“Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.”
Ever since I started blogging in September 2012, I haven’t had a problem sharing my heart and soul with the internet. Sharing deeply personal stories as a way to get my point across was a style of writing that came naturally to me and I never worried about sharing my personal struggles.
I’ve written about the pain of heartbreak, the shame I experienced of not turning up to a coaching call out of fear I wouldn’t be able to help my client, and what it’s like being broke whilst pursuing your dreams.
But there was one thing about all these posts that made it feel OK for me to share them. In each and every case, I had a handle on the situation. Yes, I was torn apart by having my heart broken. Yes, I felt a huge amount of shame about the client I never showed up for. And yes, admitting to my readers that I was struggling financially wasn’t an easy thing to do.
But in all those cases I also knew that they weren’t permanent. I could feel myself getting stronger and changing. I knew somewhere, even if it was deep inside, that heartbreak wouldn’t last forever. I knew myself well enough that having let one client down so badly, I wouldn’t let it happen again. And I knew that I was resourceful enough to earn money when I really needed to.
But there was one thing I never wrote about. There was one thing I wasn’t ready to share with my readers. It was the one thing I didn’t have a handle on.
And that was my relationship with food.
Growing up there was never a problem. I was lucky that my mum was always around to cook and she made sure that we always ate healthy, home-cooked food. I grew up knowing how to make healthy choices and how to cook for myself.
My problems began at university, when I shared a flat with more than one person with unhealthy attitudes towards food. Over time, their remarks and habits began to affect me. I wondered if I was eating too much. I wondered if I should lose a few pounds.
The problem became worse when I moved to France for a year as part of my studies. I spent much of that year feeling very lonely and used eating as a way to make myself feel better. You can imagine that in the land of all-butter croissants and delicious bread, I put on a few pounds.
When I returned to university the following year, I swung the other way and began to severely restrict my eating. My first long-term boyfriend bore the brunt of that period of my life. Moody, never wanting to leave the house, our existence together was often made miserable because of my relationship with my body and food.
But it wasn’t like this all the time. There were periods when I’d feel content and happy and ate pretty normally. And during those periods I thought that was it, I was cured! But sooner or later the problem returned.
After leaving my 9-5 office job in 2012 to explore what I really wanted to do with my life and eventually starting my own business, I thought my struggles with food were over. I thought being happy in my work would change everything.
There were days when I’d just binge and binge. And then I’d spend the next two days making up for it and severely restricting my food intake. Then it would all start again and I’d just keep going in circles.
I’d eat so much that my head ached, my teeth ached and I went to bed not knowing if I’d make it through the night without being sick. That is something I never wanted. And every time I felt that way, I swore to myself this time was the last. I never wanted to feel like this again.
The Real Change
And then in 2014 I went on a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course to go deeper into my personal and spiritual development. It didn’t cross my mind for a second that the course might have an effect on my eating habits.
But to my total surprise (and delight), over two months later and I haven’t binged once. Whilst two months may not seem like a long time to the average person, when it comes to my binge eating problem, believe me, it’s an eternity.
And it’s not because I’ve been painfully forcing myself not to eat the things I’m craving; I simply haven’t had the cravings. And since my diet has always been pretty healthy (binge eating aside) I’m beginning to feel like a totally different person.
On the one hand, it seems ridiculous to suggest that a 10-day meditation course could totally eliminate what felt like such a deep-rooted problem. On the other, I’m a firm believer that sometimes our longest standing problems can be solved in the blink of an eye when we stop expecting our rehabilitation to be complicated.
I’m not here to promote Vipassana as a way to cure addiction and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you book yourself on a course in the hope that it will cure you of your problems. But today I’d like to share with you just a few things I took from the course that you can easily put into practise yourself today. Who knows, perhaps they will really make a difference to you too. I hope so, because living a life controlled by eating isn’t so much fun.
Here are my tips:
1. Eat Really Slowly
Over the course of the 10 days, breakfast is served at 0630, lunch at 1100 and a piece of fruit and a cup of tea at 1700. Thinking I’d be starving later in the day, I helped myself to a massive bowl of porridge in the morning. But to my amazement, right from day one, I could barely manage it.
Because for 10 days there is complete silence; for 10 days you don’t look at anyone, you don’t smile at anyone, you don’t speak to anyone; for 10 days you don’t check your phone, write notes (although I actually did do that), listen to music, dance or take any form of exercise other than a gentle walk. So when it came to breakfast, it was just me, my bowl of porridge and 45 minutes to kill.
I have never eaten so slowly. I have never taken such great care over chewing my food. I have never eaten so consciously. Without the distractions of my computer and phone (which I’m ashamed to admit I’m normally tinkering with whilst I eat) I simply realised when I was full.
If you don’t already, I highly recommend making sure you make meal times just for eating. Clear your table of everything else and just eat. Whilst this is so simple, it was absolutely mind-blowing to me. Give it a try.
2. Be Silent
Vipassana teaches that all suffering comes from craving and aversion. We want something to happen and it doesn’t, so we suffer. We don’t want something to happen and it does, so we suffer. And this is essentially how most of us live our lives; wanting and not wanting things, reacting when they don’t or do happen and suffering as a result.
The technique of Vipassana meditation takes you into the physical sensations of your body and asks you to observe whatever is going on there with total neutrality. That is, whether a sensation is pleasant or unpleasant, you simply observe it with the understanding that every sensation impermanent; it cannot last forever. Observing sensations with neutrality essentially means that you have no attachment. And when there is no attachment, there is no craving or aversion.
Nothing could make up for the detailed teaching you experience on a 10-day course, but you can start today to become more aware of your body and sensations.
Simply sit for a period of time in silence with your eyes closed and move your attention slowly from your head to your feet, noticing any physical sensations. As you notice the sensations, don’t react to them. If there is an unpleasant sensation, simply observe it. It will not last forever. If there is a pleasant sensation, observe that too and realise that it too, will eventually disappear.
You can find a wealth of information online about practising Vipassana.
3. Let Go of Shame
This is the hardest story I’ve ever written to be published on the internet. I have felt so ashamed for so long that I wasn’t able to sort this problem out on my own.
I’m sharing it now because I know how common eating disorders are amongst both men and women. And because there’s so much shame in admitting something like this, we each feel that we have to struggle with it alone.
If you have an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food, please let go of your shame and seek to talk to someone about it. Whilst I’m always grateful for whatever life gives me and the lessons I learn along the way, I know life might have been very different these last few years if I’d have sought help sooner.
Are you struggling with, or have you overcome, an eating disorder? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below this post.