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Why am I afraid of eating less?

            It feels silly to even be thinking about this when I feel so fat and ugly, and so far from being able to lose weight, but this is probably the right time: because I’m not losing weight, and I’m not making progress with Intuitive Eating, and I’m not sure why. I’ve noticed that when I get to those moments where I could stop eating or keep going, a lot of fears come up, and that’s part of what makes me choose to continue eating.

            One of my fears is that even if I lose weight, nothing else in my life will change; nothing else in my body will change, so I’ll still be sick and tired and in pain, and nothing else in my mind will change, either. And if that’s what I’m thinking when I’m trying to decide whether or not it’s worth it to eat the last few bites of something, no wonder I choose the momentary feeling of relief that comes with eating, instead of the fear that I will never feel any relief at all.

            Another fear I’m aware of is that eating less food will lead to depression. I rely heavily on food to make up for the happiness hormones I don’t have in my body (and that my antidepressants can’t seem to completely make up for), and I’m afraid that eating less will mean feeling worse.   But I don’t understand why I feel quite so wretched and impatient and frightened and hopeless over just a few more bites of food.

“We’re starving!!!!!!”

My theory is that, maybe, food has been the secret to shutting off a lot of uncomfortable feelings that I haven’t wanted to feel, and if I eat even a little bit less they will all come rushing back; I will be swamped by loneliness, and impatience, and so much more, like a sleeping giant that I have been drugging into a stupor for years.

            When I check in with myself during a meal I feel uncomfortable in my body, but most of all I hear this crowd of inarticulate mush in my head that I can’t identify, and I can’t tolerate sitting with those thoughts and feelings long enough to figure out what they really are, let alone to manage them.

            All of this makes it sound, to me, as if I should keep eating the way I’ve been eating, because if I stop I will be in hell.

“Sounds about right.”

            But what about all of the uncomfortable feelings that food doesn’t get rid of, and what about the discomfort that eating too much actually causes itself? And what about the idea that feeling these feelings could give me a chance to heal the wounds that created them in the first place?

Except, my brain is so programmed to believe that food is the answer to everything, that even when food doesn’t help I can’t quite believe it. In science I think they’d call that a confirmation bias.

            So I tried to figure out which emotions might be part of the big inarticulate mush I’ve been avoiding, in the hopes that starting to identify the specific emotions could make them more bearable.

“Just feed me.”

Shame is one of the biggest feelings I try to mute with food. I feel it like a heat in my belly, and I felt it most acutely when I was skinny, especially as a teenager. Eating didn’t resolve the feelings of shame in the moment, but as I gained weight the shame started to quiet down.

Anxiety is another big one. Anxiety makes me feel as if everything in my body is in the wrong place: my belly is in my heart and my shoulders are at my knees. Also, I feel sped up, even manic, like I’m jumping out of my skin, and if I eat something I can start to feel more grounded. There are often times when I can write through, or exercise through, a bout of anxiety, but first I have to eat something so that I can even think about a better way to handle it.

            Helplessness and hopelessness bring on an on-the-edge-of-tears feeling, in my throat and behind my eyes, and sometimes an overall body shivering, and food seems to settle my body down, even if it can’t relieve the underlying hurt.

            Disappointment, or feeling like a failure, feels like an overwhelming emptiness in my belly, which is probably why it seems so much like hunger to me.

Loneliness often leads to eating too, because food is like a good friend who knows me and knows what I need without having to ask. When I feel really lonely, the feeling of disconnection is inside of me and makes it impossible for me to connect with other people, but food starts to help me feel reconnected to myself, which is at least a place to start.

            These are the emotions I can identify, but I think there must be so much more that I’m keeping on mute, because I just can’t figure out how to eat less, no matter how hard I try and no matter how many writing/thinking/eating/breathing exercises I put in place. It’s not even that I eat so much; it’s that what I eat, and when I eat, and how I choose what to eat is determined by the need to mute those unbearable emotions, instead of by physical hunger. And until I can feel my physical hunger, and not confuse it with all of these other feelings in my body, I can’t figure out how much I really need to eat and how much is too much. No wonder I felt safer being on a diet for so many years, with someone else to tell me what to eat and what not to eat. As long as they did the thinking for me, I didn’t have to listen to the thoughts in my own head around food, and even if I didn’t lose weight from those diets, at least I felt safer. From myself.

“Oy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

65 responses »

  1. I wish a hug, lots of hugs, could help. 💕🙏

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  2. I wish the same as Jane. I’m sending a hug anyway.

