My emotions used to be very well-hidden, buried under more than 250 pounds of flesh. Uncovering my emotions was the one thing I never wanted to do, however I found it was the one thing I had to do to live.
I have always valued much more what I know than what I feel. My emotions, though, actually rule my behaviors. Ten years ago those emotions were cooperating with my body to end my life. I thought my mind was the problem and if I could just change it, I could change my behaviors. That’s true in part. My mind governs my feelings. It remembers how I feel about things after I am cognitively unaware I even feel that way.
That’s why I can know processed sugar and breads are unhealthy for me, but when I try I can’t stop eating them. I can’t understand why I keep being drawn back to them. I have an emotional connection to the food that I don’t even remember or haven’t thought about in a long time.
If my emotions govern my behavior wouldn’t it be important to understand them more, especially if I want to stop eating certain foods?
To some extent, this is where emotional eating enters the picture. For years, I denied had any problem with emotional eating. When I would hear the term emotional eating, I would always picture someone depressed sitting in a room crying and eating ice cream, cookies, pizza and chips. I didn’t see my eating like that.
I ate to be happy, to celebrate, to give myself a reward. And yes, I would eat when I was sad, overworked, frustrated or felt unloved. However those times were not the predominant ones. I ate because it provided one way for me to have fun and still keep my emotions covered.
The real reason I ran to food was to even out my feelings. I didn’t really want to deal with being frustrated or extremely happy. I just wanted everything to be on an even-keel, flat line.
I never wanted to be out-of-control. In my world growing up, my mother was out-of-control emotionally and my father never really expressed overt emotions. From the example presented, I wanted to be more like my father, but I had no idea how to do it. I had no paradigm for expressing healthy emotions. So I held them in and I ate. That way I had the appearance of being all put together, but it was a ruse.
Food anesthetized my emotions to the point I didn’t have to feel. I could face any situation with calm, whether it was emotionally charged or totally depressing.
I know I was created as a triune being—body, soul and spirit. Just like my body needs water, nutrition, exercise, air, sunlight and sleep in order to be healthy, my spirit needs to be fed with prayer, Bible reading and study, worship and fellowship.
It stands to reason if my body and spirit need things, so does my soul. My soul can be characterized as my mind, will and emotions. In other words the part of me that governs my behavior. I understand the mind and we know the will, but it’s the emotional part of me that often is an enigma.
It is the emotional-relational part of me that needs affection, attention, love and significance. If it does not get these, it will seek a way to get them. If I am scared of emotions or don’t know how to express them and want to keep them hidden, I will find a ways to do that.
My mechanism for hiding my emotions was food, especially sugar and bread. To learn how to express emotions without those foods was difficult. I had to go back and confront some of my deep fears and emotional issues. As my daughter says, I did battle with my own demons. The emotions felt like beings with claws waiting to pounce on me. As I went through and confronted each one, though, with God’s help it became easier and easier.
I did this the hard way by processing years of wrong thinking and forgiving each issue and person as it came up. There are easier ways to do it, but that’s how I did it. I’ve learned some short cuts to use with others, but I did it the hard way.
I hadn’t completed the process entirely when I started my healthy eating journey, but I had gotten to the point where I saw clearly my model of using food to anesthetize pain was only bringing me more pain. It became clear when I realized I had equated my loving, caring grandmother with comfort food, most of them unhealthy. Whenever I’d eat one of the recipes passed down through generations in our family, I’d feel like I was honoring my grandma. When I didn’t, it felt dishonoring.
If she were here, she would be the first one to tell me to stop eating the things that were slowly killing me. It was a first step to walking away from processed sugar and eventually away from items containing gluten.
I had always tried to lose weight by being strong and courageous. I am a can-do woman. When I put my mind to something I can do it. It was exactly this mindset that negated my feelings and paralyzing all my good intentions. Admitting I was timid and frail and had a weakness for sugar and bread became my lifeline to God.
When I surrendered these things I had been using as coping mechanisms, the real life-saving journey began.
Changing my mind was not so much the issue as was changing my heart by exposing and uncovering my emotions.
When I did that amazing things happened. I began to feel again. I fell more in love with myself and my husband.
I wrote Sweet Grace. I lost over 260 pounds. I love life. I don’t try to control everything. I laugh. I cry and it’s OK.
Most of all, today I can unequivocally say, I am completely and totally in love with Jesus! Yes, it’s a little bit emotional, but that’s so all right with me.
Teresa Shields Parker is a wife, mother, business owner, life group leader, speaker and author of Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds and Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Favor and Sweet Grace Study Guide: Practical Steps to Lose Weight and Overcome Sugar Addiction. Get a free chapter of her memoir on her blog at Teresa Shields Parker.com. Connect with her there or on her Facebook page.