Monday, June 9, 2014

Alone with Chocolate Fudge & Not Afraid Anymore: My Four Big Shifts to Food Freedom

We were sitting around the table, with gorgeous fresh strawberry shortcake sitting in front of us, passing around a jar of chocolate fudge to put on top. Everyone was talking about what they would do with the fudge if they were left alone with it, most agreeing they'd eat the whole thing with a spoon in one sitting. I sat there, almost shocked that I had no desire to eat any more than the tiny dollop in my bowl. Two years ago, I would have eaten myself sick on it every day and night until it was gone. Leave me with it now and I'd put it away in the fridge, no uncontrollable cravings, no feelings of guilt or deprivation. "Whoa," I thought, "I've come a loooong, long way."

Overeating, especially when it feels emotional or mindless (you've checked out of your brain, or something else has taken over), does us a lot of damage. I've interviewed over 40 people about their struggles with food, especially the tendency to binge and overeat, and the physical damage is perhaps most obvious and first to pop into most people's minds when we think about the consequences. The digestive stress and bloating. The lethargy. Worrying about what all that sugar and fat is doing to our health in the long run. Gaining weight... Or living in perpetual fear that we will.

From all those conversations, what struck me at the overwhelmingly most painful, frustrating part - and for me this was the hardest part too - is the repeated blow to your self-esteem and confidence. It's facing a recurring personal failure that undercuts all of the rest of your success in life. It's being smart enough to understand the pattern and yet not being able to stop. It's disappointing yourself over and over again, because you know you know better. It's beating yourself up about not treating yourself the way you want to be... which is still not treating yourself the way you know you want to be. It was enough to wreck my first attempt at a Health Coaching practice two years ago. As an emotional binge-eater, my self-confidence was shot. How could I help anyone else if I couldn't figure it out for myself?

My lack of confidence kept me from building my practice and career for over a year, which - though I didn't see it until I was through it - gave me the space to finally step back from thinking about food all the time (funny how I chose a field that perpetuated that, isn't it?), so that I COULD figure it out for myself. All of the shifts I experienced were influenced by the coaching programs I was participating in as a student, and by coaches I worked with myself along the way.

My Four Big Shifts to Food Freedom:

1. Talking about it, rather than hiding it away. Getting honest and vulnerable in front of the ultimate mirror, another person, someone I trusted to hold safe space for me to show up in all my mess and imperfection. For me this was my partner, and then a coach, and then the people I trained with during my own coach training program. I got support and started creating a network of friends and circles that I knew would see and respect all of me, even when I didn't feel like I could. Eventually, I felt safe enough to share my closet binge-eating story publicly. It was one of the scariest and most liberating things I've ever done. What has inspired me most on this front? Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability. Bookmark that one for later.

2. Deciding to take radical care of my body, my vessel and vehicle for experiencing everything else. I started getting massages every week for three months. Dropping into and reconnecting with my body, my energy and physical sensations changed everything. I let myself feel into the times it felt strong, centered and beautiful, instead of dismissing myself as vain or judging myself as shallow. I gave myself permission to enjoy feeling good about myself, and to keep going back to what made my body feel amazing: massage, hula hooping in the park, dance, yoga, walks, baths, laying in the sun, sex, running, eating avocado every day, moisturizing my skin...

3. Letting go of trying so hard: to be so good, to be perfect, to look good, to have it all figured out, to control all aspects of myself... including my eating and my body. I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted. Yes, that turned out to be largely healthy stuff like quinoa and kale and almond butter, but I had to stop judging and denying myself the foods I was craving. Like cheeseburgers and chocolate cake, whole milk and cereal. It's true, sometimes I still went overboard. I ate stuff and more than I wished I had. I still do sometimes. But I also stopped making rules about "tomorrow I won't eat/I'm on a diet..." and started forgiving myself, realizing that every "screw up" was a learning experience, an opportunity to remember to check into my body for its hunger, fullness and needs, and not just what my mind was saying.

4. Learning to feel and be okay with my uncomfortable emotions. I used to act passive-aggressive (I was a master at the silent martyr role) when I was unhappy or wanted something to be different... I never knew how to express my unhappiness and ask for what I wanted and needed. So I either stuffed all the "bad" stuff, my anger, loneliness, sadness, fears, disappointment, and stress down with food, or I knotted it up as tension in my shoulders, neck and back. I worked with an emotional intelligence coach to help me learn techniques for processing, expressing and releasing my emotions... and even though I was initially terrified I'd be opening Pandora's Box of Perpetually Overwhelmed Hot Mess, I found that once I let myself experience an emotion, it would release. And I could move on SO much more easily. For the first time in my life, instead of being on a ruthless roller coaster or a ship lost in an unpredictable sea, I have a sense of clarity, groundedness and strength that feel like the rooted tree of my being, my emotions just being weather.

These shifts are more like practices I've chosen to live by - they are still things I consciously and intentionally cultivate and practice in my life. It doesn't go perfectly and smoothly, but I've learned to treat myself and my body as a priority (or else nothing else or nobody else gets 100%) and, when that falls through, with compassion and kindness, as you would a friend. I know how long and hard some of you have been struggling to figure it out, to will yourself back into willpower. I feel you. I felt for my friends as they sat around the table that night, laughing about their inability to resist the jar of fudge. Because I suddenly knew, for myself - even though I'd thought for most of my life that surely there was something wrong with me - that another way of living is possible.

I'm creating right now... coaching programs, free guides, sugar detoxes, online webinar trainings. I know what's worked for me, but I know we don't all have the same experience. Please share below or write to me and tell me what you want and need. What are your burning questions? What are you dying to experience differently?


  1. Congratulations on your food freedom, Alex! That's awesome :) I really enjoyed this post - especially the part where you said you take radical care of your body because it's your vessel for experiencing everything else - I've never thought about it like that! What a perfect way to describe it. Thanks for sharing, girl :)

    1. Thank you!! I'm not sure where or when I came into that way of thinking about it, but it's so true. If I'm not feeling good physically, I can't fully enjoy anything else.