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  3. I am also sending a virtual hug. 🥰

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  4. I’ve come the conclusion it’s not necessarily eating less, just eating healthier things when I can mentally manage to do so. Of course, there are days when my depression and stress are so bad that I need a whole pizza to flood me with comfort hormones, but as long as that’s not every day it’ll be okay.Trauma and mental health issues can’t go away overnight, and you’re doing your best It’s okay that you’re you. *hugs*

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  5. Your post today strikes a familiar chord. Eating disorders can be troublesome because we need food to survive but there’s an emotional short-circuit that messes with this need. I’m working on something similar and have not found a solution.

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  6. Try not to worry about the “what if’s” and you’ll feel better no matter if you lose weight or not. And isn’t it about feeling good about yourself that’s important?

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  7. You certainly are not alone. I have an eating disorder and can relate to your musing into your thoughts about food very well. Because I am powerless over my food thoughts and obsession, I find help when I turn to spiritual guidance. For me controlling food was always my way to numb emotional pain, and it has ended up causing more problems, healthwise, mentally, and physically but also it has prevented me from connecting and it amplified the depression. It is an addictive cycle that we can recover from, there is hope.

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  8. Hi Rachel,
    This is a complex conundrum which you have dissected with precision! Here’s another perspective from a fellow counselor.
    “One of my fears is that even if I lose weight, nothing else in my life will change; ”
    Other than the scale registering a lower number, you’re right.

    “nothing else in my body will change,” are you sure?

    “so I’ll still be sick and tired and in pain,” if that’s the case, then losing weight is not the ‘magic bullet.’ It’s a placebo.

    “and nothing else in my mind will change, either. And if that’s what I’m thinking when I’m trying to decide whether or not it’s worth it to eat the last few bites of something, no wonder I choose the momentary feeling of relief that comes with eating, instead of the fear that I will never feel any relief at all.” There is something to be said for the placebo effect! 🐾

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  9. Sending hugs as you do battle with this Rachel. Eating healthier whole foods, more fruits and veggies and less processed foods is likely a good bet. Definitely leave yourself a small treat to look forward to or it will be harder to keep with the routine. Wishing you all the best. Allan

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  10. And….. u aren’t alone dear..nope nope…

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  11. Rachel, you so eloquently described your battle. I am sure you know you are not alone. There are so many of us with an addictive personality that finds whatever it “needs” to placate our traumas. I have no solutions. I don’t think anyone does. All I can offer is a tidbit of advice given to me. Find someone, you trust, to talk to. Then listen to your own bodies needs. If food is needed right now, then so be it. Your emotional health needs to be soothed before you can slay the eating dragon. It’s a battle I know too well. Sending gentle hugs.

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  12. I’m so sorry you have to live with all this torment.

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  13. It’s hard to proffer advice since we’re all very different and what works for one person may not work for another. Stressing about food and eating probably doesn’t help either as it ramps up levels of cortisol. You just need to find something you’re comfortable with. All dieticians seem to favour a Mediterranean style diet which is easy to maintain as it doesn’t eliminate any food groups. In the States I find portion sizes enormous and maybe the solution is to eat what you like but in much smaller portions, as they seem to do in France: 3 meals a day and no snacking inbetween meals. In a rather roundabout way I’m agreeing with Lauren above.

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  14. You seem to be trapped in a cycle of food=guilt, eating=shame, less food=equals mood swings. I don’t have any magic answers other than to just stop thinking about it so much. Overthinking about anything is surely going to set our minds racing.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  15. You are so brave to share your emotions so openly. I am in awe. Beetleypete’s advice about overthinking is good. When I feel scared to do something, one thing that sometimes helps is I say to myself, “Just try it.” I just try to go for a run, or to write something, or not eat for a while. But who am I to give advice when so many times I can’t even try. I hope you will be gentle with yourself. Hugs!

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  16. Food for me, used to be about 2 things: 1) To make myself fat and seemingly unattractive so that my abuser would no longer want me sexually, and 2) It was the only thing I felt I had some control over when it seemed like I lived in a control less world. Lauren is correct in saying that we have to heal our emotional selves before we try to heal our physical selves, but after years of therapy and the reading of countless self-help books and a lot of journaling, I don’t have a whole lot of emotional healing to my credit. I hate to see someone else suffer through this!

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  17. Thank you for being so open and vulnerable on this topic. Self love and care is messy. I appreciate your willingness to “go there” in your thoughts and explore all the pieces to fully understand yourself.

