her emotional life. Having been raised by a single mom, she learned to cook at a young age, and she loved it; food soon became her friend, her mother, her intimate partner, the only place she could count on feeling nourished. In this breakthrough session, Marc helps Jenny to see that her food “issues” have actually been important coping strategies for her during certain periods of her life, and she’s now reached a stage of maturity and empowerment where she is able to rely on other sources of nourishment. With Marc’s support, Jenny is able to revise her story about her past and understand that she has not been broken, but is right on track for personal growth.
Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:
Marc: Welcome, everyone. I’m Marc David, founder for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. And here we are in the Psychology of Eating podcast. I’m with Jenny today. Welcome, Jenny.
Jenny: Thank you.
Marc: I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad we’re doing this.
Jenny: Thank you. I am, too.
Marc: Let me just say a few words for viewers and listeners who are new to the podcast. Here’s what we do. We’re going to be together for a little less than an hour. Jenny and I haven’t met before. And we are going to talk about whatever we talk about—food, body, health—and see if we can have the kind of conversation that moves things forward. I’m going to try to squeeze six months to a year’s worth of coaching into one session.
I know that’s impossible, but sometimes it’s good to shoot for the impossible. And the idea is to come up with some good information, some good wisdom, some good insights to help move you forward, Miss Jenny.
So if you could have your wish fulfilled, what would you come out of this conversation with? If you could get anything you wanted, what would that be?
Jenny: So I think like a lot of people there’s some weight I’d like to lose, about maybe forty or fifty pounds. So finding a way to approach that. But I think the bigger thing is just having maybe a more balanced approach or a balanced relationship with food and not thinking of it as my savior and my friend and when I have anxiety. And just be more like food is nutrition and it’s a part of life. And right now it is a little bit of an obsession, an addiction for me. And so I’d like a little bit more peace around that.
Marc: So how often does it show up as an obsession/an addiction for you? Does that feel like a daily thing? How does it look?
Jenny: Yeah, I would say there’s some element of it on a daily basis. The thinking about what are we going to have for breakfast, what am I going to have for dinner, should I go out and get myself a coffee or something to drink or a treat? And if I do get coffee, should I also get a muffin or not? There’s a lot of like internal conversations around food and heightened conversations inside my head when I’m feeling stressed or tired or sad, those kind of even happy, any kind of emotion will stir how does food into this one. So I would say daily.
Marc: How long has this been your way of experiencing life, would you say?
Jenny: Um, maybe when I was a small kid, it wasn’t a thing. But even in middle school/high school or junior high — high school there was an element of it. When I was a kid, my sister and I—she’s a couple years younger—we did a lot of raising yourself with a single mom who worked. And we would get home from school and go get ice cream or something like that. And we could eat like a half-gallon of ice cream together. So food, I think, from an early, early age was sort of a presence, almost like a personality in our lives. And it continues to be so.
Marc: So you grew up with a single mom. Was dad totally absent?
Jenny: Mostly. He also lived nearby, and we would go over sometimes for the weekend kind of thing. We didn’t spend any time with him during the week. And my parents had a really difficult relationship with each other, putting my sister and I between them, putting us between. And it was just strange. So for us I think it was easier when it was just my mom. But, yeah.
Marc: So it was just you and your sister?
Jenny: Yeah, yeah. She’s two years younger than me.
Marc: Are you married, [have] kids?
Jenny: I’m single, but I have an almost eleven-year-old son.
Marc: Wow! And he’s with you?
Jenny: Yeah, well, half time, yeah. He’s with his other family half time as well. So, yeah, he’s a little joy.
Marc: And how does that work out for you having two households and raising him that way?
Jenny: Yeah, we try really consciously to be active co-parents and not put our son in the middle of anything. We also live really close by each other. I live in a townhouse association. And we both live in the same townhouse association so he can literally run back and forth between our places.
So there’s a lot of openness with we have the same garage code so if I forget something, we can easily go pick something up for either house. And we try to make it as easy as possible for him. So I think at times it’s difficult, a little bit difficult as any arrangement is, but we consciously try to make it as easy as possible for him.
Marc: And how does your son feel about it?
Jenny: He’s not one to talk about how he feels about things or express those things or complain. He just acts like it’s no big deal. I think at first it was hard, and he acted out a little bit at school. But he seems to be okay with it. At some level it seems when he’s kind of tired with me, he gets to go to his other family. So it’s always like what is the expression about you know the absence makes the heart grow fonder. So when he’s here, we both spend a lot of good quality time with each other.
Marc: Now, you say his other family. So he’s not just going to his dad. Is there other kids, or is there like a step-mom? What’s happening?
Jenny: It’s my former partner and her partner.
Marc: Got it. Understood. Okay. So was there a time in your life where you were saying to yourself, “Wow, this whole thing around food is kind of relaxed a little bit? It’s not bugging me so much. I’m a little more free.” Have you ever had days or weeks or months or moments like that?
Jenny: I’ve done a couple of big adventure things where food was not a primary focus. When I was in college, I went to Montana for six weeks, and we did a field camp. I was in a geology program. And we did a field camp where we were hiking around in the mountains for six weeks. And that program, that course was so intense that it really took up all of your day and your time and your thinking and your focus. And it was very physical. It was a lot of climbing around. And so food really went to the background there, although there was other stressors.
And then also maybe fifteen years ago, I did a long bicycle trip. And there again like food became kind of a background thing. It was definitely whenever I was hungry, I ate. That seemed like I was constantly hungry, but you have to get a certain distance. So the opportunities to eat and the opportunities to eat whatever you wanted was just, go to this restaurant. Those were simply not there. It was eat whatever was in the bag. So those are the only times, but they were outside of normal life, outside of home life.
