by Verena Deeken
Our relationship with food can be the doorway into our inner world. It allows us to get a deeper understanding of what emotions we are trying to avoid, what memories are haunting us or what stories we are telling ourselves over and over again that keep us from living our life to the fullest. And it is a deeply spiritual practice if we are willing to accept that how we eat tells us everything that we believe about ourselves and about life.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been struggling with my weight. I was never happy with it and I never identified with how I looked. As a teenager I was actually quite thin but over the decades and with increasing age this has changed and the weight has steadily gone up. The underlying feelings, however, have remained pretty much the same over time. They go something along the line of: if only I were thin (whatever I believe is thin) and had a lithe and well-defined body I would be much happier, live a more fulfilled and meaningful life and be more loveable and loved. In recent years I’ve added: and, of course, I would also be much more spiritually advanced.
Misery and obsession
I kept my trials and tribulations with weight and body image pretty much to myself. I couldn’t admit to anyone, not even myself, how utterly miserable I felt about this, how often I beat myself up and that I was obsessed. There was not a single day, probably not even a single waking hour when I wouldn’t think of it and either make pledges to never binge, eat sweets or potato chips again and exercise for the rest of my life or I would spend my time fretting over how my body looks in the mirror and how heavy I feel. I would dream of what a great life I would have if that magic number on my scale finally appeared only to find myself confronted with a reality where every trip to the fashion store would be a nightmare, because I could never find anything my size.
But most of all I felt completely isolated and very much embarrassed when I went on meditation retreats, attended workshops or met other people who are on this spiritual path with me. It seemed to me that I was the only person struggling with these mundane issues when everyone else, so I believed, was focusing on what truly matters: awareness, presence and enlightenment.
Three years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a five-day silent meditation retreat with the Dharma teacher Christopher Titmus. During inquiry time in a daring act of bravado I raised my hand to inquire about eating, food and weight. I got great insights but what really blew my mind was the feedback I got from others. Many people came up to me afterwards to tell me how grateful they were for my inquiry and how brave I was to address this topic and how helpful they found it.
Around this time a friend gave me a book called Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path To Almost Everything, by Geneen Roth. It opened up a whole new world for me.
If only …
Up to that point I firmly believed that, if only I could muster enough willpower and discipline to finally keep my New Year’s resolutions on dieting and exercising everything would be fine. I was sure I only had to stick to some plan to reduce food intake by counting calories or points and stepping up exercise with power yoga, calisthenics or Pilates, then I’d succeed. But, at some point, I’d eventually fall off the wagon and once again I’d be deeply disappointed in myself and even more convinced that I was hopeless and would never get it right.
However, after reading Geneen’s book I realized that what I had perceived as my greatest obstacle to growing and evolving as a soul-infused personality: my struggle with food and weight proved to be exactly the doorway to inner freedom and peace I had so desperately been looking for.
“Am I really hungry?”
In order to step through that doorway we need to ask two simple questions: “Am I really hungry?” and if not then “Why I am eating?” If we eat when we are not hungry food is an escape route that we take in order to not be where we are or to feel what we don’t want to feel. We need to be present in our body to know whether we are physically hungry or not. And if we reach for food when we are not hungry this is a sign that something is not okay. We must be willing to look at what is going on and to find out what is really going on We must be willing to embark on this journey.
Over the past three years my weight hasn’t gone up, but neither has it gone down. What has completely changed, however, is my obsession with food and weight. It has ceased to exist. The scale in my bathroom no longer has the power to turn this into a good or a bad day, depending on what figure shows up. The size of my trousers no longer defines if I am worthy or not. A glimpse in the mirror or seeing a photo of myself no longer has the power to send me on a downward spiral of self-loathing and despair.
Embrace the now!
I would be dishonest if I were to say I fully accept the weight I am now. I still hope that someday it will just drop away or the spiritual journey will take me past the point where it matters. But perhaps this is, as Tanis Helliwell says, the next step we need to take and which I feel is a good message for each of us. That is, to fully embrace and love where we are now and be content with what is, even if this never alters. As I continue to do this I discover more inner peace.