Anxiety & Food: Are you Eating to Feel Safe?
It was lunch time and we were in the front yard.
I was 11 and spending a summer weekend with my best friend on the Cape. Zoe’s mom was making BLTs. I gobbled down my first sandwich and eagerly wanted a second. I felt the angst of wanting something I was afraid to ask for.
It wasn’t for the taste. I’m sure the sandwich was delicious. But no, I wasn’t craving more taste. I wanted a second one because I just wanted more. One wasn’t enough. I may have felt comfortably satisfied, but I was eager for more fullness and more weight in my body.
I’m not speaking of the weight of calories, and additional food that may turn to fat. I wanted my body to feel anchored and secure. In a very primal way, the second sandwich gave me roots, the additional fullness gave me a connection to the earth.
Thankfully, Zoe’s mom was always open and generous. She did have a second sandwich for me. I didn’t really need to ask. It came. Now, I’m suspecting that she knew me and knew that I ate more, more than her daughter, more than herself.
Reflecting back to what could have been an easy, carefree summer day, inside I felt anxious. My 11-year-old self couldn’t name it at the time. Now, anxiety is a much more common word to describe persistent worry, concern, and fear. I was away from home and my own bed. And even though Zoe’s family was welcoming and inviting, that Cape Cod home did not have the familiarity of my own surroundings.
Deep inside, I was afraid of this new environment and I was driven to protect myself.
Food was there for me. On that sunny afternoon, that second BLT was offering me a weight that would start at the bottom of my belly and fill my whole body. More food made me feel safe.
If some of this sounds familiar and you suspect that you are turning to food because you are anxious, here are some questions to ask yourself:
>>Do you ever let yourself get hungry?
>>Do you consistently overfill yourself at meals?
>>When going someplace new, do you bring snacks and your own food to ensure you always have something to eat?
>>Do you typically eat more than your friends?
>>Do diets or any planned restrictive eating make you anxious?
Answering yes to these questions isn’t a guarantee that you are eating your anxiety away, but it does suggest that it’s worth some deeper self-reflection.
This vivid memory in my childhood days is one of the many times I filled up to feel safe and to avoid feeling anxious. I can see them all now as a pattern. If you experience a similar pattern, here are some things that I continue to practice and you can too.
Remind yourself that you are not broken or f*cked up. Because you’re not. You don’t need fixing. When I worked on myself and tried to understand how I could fix myself, I just created more struggle. It never reduced my own anxiety. It never stopped me from turning to food.
When I remind myself that I don’t need fixing, I can let my anxiety and fears rise when they will and instead, let myself move through them. I’m giving less energy to the anxiety and more energy to connecting with a peaceful place.
Make “I am safe” your favorite mantra. Say this to yourself during meditation and when you are driven to eat more food than you may physically want. This mantra helps you to become present. For me, when I’m present and aware of the moment, fear disappears.
Let your body and the wisdom of hunger and fullness lead your actions. Notice the different conversations happening within you. Those coming from your head, and those coming from your belly. For me, when anxiety arises, my head is filled with worry and thoughts of what will go wrong. In those moments, I’m so disconnected from my body. By dropping my attention to my belly, I get to connect with something real.
I’m marveled by the path food can lead us down. Our desire for it, for more of it, for less of it, can often have very little to do with food and more to do with how we feel when we eat it. Fearful or not. Safe or not. Anxious or not.
Know that observing yourself with food can show you a tremendous amount about yourself. When you see it clearly, you can separate how you eat and how you feel. Then, during those warm, sunny, summer afternoons, you can simply soak up the sun and let yourself be.
Author: Tara Whitney
Image: Jennifer Pallian/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman
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