Marc: Yeah, yeah, but that’s fair game. So it was two times when you were intensely focused on something else outside the home. And it sounds like intensively in your body.
Jenny: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure.
Marc: Yeah, yeah. It’s just interesting to note. Has there been a time in the last many years where you got to the weight you wanted to be or close to it?
Jenny: Yeah, both those trips. I lost quite a bit of weight. I know at the time I thought, “Oh, these pants, I didn’t realize how much they’d stretch out when I was doing this trip.” And then someone was like, “No, you’ve actually lost a lot of weight.” Really? I didn’t feel any different. So that was a time where I lost weight in a natural way without even thinking about it or being conscious of it.
And there was one time about eight years ago where I did Weight Watchers and had some success there. But also at that time, my mom was sick and dying of cancer. So there was this major life stressor going on. And I was living out of the state [while] my mom was really sick. I just moved to Pennsylvania, and how do I handle that? And for some reason I was also on Weight Watchers and lost thirty pounds there.
Marc: So what do you imagine would be different for you if you lost the weight and your eating felt just okay? It wasn’t running your life and you felt more free. How would life look different for you? What do you envision for yourself?
Jenny: I think it would give me the mental and emotional space to do other things with my energy and my time. There’s other creative projects that I have always brewing in the back of my head. And I feel like maybe I’d be more effective at work and as a parent. And I’m single, and I haven’t even really tried to date. Maybe there’s dating or meeting someone that I would have space for. I feel like sometimes that I’m so, I don’t know, dealing with my own emotional issues that I want to go, “Look, I can’t even incorporate another human being into my life.” So I guess those are some different things that I think would be different for me.
Marc: Mm hmm. Do you desire a relationship? Is that something you think about? Or it’s just kind of back burnered?
Jenny: I kind of go back and forth. Sometimes I desire it because it’s nice to have. I see some things like, “Oh, it’s nice to have someone else around to go camping or go hiking or do things.” And then I also think like, “Yeah, but then I have to negotiate everything and negotiate how I want to spend money.”
I feel like, at least for me, there’s some negative things that I think I have some codependency issues that have come up, so it’s kind of nice to not be in a relationship so I don’t have to be focused on another person all the time. It’s nice to be focused on me and what I want. And that’s been a huge growth thing for me in the past couple of years is who am I and what do I really want. It’s been really eye opening.
Marc: So how long has it been just with you and not in relationship?
Jenny: For about a year and a half. I was in kind of a bad relationship that was for about a year before that. But a year and half of really no relationship at all.
Marc: And your mother, did she pass?
Jenny: Yeah, she did in 2002.
Marc: 2002. And it sounds like you guys were pretty close.
Jenny: Yeah, we struggled through school and high school. And then I moved away for a while and came back and really found a new relationship. And that was really good and fulfilling. So yeah, we did get close, and I really miss her.
Marc: Do you feel that she understood you? She got you as a person, as an adult?
Jenny: Um, I think so. I think she definitely gave me space to be who I wanted to be. I did some things like that bicycle trip was a good example. That was before cell phones were everywhere so she had a lot of trust to just say, “Okay, if you’re going to be gone, I’ll see you when you get back.” And the trust, [that] kind of trust I think a lot of people wouldn’t have now. I look back on it and think, I don’t even know why she didn’t throw her arms up and say, “What are you doing?’ So I do that think that she, as we were adults, let me be who I was and who I wanted to be.
Marc: Mm hmm. That’s really sweet.
Jenny: Yeah. Yeah.
Marc: So where do you see yourself twenty years from now?
Jenny: I don’t know. I guess probably retired or close to retired. I love traveling. So I guess I’d see the next twenty with some traveling here and there. Maybe in twenty years I will be able to travel more and have more time for that. I don’t know. I’m not really one to think too much about the future and predict and make up a goal and a big plan and march forward to that. I’m kind of spontaneous and we’ll see what today brings kind of person. So I don’t really have any conscious thing that I’m working towards.
Marc: More personal question, please feel free to not answer. When did it first occur to you, like, “Wow, I want to date women.” I’m interested.
Jenny: Um, yeah, I was married before to a guy and mostly dated men. I think there was just this…and I’m kind of that way, sort of this exploratory, “Why not? Let’s see what this is like.” And I ended up meeting someone and had a long relationship and a good relationship with someone who really fit into the nooks and crannies of my own codependency issues which is to take care of someone and being a fixer and solve problems and stuff.
And so the two of us kind of created a long relationship around that, but I always had some resistance to being more serious like marriage and things like that. I knew that that wasn’t really right for me. But we did have a son together. Yeah. I’m not really answering that part really, but…
Marc: No, that was helpful. So into the future, dating women, dating men, are you clear what you want?
Jenny: Um, yeah. I’m interested in dating men.
Marc: Mm hmm. That’s so fascinating to me that you can just kind of surf in these different places and you know yourself in that way. And what interests me in the moment about that is you have a certain comfort when you talk about it. There’s a certain kind of sweetness around it. And there’s a part of me in the back of my mind that goes, “Huh, if you can do that in relationship to your own sexuality and in relationship to that part of your being and your experience, then that proves to me on some level you could do that in relationship with food and your body.”
If we do it in one part of our life, it means we have capability. That’s all I’m saying. I just want to put that out [there] for now. It just says to me this is a distinct possibility because what I’m feeling for you is that there’s a place where I like the fact that you’re able to say to yourself, “You know something, it’s kind of good for me to focused on me.”
