Obesity, Food Addiction and the Power of Love

I have been overweight and addicted to food my entire life and share the struggle of overeating with many others. What I find intriguing is that most of us who struggle with overeating and obesity know exactly what we need to do to solve our problem.

We need to eat less, exercise more and lose weight. And if for some strange reason, this idea has eluded us, there certainly is no shortage of people who will tell us what we need to do. Our family, friends, lovers, doctors, neighbors, enemies and most of, society, tell us all the time (in many different ways) that we need to lose weight. We even pay people to tell us. We tell ourselves.

So we know what we need to do, and the next logical step is to learn how to do it. Most of us seem to think that we have done that too! We have learned from weight loss experts wherever we can find them — and there are many, sometimes with totally conflicting points of view! We have read self-help books, joined health and exercise clubs, spas, and support groups, and processed our feelings in psychotherapy. We have tried every diet available to mankind. We have fasted, drunk only liquid foods, learned new ways to cook and even new ways to think. We have looked for physical causes and perused our genetic makeup for reasons and solutions. We have tried numerous pills available either over-the-counter or by prescription, and have even subjected our bodies to surgery in our never-ending effort to lose weight. We have also ended up spending a lot of money.

Even though we may have intellectually and emotionally processed every reason, condition, bodily function, mindset and psychological or social need contributing to our sad state of affairs, where has this lead us? While there are times when our efforts are rewarded with a blessed weight loss, for most of us, this is only a temporary state of euphoria. Soon we find ourselves, once again, subjecting our poor bodies and psyches to the extra burden of excess weight and the struggle to take it off. We continue to suffer the consequences of fatigue, mood swings, poor health, social disapproval and discrimination, guilt and shame.

So if we know what we need to do, and we learn how to do it from the experts, and we continue to try to do it, the most important question then becomes "Why can't we do it?" An even more important question is, "Why can't I, personally, do it?" Asking this question can be the beginning of a journey to consciousness and spiritual transformation.

Building Personal Power

As we begin to look for an answer to this important question, it may be a good idea not to overlook the possibility that many of the "weight loss experts" offer important information. They may understand and have correctly identified many of the significant factors contributing to overeating and obesity, and their suggestions for weight loss plans may be very helpful. We also need to go a step further. We need to address the quality of our personal power and the part it plays in our ability to accomplish any task. Perhaps we, as addicts, simply don't have the personal energy or power necessary to make the choices which will replace our destructive behavior with responsible behavior. All the physical, behavioral, social, psychological and cognitive methods of weight management are valid and useful if — and this is the most important if — we have the required amount of personal power to pull it off. My suggestion is that we, as addicts, may not. Our personal power is the missing ingredient, and connecting with the source of our power is the task at hand.

Our lack of power is partially related to the fact that we have assigned and continue to assign — either consciously or unconsciously — huge portions of our life energy and power to external objects and circumstances which are temporary in nature. Consequently, we find ourselves without sufficient energy to make responsible choices and even properly care for our own bodies. We do not know how to replenish ourselves by connecting with our ultimate source of power, which is our birthright. This authentic power has been called many names: spirit, conscious awareness, universal consciousness, the source of all that is, truth or God. The words are not important. What is important is to know how to recognize and access this power which is in all of us. This is the only power that can override any life situation in which we feel powerless and allow us to utilize all the wonderful methods of weight management that are now available to us.

Throughout our lives we have given our power over to external objects and circumstances. We give power to our jobs, our spouses, our cars, our houses, our financial status, our appearances and thousands of other things. This isn't authentic power, although we usually act like it is. It isn't authentic because it doesn't last. We lose our jobs, our houses burn down, our spouses leave us, and our appearances are altered by time. When we lose these things, most of us are devastated, because we believe that these are the things we need to live happy and full lives. Therefore, when we lose our "power objects" we feel powerless. In a desperate search for more power, we continue to fall into the same external power trap and continue to assign power to even more external objects.