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  18. Hi Rachel, as others have said, I can only contribute a hug for your openness and honesty. ❤

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  19. Food and diet are very complex Rachel. Food is a great comforter, habit and fortifier. I am no expert, but have had weight issues since my teens. It’s only over the last 6 years that I’ve found something that works for me, and I’m sticking with it, though still have lapses with my sweet tooth and cravings for chocolate, cake, and sweets. I can certainly identify with stress, anxiety, guilt and loneliness. Would it help to keep a diary of what you eat, when and why? Keep positive. Hugs ❤

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  20. I find that if I need to lose weight lowering not calories but carbs does the trick entirely, by keeping a daily diary of all carb intake and limiting to a low amount, like 20-30 (15 I lost 35 pounds from, but it does not have to be that extreme.) I have stopped doing the diary and lo, weight goes up.

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  21. You certainly wrote this while reading MY mind. Struggling with weight has been a life-long, huge distraction. Think of how much time and brain power we spend on that. On occasion I get trim and feel really good, physically and mentally. Then, poof! My closet is full of clothes acquired when I was narrower and lighter. Arggggh!

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  22. So sorry you have to deal with this. I have read your blogs for a very long time and should remember but I don’t….have you had really good therapy? I know that I find myself having the same issues over and over but when I was with a therapist who really fit with me it was a tremendous help. Finding the right one is tough but worth it. So much of what plagues me from time to time is so tied into the way my life has gone. Not bad past but we all have issues. Mine didn’t help my self esteem and I seem better with that now. Good luck with your journey and I hope better thoughts. Peace

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  23. Thank you for sharing this. Food is one of the space fillers of the intangible part of ourselves. Through my addictive struggles I have learned people, places and things will only give me temporary relief. Usually when I turn to one of my addictions it’s for something that’s bothering me in the spiritual. Addiction is like a black hole of our existence. Nothing placates us for long and that’s where I’m learning more to turn to God versus one of my addictions. I understand your struggle Rachel. Sending you a big hug through the wires.

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  24. For some people using a smaller plate helps because of the illusion of more food on a full plate, but it’s not actually too much food since the plate doesn’t hold as much so you can eat all of it without the guilt. Just a thought. I don’t know if it would work for you.

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  25. Oy is right, this really resonated with me. I have the same thought process.

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  26. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about such a personal and difficult topic. Your words reflect a lot of my own feelings and sruggles over decades. The experiences of the past few years — an ongoing pandemic, political upheaval, the rise of hatespeak and violence, climate chaos –have only complicated my efforts to make peace with all my losses in life and finally use food less as a crutch and a palliative. Right now I am just happy spring is finally here and I cam emerge from my winter cocoon. Be good to yourself.

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  27. A wonderful and thoughtful blog. Having long term weight problems, if anyone were to ask me what I think about weight issues, Now can just answer, “What Rachel said”. ‘-)

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  28. Would ‘acceptance’ help?
    It may be a ‘problem’ because you don’t accept being the size you are. Acceptance doesn’t mean stuffing yourself with more food, or less! It just means allowing yourself to be as you are – no judgement – no guilt. It’d be a start, perhaps!

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  29. Brave of you to try to figure it out (not easy!) and generous of you to share that process with others who might be going through the same thing.

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  30. I have found the hardest work has been to learn which sensation was coming from hunger for food and which was coming from hunger for attention to feelings. Very hard, very slow work. Hang in there.

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  31. I too sending you a virtual hug! I can identify with you as well. The struggle with food is not a joke.

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  32. virtual HUG from a Fan of your writing!

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  33. I really loved this post I could relate on so many levels. My Mom’s before she passed at 93 and my own. You sound like a caring and compassionate daughter. I pray she does well with all her medical issues and most of all has less pain!

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  34. harrisjackson4luv

    Food is life and anyone who doesn’t like food isn’t human . But the uncontrolled desire for food should be under control. Most at times excessive thinking or depression could make you or anyone eat without control . Whatever you can’t control becomes your weakness and food shouldn’t be part of anyone’s weakness . Even God said man shall not live by bread alone. At times we need to purnish the flesh, don’t give it what it needs so you can be able to build up your spiritual life and strengthen your mortal body. Personally I love good food too. I love to eat but still it’s under control . Whatever you don’t have control of becomes a small god to you which God hates the most . Excessive love for food is bad as it weakens our spiritual life. MY TAKE I’m here to learn , nobody is perfect . I just pray some of you won’t insult the hell out of me today but I’m READY , BORN READY 😁🤭 God bless you all and I love you all❤️

    Reply

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