I speak to a lot of people, Jenny, who will say, “Yeah, I’m not in a relationship right now, but I want to be in the future. But I really can’t be in a relationship right now because…,” and there’s usually a, “I weight too much or I’m not good enough somehow.” I don’t really get that from you. It feels to me that you’re just in a little bit of an inward phase right now, and you realize that there’s times when you got to focus on you. I’m guessing that. I think it’s a mature approach because there’s a season for everything. There’s a season to be in relationship, and there’s a [season] not to be. And sometimes it’s great to just be with me and see what that’s about.
So I kind of like that exploration for you of what it’s like to be with you, and I want to suggest while you’re doing that—and this is stating the obvious because I know you’re doing it—but to really make this a time when you get more exploratory around your relationship with food because in a lot of ways your relationship with food has been your primary relationship. It’s where you go back to.
If there ain’t nobody there, you are in an intimate relationship with your experience of food. I think about it. I think about it a lot. I go there. I might obsess about it. The thoughts are in my mind. What am I going to eat? What didn’t I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? This diet, that diet, and it’s a very, in a strange way, it’s a comfortable place for you. This is comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It feels like an old friend in a lot of ways. So what I want to say is there’s nothing wrong with that on one level.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s an old friend because it’s been a good friend on some level. It’s been a safe haven for you to be in relationship. And a lot of times what happens in my experience, Jenny, is we will use our relationship with food as this kind of symbolic playground to express ourselves and to work out stuff that has indeed nothing to do with food.
So when I hear you describe your relationship with food, I hear a primary relationship. I hear something that’s very intimate for you, and something that really pulls you in
…but at the same time something that kind of confuses you because you’re not quite sure how to ride it. You’re not quite sure like what is this. How do I do it well?
Marc: So on the one hand, it’s about you being comfortable in your body. And as simplistic as that sounds, I just want to say to you, I really mean that. I think there’s a place, and please jump in and say resonates or doesn’t resonate for me. I think there’s a place where this woman named Jenny is learning how to just be comfortable in her body.
Jenny: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Marc: As simple as that.
Marc: When it comes to sexuality, you can explore. You can go “Oh, wow, maybe this.” And there you go because that’s a place where you have a little more comfort exploring. And I don’t hear a lot of shame. I don’t hear a lot of make wrong in there for you. I don’t hear like oh my God, there’s not a lot of mind chatter there necessarily about what it means about you. But when it comes to food, that’s the place where you drop into confusion about your identity because you kind of lose yourself a little bit.
Jenny: Yeah, yeah, and it really resonates that it’s been a long-standing relationship because my mom, when we were young my mom was also an alcoholic. And she stopped drinking when I was in eighth grade, but we really raised ourselves. I don’t remember anyone ever getting us ready for school in the morning or being home after school ever. And so I think there was always food was a strong relationship and a constant.
My sister and I learned how to when we were younger, even in elementary school, we would get a cookbook and make food for our family, so we had some control over[that]. My mom was like, “Oh great, thank you for making dinner.” And so that was something where we could have some control, I think, in our lives was with food.
Marc: It makes perfect sense. It makes 100% sense because to the symbolic mind, to the young, impressionable, infant mind that doesn’t have a developed nervous system, that doesn’t distinguish between different stimuli, mother is food. Mother is touch. Touch is love. Voice is food. Voice is mother. It’s all one. Crying, screaming, little infant. You take that crying, screaming, little infant, mama holds it. Mama gives it bottle or breast, two seconds later, infant is happy.
So humans have a very primal genetic memory that, number one, food regulates our metabolism. Food regulates our emotions.
Crying and screaming and upset, “Have food, feel better.” Not only that but because the mother is symbolic of food. Why is the mother symbolic of food? Well, you come from a mother. She built you. You come from her body. She fed you. You had a cord coming into your belly. And humans throughout eons of time had breasts. Mother. Milk. So it’s all one. It’s all connected.
As a young girl when you don’t have mother, (and a boy as well) when it feels like there’s an absent energy there, you and your sister wisely, actually, in a very good way mothered yourselves. Getting a cookbook is mothering yourself. So you created intimacy around motherhood in the best way you knew. So it’s not that your mother is a bad person, but when you’re a kid and you’re kind of raising yourself, you have to be your own surrogate mother. So in a way food became your mother.
Your relationship with food became your mother because it’s the mother who’s supposed to nourish you, the mother who’s is supposed to contain all that, cook, and just deliver that experience [that] I’m taking care of. And no blame against you mother. We live in time when seldom [the things we] do get done right, when it comes to parenting. It’s just not happening. So this is not about blame. She did the best she could.
Jenny: Yeah, I recognize that and kind of consciously forgiven her and forgiven me for the childhood that I experienced for both of us.
Marc: Good for you! Good for you! Then the takeaway here—the takeaway because you’re a smart lady and you think psychologically—the takeaway is. “I, Jenny had to develop this profoundly interesting relationship with food and this endearing and intimate relationship with food because I’m an intimate person.” And I needed this sense of connection. And I needed this sense of motherhood. And I needed this sense of nourishment.
And I kind of did it myself in a lot of ways. I did it with my sister. And I did it with a little help from my mother, but I filled in a lot of the blanks. So that’s been your faithful relationship. Your mother could not always be there for you. But your relationship with food was always there. So on some level we will depend on it because it’s been there since childhood.
So here’s your task: your task is to get yourself in present time. Your task is to start to time shift because there is a part of you, the biggest part of you, that’s, “Jenny, you’re an adult. You’re this cool lady. Here you are. And there’s this other part of you that still lives this is my primary relationship.” I think about it. I talk about it. It’s occupying all my air space. And wow, if I wasn’t putting all this energy into it, like wow, where would all that energy go? I’d have all this extra place to create. So you know that. You know this relationship is taking a lot of your energy. You cannot give it up because it’s been so primary for you.
