Monday, September 12, 2016

Reader Advice Day: Question About Fullness

Last week I received the following e-mail. Since the topic of this correspondence has been brought to my attention many times in the past few years, I really wanted to discuss it here with you and of course, ask for everyone's input!

Here is the question:

"Good afternoon, Wendy! I hope this finds you peaceful and well. Thank you for the honesty and candor of your blog. I really appreciate it.

When you have a moment, I do have a question for you. How does a person manage on this type of diet when one feels like an empty, bottomless pit even after eating volumes of food? Lol! Like, this morning I ate easily two pounds of vegetables (a mix of spinach, green beans, and butternut squash) steamed with a little salt and nutritional yeast on it. I threw a half-cup of garbanzo beans on top of that and then ate an apple, too. I was still hungry so I ate a rice cake, too. I'm not joking when I say that my plate of breakfast weighed at least a couple of pounds. Now, I just ate my lunch---- a large amount of brown rice with green beans and a mix of eggplant and roasted peppers on top with a large sweet potato and two smaller white potatoes. Put a small amount of soy sauce and salt on this. Again, my lunch was heavy--- you could use my lunch box as an arm weight and get a workout! Lol. The crazy thing is, as I sit here writing this, I still feel so so damned hungry. I mean, what the hell? Lol. I wonder if it could be caused by caffeine--- I'm embarrassed to write how much tea and coffee I drink in a day (lol). Maybe that's it? And I know that salt isn't necessarily a good thing but I just can't seem to kick it.

Any ideas? I would really appreciate any feedback or insight you might have."

And then in the same week, this comment was left on my blog post singing the praises of Japanese sweet potatoes:

"I love JSP too much, I believe. I would batch cook them and eat the whole batch in two days - grabbing them from the frig as I walked by just because I knew how delicious they were - not because I was hungry. I don't have this problem with regular potatoes or orange sweet potatoes. I'm so sad that JSPs seem to be a binge food for me. Anyone else have this problem? I also had this problem with bananas, and even have cut out oatmeal and grains for similar reasons. I just stick with the white potato and orange sweet potatoes for my starches and quickly dropped the 7-8 lbs I'd added. I do miss the others though. Sigh!"

I can't say that I was surprised at this point by these stories. In fact, I had a close friend in The Ultimate Weight Loss program who was always asking the question of whether or not she was eating too much food. She often reported eating unusually large volumes, even though the food was (1) plant based and (2) free of sugar, oil and salt. I mean, what is the joy in continuing to eat food that just isn't that exciting?

I didn't have an answer for her.

Then I got to thinking of the following "crisis" I experienced. It was back during a time when my diet was "impeccable." I mean, I wasn't eating anything that was off of "the plan." No sugar, no flour, no salt. But I noticed something and it bothered the heck out of me.

I found it nearly impossible to eat anything unless I was multitasking, and I often ate standing up while cooking, cleaning or taking care of my family's needs. Simply sitting down to a meal only happened for me in a restaurant setting where all of my other work was out of reach.

So if you were a fly on my wall, you would see me there eating my big chopped salad full of all of "the right stuff," but I was never just eating. It was like I was compelled to also do something else-read, watch tv, write, anything-but not just eat.

And this really bothered me. As much as it bothers the folks who notice that even though they are eating all of the right foods, they know, deep down inside, that they are eating way too much. That something isn't quite where it should be.

An analogy that I love to use is that this has all been like a game of whack-a-mole. It seems like with every thing that I get under "control" (my exercise habit, my perfect plant based diet), some new problem pops up! When will it end?

I realized then that as much as I believed if I just got the food "right"that everything would be alright, that this was not the case for me

I needed to keep looking, outside of the plant based movement, for what was going on with me. I also knew that I wouldn't stop until I had found all of my answers. I need to feel whole.