As a food addict, I personally, have assigned an amazing amount of personal power to food and my overweight body size in a desperate attempt to fill myself with some sense of power when I experience feelings of powerlessness. We can easily and naturally associate food and body size with power. Starting shortly after birth, most of us (in areas where food is plentiful) begin to associate food and eating with a personal sense of satisfaction, feelings of safety and love. Furthermore, many children subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse may have learned to associate power, in the form of safety and self-protection, with a large body size. To a young mind forced to endure such horrific trauma, a larger body may seem stronger and less sexually desirable. This is also true for some adults who have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse. So I, along with many others, eat and gain weight in order to reap what I believe to be, on a deep unconscious level, powerful rewards. It is usually not long, of course, before I realize that my actions actually produce the opposite effect. I am depleted at a core level, my psyche and body suffer, I isolate myself, and I continue to be even more desperate for a sense of personal power. This, I believe, is the path of all addictions.

Now, let's look at the above scenario from a different perspective. I may consider that my desperate search for power — in this case found in food and body size — could provide me with an important opportunity for awareness. If I surrender to my addiction, allow it to exist, accept it in my life and look for the meaning behind it, I may realize that it is urging me through my discomfort to recognize my true inner power, a power that is ever-present. This search for inner truth, authentic power, conscious awareness or spirit is what my life's journey is all about. My journey now becomes filled with meaning and purpose, and the power I recognize in my true self gradually takes the place of the false sense of power I have assigned to food and body weight.

Freedom through Expression

So how do we who overeat and live in large bodies find our true power? I now know that I need to find a way to heal the self-imposed separation of my spirit (my true self) from my mind and body and all that life offers me. To do this, I need to find a way to express myself as freely and honestly as possible, honor and connect with the intelligence of my body as well as my mind, and most importantly, honor and connect with other people through love. Compulsive overeating is an isolating activity with isolating consequences. The antidote to this is connection. This is love. This is real power. We can provide a healing opportunity for others as we learn how to heal ourselves.

Expressing oneself freely and connecting with oneself and others through love may seem to be a near-impossible task for the compulsive overeaters and obese persons who truly consider themselves to be damaged in many ways. How do we begin the awesome task of loving ourselves when we have been so conditioned by society (and then by ourselves) to think that we are bad, weak and ugly in our overweight bodies? It seems impossible and even counterproductive to accept and love ourselves as we are. How will we ever be thin and healthy if we accept and love ourselves when we are overweight and eating out of control? The truth is that it is impossible to connect with our true source of power if we do not first accept and love ourselves just the way we are. If we can really embrace ourselves in this way, we will find the power to make responsible choices that will yield lasting results. Our true self is spirit, love and the conscious power of awareness which comes packaged in whatever condition our bodies happen to be in at the moment.

In my own life, I have found it very helpful to connect with overweight people on a regular basis. As we practice being consciously aware of our experiences in the present moment, we begin to realize that we are all connected in a deep and meaningful way. At first we may think that we are connected through what we consider to be our limiting experiences — our overeating and overweight bodies. As time goes by, however, we begin to feel more and more strength in our connection. Where did this feeling of strength come from? As we listen and identify with the shadow experiences of others, we begin to find meaning in these experiences and notice that there is a light side to the darkness with which we can also identify. After all, how can we have a shadow without light? When this happens, it feels almost magical. What is happening is that we are actually getting a little peek at our true selves as we connect with the true selves of others.

Finding our true source of power does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, patience and commitment. During this time we will have periods when we experience our compulsive overeating behavior flowing over us like an out-of-control tidal wave, stripping us of any conscious thought or actions. If we make the effort to be aware of this wave, accept it and love it for what it is, and especially find meaning in it, it will gradually recede and the water will again become calm. Little by little, after each wave, we will gain more and more strength that will allow us to make better decisions that will serve our bodies well. Hating and fighting the wave will not give us power. It will deplete us even further. Accepting, loving and finding meaning in the wave will yield powerful results.

I still experience these tidal waves of overeating episodes, but I try to remember that each comes into my life as a reminder that I must do what I can to reconnect with myself and others through love. It sometimes helps me to remember the words of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl G. Jung, "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."

Phyllis A. Glass is the founder of Larger™, a program offering the opportunity for overweight women to connect with themselves and each other as they speak and listen from their hearts in spiritually-centered circles. For more information, call 617-782-6952 or e-mail hello@largercircles.com.