So in the unwinding it’s all about noticing how do I want this to be my primary relationship anymore. So there’s not a problem technically speaking. I want you to see if you can context what you’re going through as you don’t have a problem with food. You have a primary relationship with it. And now this is like any other relationship that you’ve ever been in.
At some point you wake up, you looked in the mirror, and you go, “Huh, how’s this relationship working for me?” You had every good reason to marry your ex-husband. I’m sure he was a great guy. You learned a lot of stuff. And at some point you figured out, okay, this is not working anymore. You had every good reason to be in relationship with the last woman you were with, and you tried it out. And you learned some stuff, and you did great.
And then, “Okay, now I’m morphing and I’m shifting here.” So we do relationship, and then we examine it. And we get current like okay, does this relationship work? How’s it working? How does it need to shift? Okay, we can’t divorce from my relationship with food because it’s there. You need to do it.
But I think what’s happening is instead of seeing it as a problem, “How can I, Jenny, fix my problem? I obsess about food. I worry about food. I do this.”
No! I’m actually saying it’s not a problem. It’s actually been a very good stand in for you. I’m trying to point out to you how your relationship with food makes perfect sense based on your upcoming, based on your life story, based on your history, you did really well. You could have turned to drugs. You could turned to stupidity and nonsense and all kinds of damaging behaviors and ways of being in the world. You didn’t. Okay, a little food here and there and a little bit of food obsession. Whoa!
Jenny: It’s not bad on the list.
Marc: Not bad on the list. Join the club. So what I’m saying is it’s the really not bad. And what happens is when we context it as, “What’s wrong with me? I’m terrible. I’m not good. This is a weakness.” We tend to stay in a spin cycle because we’re using the wrong language to describe what’s happening. It’s not different than if your son was having problems in a particular subject at school. Like, “Oh my God, I want a different son. What’s wrong with him? This is no good.” And it’s like no, you help him out. A little extra tutoring. A little extra time. You kind of go into it. You lean into it. Like oh, “What is it? How do I understand this better? How do I help this situation?” As opposed to what’s wrong with my son?
Jenny: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I would never do that with him.
Marc: Right! But you would do it with you.
Jenny: Yeah, and I’ve seen some of your videos with other podcasts. And one really resonated with me a couple months ago when you were talking about self-love and self-acceptance. I don’t remember a lot of details of who you were talking to or anything, but that, at the time, super-resonated with me at such a level where it was like you hit the — here you are talking to someone else — but you hit this core in me. And I realized that I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life and treated myself like a enemy.
And so I’ve really been trying to consciously, trying to turn around that negative self-talk, and be more self-accepting and have more self-love and self-acceptance. And I think in some ways for me I’ve almost turned it into, “Now I’m my own pal and like let’s go get ice cream.” Now my own partner in crime of, “We don’t feel good about this, do we? No, let’s go do this.”
Marc: Which I like. Honestly, I like that. To me, that’s a good step. It really is a good step because it’s learning how to not abandon yourself and learning how to be a little bit of a kid and a little bit of an explorer in your relationship with food. Yeah, “Let me take care of myself. I could be with me. I could go eat something. I could go eat something and make myself feel better. Okay. Worse things have happened.”
So what I’m really trying to hit home for you — and I’m saying this because I really know you can get this — and that this can land, and it might take time for it to sink in as fully as it could, but there’s a place where you have named the problem and by naming the problem a problem, it will now occur as a problem. We will treat it as a problem. We will try to fix it as if it’s a problem which isn’t always effective.
Again, if it was your son having trouble in a certain course, obviously okay, “Wow, we have to address this. We have to look at it.” But it can be less of a problem and more of okay, okay, where does this come from? Maybe here. Maybe here. Not sure. How can we support this? How can we take this and work it and turn it into something good?
So what I’m trying to say is your relationship with food as it has developed, makes perfect sense to me. You needed that intimacy. And now what’s happening is in your adult life at this stage of the game, your relationship with food, as it has been over the years now, is not contemporary for you. It doesn’t work anymore the way it used to. It used to work which is why you did it, which is why it made sense, and it was a brilliant survival tool and a brilliant tool to actually help you thrive a little bit and help you raise yourself. So I think you’ve been successful in that way, and now the relationship with food into your adult years, it’s not working like it used to. And that’s what you’re coming up against. It’s no different than, “My marriage doesn’t work anymore. This friendship doesn’t work anymore. This particular project or job I’m doing doesn’t work anymore.” Sometimes the movie is over. It just doesn’t work anymore.
You can take a relationship and beat it with a stick forever, and sometimes they’re just over. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with her or him or you or me, it’s just like okay we’re finished. We’ve run the course.
So what I’m trying to say to you is, I believe your relationship with food as it’s been has been very sweet and beautiful. And you needed it. And it was necessary. Was it perfect? No. Is anything perfect? No. But now it’s time to shift it. As opposed to there is something wrong with me that I need to fix. So what happens is you go into confusion. Your relationship with food, you’re a smart lady, you can figure out a lot of things. However, when it comes to food, you drop into confusion.
Marc: It’s a black hole for you. I get it.
Jenny: What should I eat? What should I eat? Yes.
Marc: Right so that is the child in us, that’s the child in you. What should I eat? That’s the child in you going, “How do I raise myself? Where’s my mother? How do I deal with this? What do I do? How do I show up? Who are these guys? What the hell is going on here?” That’s the child in you being confused about life. Life is confusing for a child.
So what you’re doing is you’re reproducing that early confusion that you had about who am I? How do I raise myself? How do I do this? This isn’t quite right. You’re a responsible person, and you’re a smart person so you looked to fill in the missing pieces in your life when you were growing up. So that’s one of your super powers. You could actually use your mind and come up with some very smart solutions that actually need to happen.