I began to take courses and read books on the subject and I uncovered a few key things on my search that I'm going to share with you here today. In no way is my search over. In many ways, I am just at the beginning, but it's made such a huge difference in my life that I feel it is high time that I share it all here with you, my beloved blog community.

I found out that I have been using food as a way to stuff down my feelings and emotions.


Here's the exciting part. I learned that my compulsions with food, whether it be to eat sugary foods too often or too much, to eat while multitasking, or to eat beyond comfortably full are actually my body's way of communicating to me that something is up that needs attending to. (For more on this please read The Gift of Our Compulsions by Mary O'Malley.)

Now, I have been in the business of ignoring a lot of my needs for a very long time. Let's take rest as one example. 

Who wants to rest? Especially when there is so much that needs to be done! The house is never clean enough. Never organized enough. I've got to exercise and grocery shop and cook and entertain and volunteer and be a good friend and read and blog and advocate and take my kids where they need to go and I've got to change the world and make something of myself. The list goes on and on. It's never ending!

When I'm tired, that's the number one trigger for me to grab something sugary or floury.

It's crazy, but in the split second when my body tells me to take a break or "Wendy, it's time for sleep," the next thought that always pops into my brain is . . .

"You know Wendy, you should EAT something."

Holy F#%$.

Eat something? Really? What I need is sleep, not food. But the "eat something" thought goes floating down the river of my mind and starts flashing, "Wouldn't some crunchy breakfast cereal be good about now? Or some ice cream?"

Where is this even coming from?

The best guess I have at this point is that as a child, I learned to suppress my feelings and emotions. I believe mine is a very common story, but it's clearly not in my best interest.

Imagine a wave. You can either try to hold the wave from crashing down with your might (which is impossible, but just bear with me), or you can learn to ride the wave. Riding the wave is challenging, even difficult at times, but also interesting and sometimes fun. I 

I must learn to ride the waves instead of trying to force them from crashing down. What if I learned to sit with my intense emotions instead of stuffing them, along with my feelings and physical needs, down inside of me by ingesting food as a distraction? What if I gave them a label and noticed how they felt in my body? Could I do this instead of eating?

In essence, I have been living in my head and not in my body for as long as I can remember. There is a disconnect for me where I don't feel what is going on in my body. That's probably one of the reasons why I can do things like overeat, which causes physical pain and eat sugary foods which don't leave me feeling well afterwards. I trained myself long ago to ignore my physical needs. I have no idea why this developed but I don't really connect with how an emotion manifests in my body. Developing a yoga practice has helped with this, but it's not a complete solution.

Back to my not being able to eat without distraction.

It turns out that busyness is a compulsion as much as overeating is a compulsion. Living with a long, always growing to do list is as effective at distracting yourself from how you are really feeling and what you really need as is drug abuse, gambling or sex addiction. They all serve the same purpose: distract you from that wave that you could be riding.

What happens to those emotions if you hold them back or you stuff them down? They don't go away! They live on inside of you and make you sick. 

In the beginning of this year I became a self proclaimed "self-care warrior." It's been a fascinating eight months of discovery and it's just the beginning.

So if you are stuffing yourself with sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli when you are not physically hungry (remember, your stomach is the size of your fist, so we really don't need much volume of food at any given meal), my guess is that there is more work to be done. 

I'm not saying that anyone should ditch their healthy diet and just learn to ride their waves. I'm just saying that for me, perfecting my diet ended up exposing that there was something far more interesting going on with me than simply what food I was eating. I truly wish it would have just ended there with getting the food right! Life would be so much simpler. But the universe has other things in store for me I guess.

I love this quote from Rob Bell that pretty much sums up where I'm at these days, "Do not fear your interior life. Stop judging what's going on inside of you. There are all of these things going on inside of you. Embrace what is." Episode 46, "The Futility and the Fire," The Rob Cast

I hope that you will join me on this journey to wholeness. It's so freakin' awesome.

I would LOVE to hear what you think about all of this! Please leave a comment on the blog and share your experience.


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