When I was a girl, I lived for food.
The promise of the after-school snack kept me going through the grueling days of my youth. I’d race home to find sweet and savory relief from the confusion of adolescence.
I’d eat from a box of graham crackers, spreading layers of vanillla chocolate chip canned frosting. Or I’d slice up a Snickers bar the way they did in a commercial on at the time, pretending I was in it. Then maybe some Lay’s potato chips. Maybe a Wonder Bread/Gulden’s Mustard/Kraft cheese and baloney sandwich.
I was on my own, so I could eat like I wanted to. No father home yet to bring tension and self-consciousness to the air.
I’d fill myself, quelling the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that haunted me at any other time of my day. This was all mine. My time free from criticism, pressure or fear.
Over the years, I became desperate around this intimate connection with food. Protective of the rituals. The private pleasure I found in food and the act of eating it.
I knew something was off about how I related to food. I felt ashamed and like there was something wrong with me, while at the same time feeling like it was crucial to my very existence. That trichotomy created a painful struggle inside me of shame and appetite and need.
I became secretive around it, knowing on some level that I was not like other people.
I now understand that somewhere along the way, I learned to equate food with so many things I needed: love, attention, security, connectedness, relief, quiet, peace, pleasure, a sense of having something for myself, a way to feel like I had control of one thing in the world.
I believe that some of this relationship to food was learned, familial. My mother, too, sought refuge in her treats. She loved candy, and when I came home from school, she was usually lying in her bed, reading mystery novels, eating candy from a stash she kept in her bedside table. She, too, at some point in her life, reached for food to solve and resolve being on this planet.
I understood her for this. I feel such compassion for her. For her huge needs and the dysfunctional way she had developed to cope with getting them met.
It has taken many years of unraveling this connection for me to find a new relationship to food. There’s been tremendous loss in it. A loss of my friend, my savior, my companion, my sidekick.
But it has been so freeing, too. I have been learning how to give myself what I had asked for from food all those years: love.
Sounds easy, and obvious, right? But what does that actually look like?
It looks like this: giving myself The Five A’s of Love: Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection, and Allowing.
(The Five A’s concept is from the wonderful book How To Be An Adult in Relationships – Five Keys to Mindful Loving by psychotherapist, David Richo, PhD.)
Those Five A’s satisfy the snack craving every time. I’m not saying I don’t still crave and even miss that snack eating ritual. I do. That’s a deeply embedded habit. I got pretty hard-wired around it.
But today, I take the snack-seeking girl inside by the hand, and I ask her what she really needs.
Sometimes it is some appreciation for all I have been doing all day.
Sometimes it is affection. Maybe a bath. Some demonstration of loving care.
Maybe it is the need to be allowed to really acknowledge feeling afraid, or spent, or angry.
It took awhile for that part of myself to trust that my needs could be met in new ways. To trust in something other than food.
To trust life. To trust love. To trust loving myself, in life.
It is an every day practice, this mindfulness of love. I pour the energy I used to hold for food into other things. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gotten my wires crossed, that food wasn’t so complicated for me.
But it is.
And so I accept this truth as if I were diabetic, and I do what I need to do to care for myself.
Mostly, as I said, I feel free.
I no longer carry that shame I felt around it. I am literally lighter in spirit. That feeling is the prize I keep my sights on. It is what makes it all worth it.
I may no longer “have” snacks. But I have me.