Jenny: Yeah, I was always a fixer or problem solver my whole life. Yeah, and perfectionist too. Had really high standards for me and everyone else. It had to be just right.
Marc: So this is a place where you fall into a black hole. And when you fall into confusion, you get even triply confused because you’re used to being the fixer and the unconfused one. You with me?
Jenny: Mm hmm.
Marc: So what I want to suggest is to start to have that place where you forgive yourself more for being confused around the food piece. You go into your head really quick around food.
Jenny: Mm hmm.
Marc: What do I do? What do I do? How do I fix this? What’s going on? What I’m more interested for you is to stay in your body and begin to note the sensations for you that happen in your body and your feelings when you go into food confusion, when you go into food dialogue. I want you to breathe into your body. I want you to feel where this confusion feels. Is it a heaviness in a chest? Do I feel it in my stomach? Is it butterflies here? Does it tighten my head? I want you to actually go into [that] sensation. Where you’re going to help solve your challenges around food is to begin to inhabit your body in a different way. And it’s kind of inhabiting your body as an adult.
Right now your relationship with food, you’re probably, I don’t know, fourteen or fifteen years old in a relationship with food. You’re this teenage girl who’s just like trying to figure it out. And yeah, so there’s a part of you that’s a teenage girl trying to figure it out, who gets all confused, “What do I do?” And this happens to be the part of you that’s an adult right now. I want to bring her, the adult, into the conversation. Previously my guess is the adult in you does not usually come into the conversation around food. You think it does.
Jenny: Yeah, it’s hard to know. I certainly body sensation doesn’t. I mean like if I’m honestly like stomach grumbling hungry, that feeds in. But when to stop eating, like feeling all those feelings of when to stop eating, what am I truly hungry for, those kinds of things are not really. I feel disconnected from it, like people talk about subtle feelings. Subtle feelings, does that even exist?
Marc: Bingo! Okay, so let me pause you for a second there. That’s the territory where I am asking you to open the door and to step into [it] and make it your new playground because what’s happening is you aren’t sensing nuances in your body. So this is really—and I mean this with all friendships and all respects— there’s a part of you that is literally learning how to inhabit your body.
It’s as simple as that. It’s no different than if you said, “Mark, I’ve never played tennis. I want to take up tennis.” I’m like, “Okay, it’s going to feel a little weird.” The first time I tried to hit a tennis ball with a tennis racket, it felt like the dumbest experience ever. I felt like a spastic idiot, and I’m a good athlete. For some reason that just wasn’t natural for me. And it took a little time to inhabit my body in that way. And it took a lot of swings and misses. And it took a lot of tripping over my own feet. But there’s parts of embodiment that we learn.
There’s a part of embodiment that you never really learned for yourself, which is the subtleties of your body, the subtleties of your digestive system, the subtleties of your taste, the subtleties of your hunger.
“I’m full. Huh, actually I’m hungry for this and a little bit of that. And oh, you know something, eew, that feels like enough. Let me pause now.” So you’re not good at that. You’ve admitted that. No blame. No blame.
All I’m saying is yes, let’s learn that language. Yes, you will be a beginner. Yes, I am saying unequivocally in order for you to get where I think you want to go which is to be free of this relationship with food being the kind of relationship that holds you back, then you need to better educate yourself in the relationship.
And what I’m saying is it’s different than what you think. It’s not about you losing weight. It’s not about you going on some kind of diet. It’s not about you finding some magic bullet. It’s about you taking the baby steps to learn something that you haven’t learn before. So you will literally a beginner. You’ll be like your son. Just kid learning stuff that he’s not good at because he’s a kid. And there’s stuff that you and I are not good at.
And if you choose, this can be very sweet for you. If you choose, you can make it a very sweet experience to learn how to inhabit your body and to be a good mother to yourself. So you might eat something and you go, “Oh, that feels really good for me. Let me have more of that. And then five minutes later you might go, oh, I ate too much of that. Oh, you’re so terrible. I can’t believe you did that.” No, you stop that. It’s like, “No, I’m learning. I’m exploring. I’m not good at speaking this language, but I want to learn this language. I want to learn when I’m full. I want to learn when I’m hungry. I want to learn to be attracted to the foods that really serve me. I want to learn to eat something and go, Ah, that’s so good and now I’m finished.” In order to do that, you have to slow down, and you have to notice subtleties. And in order to do that, you will likely notice that when you slow down, emotions will come up. Would you consider [yourself] a fast eater, a moderate eater, a slow eater?
Marc: Yes. So your job, your homework assignment—and you have to be a good student here—your homework assignment—
Jenny: I’m a perfectionist. I’m all over this.
Marc: Oh, I love you. Thank you. So your job is to become a slow eater, but what a slow eater really means is not just slow as a speed. It means present, because if you and I talking really fast right now, and if you’re talking fast and I’m talking fast, there ain’t no listening really. And we talk and I listen and I pause and you pause so we can hear each other.
So when you slow down, you’re listening. When you slow down, you can appreciate. When I’m able to slow down and really hear you, I can actually start appreciating you because I’m understanding you and I’m getting you. And then you become even more interesting to me because I’m actually getting you as opposed to I’m just making stuff up about it because I’m talking really fast and I’m not paying attention.
So as you pay attention to the food as you slow down, that actually gets more interesting because you notice more things that you never saw before. And as you slow down, you actually change your physiology because normally what happens is when we have a challenge around food and body. “I don’t like my body. I’m too fat. I’m confused about food. I obsess. I overeat.” We are actually in some version of stress physiology.
