I’m not entirely sure why this particular time was so different than the rest. He would call the kids a couple times a week to check in with them and he didn’t say anything other than the normal, “How was your day kids?”, “What are you up to tonight?”. But for some reason this time, I felt a rush of emotions scurry through my body and all I could think about was getting my kids to bed so I could run to the store and get ice cream.
I did just that. I went to the store around the corner and bought, not one, not four, but the SIX PACK of drumstick ice cream cones. I sat in the dark parking lot with my car running, I think my favorite christian radio station was on, and I ate ALL SIX drumsticks. Sound familiar? Well, maybe your choice of punishment is cookies, donuts or pizza. Mine was all of it.
Each of us, every human being in this world experiences negative emotion and part of our experience here on earth is to learn how to feel all of it, to allow for it and, like my own coach says, to get really good at feeling the negative.
Those who struggle in addiction, more often than not, use porn to escape negative emotions by numbing out or avoiding. We all avoid, resist or react in one way or another. We can gain power and self mastery when we learn how to recognize when we are avoiding or reacting and then allow ourselves to feel it. Feeling negative emotion is powerful work!
When I was sitting in that parking lot, consuming an entire box of ice cream cones, I was both reacting and trying to avoid feeling the negative emotions. I had just been triggered and not only did I suddenly want to do something that my brain knew was dangerous, but I also didn’t want to really feel the emotions that the trigger brought on. I was angry that I even had emotions about the situation, about him. I didn’t want any thoughts or emotions about him ever again. Yet there I was.
I had never struggled with binge eating before my D-Day and I didn’t really want to to believe that I was struggling at the time. It was how I felt “better” and would even tell myself I deserved the “reward” after the hell of a day I had just lived through.
I would still exercise and choose to eat other foods that nourished my body -but it was more out of a moral obligation to “right the wrong” rather than from a place of giving my body what it needs. I tried to counter the cruelty and ’bad behavior’ of my binging episodes with salad.
Binge eating can show up for a variety of reasons; it can be from something simple as boredom eating, it can be a vice camouflaged as a tool for managing stress, or be an unhealthy way to relax, indulge and unwind.
What I am addressing here today is when binge eating is showing up as a result of or coping with, past or present traumatic experiences. However, the official definition of binge eating disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic, is when someone frequently consumes unusually large amounts of food and feels physically unable to control what and how much they are eating.
In addition to and unlike anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, there is often an increased amount of shame and embarrassment that is associated with a binge eating disorder that prevents those experiencing it from admitting they have a problem and getting help. Many people don’t talk about this so there is a lot of unfamiliarity with the disorder and it can appear to others as being just a lack of willpower or laziness. This is why it has taken so long for professionals to actually acknowledge binge eating as an actual disorder.
Here are a few symptoms of binge eating that are most common:
- Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
- Frequently attempting to diet, possibly without weight loss, only to return to binging
- Binging without an attempt to purge after (i.e. through vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise)
- Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control and you can’t stop yourself
- Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
- Eating rapidly during binge episodes
- Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
- Frequently eating alone or in secret
- Weight gain and other related health issues
- Problems to function normally at work or in other social situations
- Low self-esteem or negative self-image
- Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as over a 2-hour period
- Associating the foods you eat with your worth and value as a human being
Like other eating disorders and addictions, once a person enters into recovery and is no longer avoiding, reacting or resisting the negative emotions, the healing work begins. Without the food, in this case, the numbing result of overeating and the distractions that are associated with the disorder, the person in recovery begins to experience all the negative emotions.
This was very scary to me. It felt easier to just keep binging than to feel the painful negative emotions. In all honesty- it’s because feeling the pain, to me, meant I was doing something wrong or was wrong or not enough. Not healing enough, not forgiving enough, not strong enough etc.
Reliving traumatic events or allowing myself to think about all that had happened in my marriage was not an option to me at this point. Remembering all the things I didnt see happening and felt stupid that I missed them, or recalling the abuse and how I covered for him. Once I even lied to my family about why he broke his hand.. I came up with a great cover story – he was proud of me. Or thinking about how he had just moved on with someone else and now he’s acting like he’s the perfect dad and man. I could not stand to think about it because it meant feeling the emotions associated, and I decided it was easier to eat cake.
When I did pull out the sliced cucumbers rather than the sliced cake (ok fine, the whole cake) I felt better about myself and felt more worthy of my own self love. This thinking helped only temporarily- it’s like what we tell addicts when they are “white knuckling it” I was trying really hard to do something out of willpower rather than actually changing the way I think.
So how do we make that shift in our thinking, how do we lean into the negative emotions and face them rather than sitting in the corner of the closet with a box of twinkies? We get real with our present situation and reality. The majority of the women I work with are stuck because they are living in the future with fears and anxiety or living in the past with regret, guilt or judgement. That’s where we lose our power. One of the first things we can do to help heal is learn how to self soothe and protect ourselves in healthy ways. Boundaries for example, are critical to our healing and protection. This helps diffuse the power of the trauma and allows us to start reclaiming our reality and finding our ability to make choices, to create the life we want- that’s the real power
I want to offer you a shift in thinking that changed it all for me. My coach helped me see that I was moralizing food. I was making one food better than another food. Now, hang in here with me on this concept. She offered me the thought that Broccoli isn’t better than cake”. I know right?! I laughed too.
When we moralize things that were never intended to be moralized we are creating that imaginary point system for ourselves that tells us if we are good or bad. If I eat cake I am bad and if I eat broccoli I am good. The truth is there is no good or bad food. Food just gives our bodies an experience. For some bodies, wheat gives people a negative experience where other bodies benefit from the nutrients of wheat. The wheat itself is not bad. What it does to someone’s body that isn’t designed to process that wheat, now gives that body a bad experience. See the difference?
