When my friend Ed wanted to stop smoking, a Zen master told him that he needed to love smoking first. "Create a ritual each time you smoke," the teacher said. "Take a cigarette and wrap it in a beautiful cloth. Go to a quiet place where you can be alone for a few minutes. Take your time unwrapping the cloth, removing the cigarette, smoking it. Notice how every inhale feels in your mouth and your throat. Notice if you like it. If you love it. If you want more of it. Only when you give it to yourself completely can you completely give it up."
"That's one smart dude," I told Ed, thinking of the parallels between smokers and emotional eaters. Of course, we can't give up eating altogether (and I never advocate depriving yourself of your favorite foods or even your non-favorite foods). But it's true that we can't stop emotional eating until we really love food. And, in my experience, emotional eaters—those of us who eat for reasons besides hunger—don't actually like food.
I know I've just uttered a near blasphemy. And I know you're probably thinking: "Wait just a moment, missy. My problem is not that I don't like food, but that I like it too much. That I think about it every moment. That I am willing to drive 10 miles out of my way for my favorite snack. That I hide the cookies where my kids won't find them. My problem is that I'm over the moon about food. I need to start enjoying it less, not more!"
But think about it for a moment.
When you love something, you spend time with it. You pay attention to it. You enjoy it. And although most of us emotional eaters think incessantly about food, we consume meals as if they are stolen pleasures. As if we are not really allowed to have them, let alone have rollicking times eating them.
Last week I watched a 2-year-old eat a cracker. She took one, stared at it, then nibbled a corner of it just to see what happened to corners of crackers that are wet and soggy. After that, she tackled the salt issue. Licked it off. Took a bite, sucked on it for a bit. Her next step was to mush up the rest in her fist because now, she got to see (and taste!) an entirely new creation: a mushed-up, balled-up, saltless, wet, soggy cracker. In the time that it would have taken most of us to eat an entire row of crackers, she had not finished eating one—and she was positively gleeful.
In the days before I realized I was chubby (er, fat), ice cream was of great interest to me. Not only because of how it tasted, but because of what happened to it as it melted. I remember taking my spoon and running it around the edge of the bowl for the softest liquidy parts. I remember my brother and I making ice cream lakes, melting chocolate into vanilla and pretending we were forming rivers in our bowls.
Then I remember being told that I wasn't supposed to eat ice cream because I was too fat. Suddenly, ice cream became forbidden. Suddenly I wanted, needed, to have it. All of it. I was no longer interested in any aspect of ice cream but getting as much into my mouth as I could, as fast as possible. The hiding and sneaking started, as did the feeling that I was bad every time I ate it. How you can fall in love with food again