Stress chemistry, stress physiology, is sometimes very obvious, most often it’s extremely subtle. Most people’s normal is stress. We think it’s normal. And this is kind of what the world teaches us. The world teaches us to be a little bit freaked out. And that stress we create around food about what do I do? What do I eat? My body, my weight, my this, my that. It impacts our digestion. It impacts our natural appetite regulation. It impacts our calorie-burning capacity. It impacts our ability to absorb nutrients. So it’s all about your physiology, but it’s also tied into the subtleties of you being you.
So being a slow eater, this is just me trying to inspire you around slow eating, helps you learn. It’s no different than you paying attention to your son and not going 100 miles per hour. You listen. You look. You watch. You observe. Same with food. So when you slow down with food, what often happens is it starts to bring up all the unconsciousness in our relationship with food that we’re not aware of.
That’s why it’s difficult to slow down. We want to do it fast because eating is tied into in all these memories and associations. Eating is tied into me taking care of myself. Eating is tied into where’s my mother. Eating is tied into, “I’m all alone. Eating is tied into I’m a little bit afraid. Eating is tied into oh my God, I better eat this because then I’m going to feel better because right now I’m not feeling good.”
Jenny: Yeah, and I think too I had a lot of like, “I’ve always been overweight and so there’s always been this love/hate relationship with food” and so the faster I could eat, the faster I could just be done with it and not look at it anymore, not face that relationship as you’re talking about and set it aside. Get what I need from it and set it aside as quickly as possible so I don’t have to have a healthy relationship with it.
Marc: Which in a weird way makes perfect sense. That would be no different than if I’m in relationship with someone and the relationship is hard and there’s a lot of struggle and this thing is not working.
Jenny: Yeah, but I could be with this person because I’m afraid. And I don’t have enough money on my own.
Marc: Right, and just let’s not even talk about it. Let’s just like exist together in the same house, and we won’t talk about anything. And I can’t leave you, and you can’t leave me. And ouch. That’s not fun. But then when we start to dialogue and you start to talk to the person, it doesn’t really feel better so much at first when you start to talk about the problems. It could feel worse, but you know you’re doing the right thing by creating dialogue. So what I’m saying is this is about you slowing down and creating dialogue, and it will be uncomfortable because you will notice how much energy and how much emotion lives there. And I’m saying that if you can hang in there with that, you can begin to really make tremendous progress like never before.
And there will be discomfort because I’m asking you to be conscious in a relationship where previously you put your foot on the gas and say, “No, no, no, no. We’re not going to talk. We’re not to share. We’re just going to live in the same house together and pretend we’re roommates.” So this is about you being in dialogue now with your body, with your appetite, with your tastes, with your desires, like never before.
And slowing it all down and learning what’s there. Do we know exactly what’s going to happen? No, it will teach you. But what I’m saying to is from my experience in my work, this is what is going to take you where you need to go because you’re trying to make this relationship better. You’re trying to make it work for you. In order to do that, we have to get more conscious. We have to stay awake at the wheel.
Previously to this conversation, you approach food, you get confused, you allow yourself to not be fully present, and then you do all the little habits that you’re used to doing and the thinking habits that you’re used to think because they’re familiar. They’re comfortable. You’ve been doing them forever. It makes perfect sense. And now I’m asking you to actually be uncomfortable or place yourself in a potential situation where, “Oh my God, I’m slowing down. I’m being present food. I’m really scared right now. Oh, my God, I’m using food because I’m lonely.”
And that will be confronting. And then when that happens, you breathe. And you slow down even more, and you take ten slow, deep breaths. And you try to forgive yourself in the moment.
And you try to love yourself even though I’m confused, even though this is hard, even though I just want to eat a bunch of food and get it over with, even though I want to go to sleep and go unconscious and just shovel food down my face.
So I’m saying this is how you unwind it by admitting that wow, this has been a primary relationship for me. Let me actually go into it. Go into the relationship, especially now that you’re single and you have a little bit of space to work in this. How’s this all landing for you?
Jenny: It is really resonating. It feels like when you talk about food as a relationship, I’m kind of envisioning my whole history has been sort of with my back to it in that it’s there to support me, and it has my back at some points. But I have not wanted to really look at it and not really wanted to. There’s been certainly being overweight, there’s been a lot of shame in the way I eat, and then as a little kid I remember going to doctor and I don’t know how old I was, a little kid, and the doctor said, “You know, you might want to put your kids on skim milk.” So there was five, six, seven years old talking about that with doctors and stuff, so it’s always been some shame topic. And so you want to turn away from something like that and then you need it.
Marc: Jenny, you just reminded me of something. I want to language this and see if this is useful for you because that was very helpful for me just to understand you. And one of the challenges that we face, and I’m talking about the collective we, because there’s so much unbelievable shame that humans carry around the body, around weight. You could have the perfect body and the perfect weight and the perfect Hollywood looks, and women and men still carry around shame and still go into disordered eating and still go into drugs and still want to commit suicide.
So what I’m wanting to say here is there’s this odd place where we need to decouple eating from weight, eating from everything weight means, because extra weight means, “Shame, you’re no good, you suck. You can’t be one of the good people. You’re not going to have all the great things in life. You’re an outsider”. So food gets coupled with weight shame, weight hate. “I’m not going to be good enough. You suck.” All these unbelievably horrific mantras.
True it is, you could take any laboratory animal or any human, dump a ton of food into their body, and they can gain weight. So that is a truism. However, it breaks down a little bit after that. And we’re not lab animals. And weight is impacted by many different things. But in order to help a human being, and this is just my experience over the years, because I’ve really looked at this from a lot of angles, in order to help a human being reach his or her natural weight, we have to be in our natural state: emotionally, spiritually, psychically.
