overcoming fear without food

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”  Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask my permission.”  Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In this way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.”

Pema Chodron in “When Things Fall Apart”

This short parable sums up a lot for me about fear and how I’ve been dragged into battle with it and used food to overcome that battle.  Sometimes this is so subtle, and I  think it stared so very long ago that I can’t even remember the first time I ate to soothe an internal fear.

This also reminds me that I need to share with you what I learned at the food addiction syposium.  I’m going to post several times about what I learned because it touched me at many levels.

First, there is STRONG evidence that certain food substances (ie palatable foods, like sweets and high fat/high sugar foods) are addictive in certain individuals.  More on that later.

Philosophically this whole symposium really got down to the essence of addiction to me, which is fear.  Fear usually means a concern that something is going to be taken away, or taken out of our control.  We learn at a young age sometimes that food will soothe this very base emotion.  I’ve often heard that the opposite of love is fear.  Love is harminious and self-love is usually associated with good boundary setting, self-care, self respect and awareness.  It’s hard to feel a deep/strong self love and give into fear at the same time (in my experience).

I think culturally we too use food to mask our fears.  Commercials tell us to savor the flavor of some product and we’ll be sexy, wealthy, our celebrating with friends.  So we keep buying in (literally) and replacing our intrinsic coping mechanisms with this false promise.  They play to our fear of being alone or unwanted in a subtle way.  We feel food insecurities even when there are none, and we feel culturally entitled to having the same freedomes with food that we have with life – we should be able to have access to what we want, when we want.  But, what does that do to us?  It makes me personally reliant on that external substance (sugar) as my coping tool, as my reassurance that life is okay.   It means the voice of fear is larger than the voice of inner trust.  I can recall a moment of awareness when I moved to San Diego and, having  taken a job that paid 50% less than my previous job, I was obsessed with grocery shopping.  Groceries were my new form of abundance because I needed to feel that I was okay and life was okay even with less income.  It go worse when I started my own business (very shaky ground, in my mind) and my sugar addiction EXPLODED!

During the symposium, what was interesting is that the most successful “treatments” for food compuslions, binge eating or chronic overeating revolve around mindfulness, spirituality and attitude changes.  Not once did we talk about nutritional changes to get people to kick the habit.  Sure, nutrition is really important and cravings can be instigated by chemical imbalances perpetuated by poor nutrition.  I think that is 50% of the story, but not necessarily the most powerful, or the origin of the problem.

But I thought the juciest messages were in the power of our minds, or spirits and our need for community support to get us beyond the fear of letting go.  What would happen if you didn’t say ‘yes’ to that piece of cake, extra handful of chips, or large coffee drink?  I’ve seriously felt physical fear when imagining never having a certain food again (hot chocolate for me – that is my big attachment).  Physical fear, people.  Crazy.  It’s just a substance but I’ve projected onto it a false sense of security that I think gives me extra ‘power’ to deal with life’s demands.  But it doesn’t.  It creates more demands instead of less.  It distracts me but I’m caught up with the distraction because it’s familiar.

I was very excited and reaffirmed by the symposium because there are people in this world other than me who want to understand food behaviors and want to help others and themselves change for the better.  It’s certainly new frontier in the science world and that is exciting.  It’s also a new frontier when for most of us when we, for the very first time, dive into our inner landscape and have to tell that fear, to it’s face that we don’t have to listen to it.  Can you do it?

Would love to hear your ideas about fear and food.  Agree? Disagree?  Somewhere in the middle?  Do tell!!