I can’t stop eating.
I can’t stop eating just to feel things.
I thought I had figured this out. I’m 26—I should have figured this out. But I can’t stop. It won’t go away.
All the things I want to feel—joy, love, belonging—come for a moment and then go. They slip out of my fingers and I have to find something else to taste so I can hold on.
I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel hungry.
On the bulletin board at my sister’s middle school, large-lettered posters are stapled next to each other, problem and answer style. On the left, “It’s too easy…” On the right, “How can I challenge myself?” Another: “It’s not interesting to me…is there any part of this I can relate to in my life?”
And then this: “It’s just too hard…what am I missing?”
What am I missing?
To stop myself from eating, I do everything I can think of. I make lists and color quotes and put them up all over the house. When I go to the grocery store, I assume I will have no willpower and buy small packages of things instead of the cheaper, bigger versions. I try to be around people so I’m not alone with myself, because when I’m alone, that’s when I hide and cower and get lost and eat.
I set alarms for myself that say, “Please stop eating” and “Food is not everything.” I go on runs and walks and bike rides to try to erase all the harm I’ve done. Last week, I asked my 11-year-old sister to leave me a voicemail telling me to stop eating. In her high, round voice, she said, “Faith Dao Leslie Hoffman! Do not eat what you are about to eat right now. You know—you know—not to eat it. Okay? Gotta be happy and strong and not eat it. Okay bye.”
Shame is what keeps it going. I’m ashamed that it’s taken me so long to understand this. I’m ashamed that as soon as I feel good, I have to make myself feel horrible again. I’m ashamed that I’m a privileged, white woman living in excess, and my biggest problem is eating too much.
What am I missing?
The thing is, I know how to stop it. I know what works. Being with nature. Getting out of my house. Turning off my computer’s endless stream of shows and movies. Breathing. Doing yoga. Writing. Being with others. When I teach yoga, I don’t think about eating. When I’m with my family, I don’t think about eating. When I acknowledge myself—that I am here and alive—that’s when I can stop.
But I choose not to. I know how to stop this cycle, and I choose not to.
There’s a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh that says, “At any moment you have a choice that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” Every time I’m given the chance to be closer to my spirit, to listen to my body and mind, to make myself feel good, I choose not to.
What am I missing?
What is it about myself that I’m so afraid to see?
It’s probably the same thing that makes me look away when anyone looks at me for more than a moment. The same thing that barks “no” when I want to say “yes.” The thing that is screaming at me right now to stop writing, to stop emoting, because it’s too much, too scary, too unpredictable. Those constant, debilitating waves of fear. Fear that I am something more than I think I am. Fear that I, as Walt Whitman wrote, “contain multitudes.”
Fear that I have no limits.
How utterly, beautifully ridiculous. The thing I’m most afraid of is myself. Myself. Of all the terrifying things in the world, of all the death and illness and heartbreak and natural disasters, I am most frightened of my powerful, uncontained, unmasked self.
This morning during my yoga practice, I inhaled fully for the first time in about five months. I mean the kind of inhale where you feel it moving through you—up and up and up into your stomach, your ribs, your heart, your throat, all the way through the top of your head. The kind of inhale where you feel dizzy from having so much oxygen in you. The kind of inhale you should do all the time, but you never do.
And from this one inhale, I realized something. I can have my lists and ways of telling myself to stop. I can buy all the tiny bags of food in the grocery store. I can go on all the food-erasing runs. But this starts and ends with me. This starts and ends with my choice. My choice to take a step closer to my spirit. My choice to be kind to my body.
My choice to say yes to myself.
My yoga teacher once told me that when we inhale, we are giving to ourselves, and when we exhale, we are giving to others. Then she said to breathe and notice which is longer, the inhale or the exhale. If our inhales were longer, we were better at giving to ourselves. If our exhales were longer, we were better at giving to others. Three years ago when I did this, my exhale was twice as long as my inhale. Today, they were almost even.
From this moment on, I am making a choice. To start being gentle to my body. To allow myself the time I need. To emote as much as I want. To feel fully. To inhale deeply.
To listen to my sister—gotta be happy and strong.
Author: Fae Leslie
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Joseph Choi/Flickr