We just have to be “kind of me”. In order for the body to be its best expression, what I’ve noticed is we have to be our best expression. In order for your body to reach its metabolic potential, we have to do our best to reach our personal, emotional, spiritual potential. Are you with me?
Jenny: Mm hmm.
Marc: Now yeah, there might be some people who come to me and say, “Oh God! I go to lose weight!” And I might look at their diet and say, “Oh my God, you’re eating all this junk and you never move. Let me give you a diet and help you move.” And then they might lose weight. Honestly, that’s a small percentage of people.
What you’re learning is to decouple food and weight and begin to notice that you need to learn how to be in relationship with food on its own terms. When am I hungry? When am I full? If I have all this fear about food and weight, I’m not even going to look at that food. It will be behind you. It will have your back sort of, but you can’t see it. You can’t see this thing you’re in intimate relationship with. You can’t see it fully.
So we’re trying to decouple weight gain from food and just meet food on its own terms.
My relationship with food on its own terms which means there’s a place where I’m hungry, there’s a place where I’m full, there’s a place where I crave certain foods, and sometimes those cravings are very helpful. There’s a place where I crave foods and sometimes I got sucked in by advertising and junk food.
Okay. Learn about that. “Oh, wow, certain foods really make me feel more energy. Certain foods really detract from my energy. Ha, that’s interesting! Huh, certain foods I’m allergic to. Hmm, interesting. Certain foods congest me. Wow, I drink four cups of coffee. I can’t get to sleep at night. I drink two cups of coffee during the day, I can” So it’s learning the nuances. It has nothing to do with weight.
So then when I start to learn the nuances of food and my body, and I’m listening, and I’m not living in fear of food and I’m stepping up, I’m empowering myself. I’m stepping into my personal power. But at the same time, I’m learning about my body. I’m learning about this relationship. And all of a sudden, I can navigate it better because my skill level is increasing.
And I’m taking this, “Oh, you poor fat person, nobody’s going to love you” and going right [to] put that aside because it’s just mind chatter and nonsense that we inherit from the world. You didn’t invent that. The boogiemen that are yacking our ears are placed there by the world. They come through culture. They come through media. It’s not good. It’s not pretty. And it’s very difficult to stop the onslaught of the nonsense, the tsunami of just idiotic statements that we’ve been taught about food, about weight, about body fat that has us being small.
So all I’m saying is the more you learn about your body and start to inhabit it, being curious, like you might be curious about a new partner, like you might be curious about a new exploration in your life, it’s that sense of curiousness and interest and intrigue into relationship with food and your body. Then it gets interesting. And then you have, to me, the best potential to find your natural weight because you’re becoming the natural you which is you’re aligned with yourself. You don’t work against yourself. How are we doing here?
Jenny: Good. Good. I think that you hit on a lot of different points. Definitely the feeling of gaining weight causes stress for me when I feel like my pants are getting tighter and stuff, then it causes a whole cascade of, “So I see what you mean about decoupling weight and eating because I’ll feel like I’m gaining weight. I feel like my pants are getting tighter, and I just start to come down on myself like that’s because you ate that ice cream last night and then you wanted this.”
And you start stepping back and scolding. I scold myself for, I don’t know, [for] the last week of everything I’ve eaten or not eaten and all these different decisions. I start second-guessing it based on feeling like I’m gaining or losing weight instead of how I might have felt at the time.
Marc: So here’s a suggestion. So the takeaways here. I want you to learn how to become a slow, present, relaxed eater.
It’s a practice. You’re not going to do it perfectly. I would love for you to slow down eating, process, and start to notice as best you can the little things about your body, about your digestion and your hunger and your appetite. I just really want you to notice little cues and little signals and become a scientist.
If you can, I would also love to, there’s a trick somewhere, maybe you could play with yourself that imagine that you’re your own child. Imagine that you’re your son, and he’s going through your eating issues. And you can hear him thinking out loud because it’s your thoughts. How would you treat him? How would you respond to him? If it was your son going through this relationship with food and his body, what would you be telling him in any given moment? So when you did eat too much or when you did do this or do that, would you get down on him? What energy would you bring to him? What would you say to him to help educate him? What would you say to him to help uplift him? What would you say to him to help him get back on the horse and not self-reject? I want you to parent yourself here.
And it’s been hard for you. This has been the hardest place. You haven’t figured out how to be an adult in this realm yet so this is me doing my best to figure out the best trick to help you quickly become more of an adult in the realm of food in relationship to yourself because I said you drop into confusion. You drop into this confused child, totally understandable.
So I want to talk to that confused child as if it’s a confused child because it is. No blame. She’s very sweet. She’s very cute. That’s very endearing. It’s very lovable. Let’s treat her that way. So that’s why I’m asking you to take someone who you have, I’m going to assume, a lot of unconditional love towards your own son, and apply those principles that you know how to be a good mother to your son.
You know good distinctions. You know what unconditional love is. You know what conditional nonsense love it. So now I want you to talk to yourself in the same way you would talk to him if this was his eating concern. Is that possible? You think you could play with that?
Jenny: I could try. I feel like maybe this is perfectionist in me, I don’t know if I would do a good job with it. It reminds me of, hopefully we have enough time, I have a little, tiny story here. I was also a surrogate for my sister and so I had a second baby. And my sister and her husband adopted her. And she’s a girl, a little girl, who’s a couple years younger than my son. But she is with my egg, so my genetics.
And it’s interesting to watch myself interact with her compared to my son. And she eats really fast, and always has, puts a lot of food in her mouth really quickly. And puts too much food in her mouth. Even as a toddler. And I’ve always kind of come down on her hard even as a toddler. And then felt a lot of like, “Why am I being so hard on this little girl?” And I think maybe it’s because I’ve always been really hard on myself around stuff like that. You’re nodding like I might be on to something here.