I know a woman who is probably 5 ft 3 and weighs 110 pounds and she drinks a giant dr pepper from every day. I grew up thinking that soda was bad. It’s bad, stay away, don’t drink it or bad things will happen. Everytime I drank soda I felt bad. Not in my body but in my mind, in my heart, I felt I had done something bad and therefore I was a bad person because I just drank a coke.
Caffeine has zero effect on my body. I do not notice any difference in my body when I drink one or when I don’t. Yet I have a friend who can take just a sip of a coke and she gets a headache. For her body, the Coke (which is neither good or bad) has a bad effect on her body. SHE is not bad and the Coke itself is not bad. So she chooses what experience she wants to have in her body and to her that means she is not drinking coke because when she does, it’s her body that has the bad experience.
Can you see how powerful this is?! So, when I started to believe that food is not good or bad, it’s just food- it’s neutral. What that did for me is take off the pressure to make the “right” choice or “wrong choice” which eliminated unnecessary pain, suffering and a disconnect I was having with my body.
Believing this now puts me in a place of power and agency. I got to choose what food I want to eat! I get to choose what experience I wanted to have with my body!
Now, when I go to the fridge and open it up, I choose what my body needs. I do a quick body scan and if I am feeling a bit tired or sluggish I know I need protein or carbs. I can choose foods that give my body what it needs. If I want to. When I want ice cream I do a body scan. Why do I feel I need ice cream, what am I thinking. Just taking the time to ask myself that simple question puts me in agent power mode. I am CHOOSING to eat and I am LISTENING to my body and CONNECTING to my thoughts. The other night I did this and my thought was, “ It’s yummy”. So I ate a bowl of ice cream.
When my thought is, “ Because this day sucks and I deserve it” I know that it’s not what my body needs- I’m buffering negative emotions. See the difference?
Now, I want to add another layer to this. Trauma. When we have experienced betrayal trauma, we will have trauma responses from time to time. They are more frequent in the beginning of our healing journey but they can continue for years. As I have mentioned, I binged when I had a trauma response. After years of working on my own recovery I did experience less and less trauma responses and when I did have one- I didn’t always use food to comfort me. This is progress and this is the result of working on my own healing.
I want to offer hope to those of you who may be in the middle of new raw trauma, that you can heal and that it will get better. I also want to offer a different perspective to those of you who may be further along in the healing process but still find yourself having trauma responses and using food to cope.
I just recently had an experience where I had to see my ex husband, who I had not seen in 2 years. I did a lot of thought work and coaching before the visit, and it brought incredible results because I had a completely different experience than I had ever had before since the divorce. I stayed in my power the whole time and used my thought work to stay in my own head and out of his. It was a big healing moment for me. Well so I thought.
After I drove away I was thinking about how well I had handled things when immediately my body started to shake uncontrollably. It was hard to breath and all of a sudden tears were rolling down my face. I was so confused about what was happening in my body. Then I did what was all too familiar and found myself driving to the closest fast food chain and binged. There I was again sitting in a parking lot, eating food I really didn’t want to be eating.
Not only was I trying to comfort myself, but I had such intense negative emotions just come out of nowhere that I was scared to face them. I thought I had done something wrong, that maybe I really wasn’t healed, that once again he won. I thought “He still has power over me and I’m still broken”.
I share this with you because I want you to see how real our trauma is. It has been over 6 years since my divorce and I still had a trauma response. The truth is, I am not broken, I did not do anything wrong and he did not “win”. What happened was my brain just told my body that there was a tiger behind the bush and I just talked to it. My brain was reminding me that the last time I talked to the “tiger” I got bit. So my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do.
Rather than being upset, or shamed or losing my power over this I thanked my brain and body for reminding me that this person was dangerous in my life. That once upon a time (and not that long ago) this person hurt me. So THANK YOU brain, thank you for doing your job and keeping me safe.
This is incredibly powerful to understand! When I can thank my brain for keeping me safe and then let it know that I am OK, that I am in power, that I am safe, it is healing, and empowering. I hope you can see how incredible your body is for enduring the trauma you have experienced. Our responses are not a sign of weakness. We do not have to allow the negative emotions to have power over us but we have the agency and ability to have power IN them. Feeling it, owning it, and even loving it. I love that my brain warned me. I love that my body responded and tried to comfort me. Because when I can take this approach rather than shame and judgement, I did not stay stuck in the trauma. It was able to pass through and I was able to move forward.
My hope for you who are reading this is to feel empowered in your own ability to first, believe that you are 100% of worth no matter what. That you are enough just as you are right now. You are doing enough and do not need to be “better” to be more worthy of love.
Second, I hope that you can begin to notice where you are moralizing things that were never intended to be moralized. Food is neutral and broccoli is not better than cake. Connect with your body, listen to what it needs and choose to have the experience in your body that you want with food.
Third, honor your trauma response because your brain and body are doing its job. Know that as you love yourself through your healing you will begin to see hope and you will begin to create the life that you want. You have the power to do it. We can access that power as we stay in the present moment, with both the negative and the positive. Christ is where we draw our strength and power from.
If you want to have some one on one coaching to help you in your healing journey please book a FREE session with me today and let’s chat.
*Article originally posted here.
Article written by: Amie Woolsey, Life Coach. Amie is a Life Coach specializing in betrayal trauma, divorce, and dating. She leads support groups for women with betrayal trauma through WORTH, teaches a YSA class for those who are dating, as well as a post divorce dating course. Amie is currently taking new individual coaching clients with CHOOSE and can be contacted at [email protected] To learn more about Amie click HERE.