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I Used To Eat Instead Of Feeling My Emotions. Here's What I Know Now

Annette Sloan
Written by Annette Sloan

Willpower is defined as "control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain one's own impulses."

When I read that definition, I can feel my body begin to constrict. My shoulders tighten and a knot forms in my stomach. I clearly have a negative association with this word, and for good reason.

During my late teens and most of my 20s, I struggled with food. To the outside world, I presented myself as someone who was very healthy. In my mind, "healthy" equaled "virtuous." I set strict rules about what I could and couldn't eat, and in order to follow my rules, I self-prescribed heavy doses of willpower.

Predictably, it didn't take long for me to start feeling deprived. As this sense of deprivation wore me down, I began to secretly eat the foods that were "off-limits." During these times of "cheating" on my healthy eating plan, I figured that I'd already broken the rules so I might as well go all out. Before long, I developed a full-fledged binge-eating problem.

I felt incredible shame around my eating challenge. I beat myself up for being a "willpower weakling." I thought that if only I could exert more control over my impulses, I could eat the way I thought I should 100% of the time. Despite my challenges with it, I still believed that willpower was the answer to my problems ... I just needed more of it.

Today, I'm grateful to report that I no longer struggle with food. And it's NOT because I finally figured out how to make willpower work for me. The key to my healing was my realization that there is no such thing as a willpower problem. In situations where we think we have a willpower problem, what we're actually facing is a problem of not being present.

When I finally figured this out, my reaction was one of immense relief. I wasn't a failure after all! I was simply one of the majority, a person who wanted to numb feelings of discomfort rather than actually feel them.

My next step was clear: if I wanted to heal, I had to learn how to be present with discomfort.

As difficult as this seemed, I was tired from years of struggling with food. I threw out the old self-prescription for willpower and wrote a new prescription: for presence.

As I practiced being more present in my day-to-day life, I started to let go of my strict food rules. Instead of using willpower to force certain choices, I learned how to be present with my body and what it wanted to eat. When I found myself reaching for food when I wasn't hungry, I stopped and asked myself, "Am I seeking to numb right now?" If the answer was yes, I took a few deep breaths and tried to figure out what I didn't want to feel. Then, instead of numbing my feelings, I gave myself permission to actually feel them.

Over time, I become much more self-aware. I realized that my eating challenge was life's way of bringing attention to the areas in which I needed to grow. As the idea that a positive reason lay beneath my struggle took hold, I began to forgive myself for years of self-abuse. With forgiveness came the opportunity for self-love.

I can now say with 100% sincerity that I'm grateful for my years of struggle with food. Without it, I wouldn't have experienced this series of powerful lessons:

  1. There is no such thing as a willpower problem. There is only the problem of lack of presence.
  2. When we learn how to be present with discomfort, we develop greater self-awareness.
  3. With greater self-awareness, we're able to tap into the deeper messages behind our challenges.
  4. When we learn the deeper messages behind our challenges, we can apply them to make profound changes in our lives, starting with self-forgiveness.
  5. The act of forgiving oneself is a powerful act of self-love.
  6. Self-love is a gateway to healing.
  7. With healing comes gratitude and a newfound understanding that our struggles help us evolve into better versions of ourselves.

Goodbye, willpower, and good riddance. Hello, presence. I'm glad you're here.

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