Marc: Bingo! Bingo. Bingo. Bingo. So we haven’t talked about this and we’re kind of coming to the time. But let me say a few words about this. And you probably know this, but just let me say it anyway. Perfectionism is a soul killer. I want you to work and be skillful. I want you to do the best you can at whatever you do.
Perfectionism is the belief that if I don’t do something perfect, then there’s something wrong with me.
It crushes your soul, and it will filter into the people around you. There are people around you who will pick it up, particularly the people that resonate most with you which will be your child. And in this case, in a strange way, your children.
So your perfectionism is a beautiful place for you to work and slowly help your perfectionism die a lovely little death because it doesn’t ultimately serve you. It sabotages you. You must notice that. Pull out from your perfectionism what works which is very simple: You want to do your best. And the truth is, life is messy. Life ain’t perfect.
There are places where you have good control, and there’s place where you’re messy. Be messy in the places where you’re messy. Plain and simple. When it comes to food, you’re a little messy. It’s okay. So we’re going to be a little messy there for a while. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s just not going to be perfect. It’s fine with me. It’s perfectly fine with me that you have a place where you’re messy. I don’t think less of you. I’m just interested in you giving yourself the space to work there with the girl that came through your body.
In a lot of ways, she’s going to resonate with your being and with your soul. And what a beautiful thing when you look at her to have unbelievable amounts of compassion. And instead of trying to fix her, to really get in there with her, and help you relax into herself. She needs to feel a sense of safety. You’re okay. You can relax. Because when you get the signal you’re okay you can relax, then you can sit back and have a cup of tea. Then you could sit back and celebrate and have a meal.
“But if I’m stressed, and if I’m not safe, and if the lions are chasing me, and if life isn’t good, where’s my mother? where’s my father? what’s going on? what’s going on? what’s happening? this is dangerous, then we have to eat on the run. And we’re eating in the jungle. And eating becomes a very confusing affair when the eating is surrounded by stress because we’re not meant to eat when we’re being chased by the lions.”
So all I’m saying to you is that you have to learn how to love yourself in your relationship with food even though it’s messy. You have to learn how to love the children in your life, even though their relationship with food or body or anything might be a little messy and to give them the signal of I love you in this.
So when your surrogate daughter was like a little toddler and you notice like, “Wow, she eats fast”, again what she needed is this felt sense of, “You’re safe with food. You’re safe! You’re safe! Not, “Don’t do that! It’s too fast!” It’s more like, “Hey, let’s slow down. You’re safe. Let’s play. Let’s have a contest. Let’s see who can finish food last.” So it’s you letting you know that you’re safe with you, and you will not abandon you. You will not insult you. You will not attack you. You will not attack you with your perfectionism.
Perfectionism can be a stealth assassin. We are led to believe that perfectionism is such a great thing because I’m just trying to be perfect whereas what it really is is it’s a sniper that as soon as you doing something imperfect, it puts a bullet through your head and then all of a sudden you’re all confused. And then all of a sudden you’re hating yourself. That’s not so perfect.
So all I’m saying is that’s a part of your program here is to notice your perfectionism and disinvite it in that moment. You need to catch it. You just need to catch it. You need to notice it. And you need to treat yourself as if you’re your own child going through that issue. So I know a lot of this is easier said than done. What I’ve done my best to do is to give you what I think is a good road that will move you in a direction of where you want to go.
We talked about decoupling food from weight. And you learning first and foremost here’s my body, let me begin to sense it and inhabit it. It’s no different than if you move to a new house and your cat has to learn the new house. They look around. Anytime you watch a cat go into a new space, they cover everything, right?
Jenny: Mm hmm.
Marc: You do that with your body. Be a cat. They’re curious. They sniff. They look. They park themselves. They get cozy. They be cute. Be like a cat for your body. That’s a good analogy. You’re a cat lady. I like that.
Jenny: That’s funny. They are, they’re so curious. They’re like, “Well let me look over here. Let me look over here. Ah!”
Marc: Yeah, right, exactly.
Jenny: Oh my gosh! Yeah.
Marc: That’s your alter ego: the curious cat. And they’re really in their bodies. Cats are just masters at that, absolute masters. They’re not looking around, trying to be perfect. They don’t get down on themselves as far as we can tell, not so much. They might get a little moody or depressed or whatever, but basically they’re okay. So Miss Jenny, I think you’ve been just a wonderful sport here, and I think we covered a lot of good turf.
Jenny: We covered a lot of ground. Yeah.
Marc: We really did in a short amount of time. I really appreciate your willingness. I really appreciate you sharing your journey and just kind of opening up and giving us a window into your world. And just as you saw a podcast where you listened to somebody else and had an insight, I have no doubt the same is going to happen for other people listening to you so I really appreciate you just participating in tribe called let’s just try to help each other here figure this nonsense out so we can go about the business of being who we’re supposed to be really.
Jenny: Yeah. Thank you. I really appreciate it. It’s nice to talk with you, and I feel like I’ve learned from your insights that just seem to come so naturally to you. It’s amazing. But I learned a lot about putting some things together for me that it’s sort of there, and you sort of suppress it like, “No, not really, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.” And someone goes, “Well, what about that over there?” And you’re like, “Oh, that is a problem, isn’t it?” So I appreciate that.
Marc: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. Once again I’m Marc David on behalf of the Psychology of Eating podcast. Always more to come, my friends. Take care.
Marc: Alright. Good for you. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. Once again, I’m Marc David, on behalf of the Psychology of Eating Podcast. Lots more to come, my friends. Take care.
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