Sometimes I eat a late night snack in my bed. I used to have much bigger binges late at night, sometimes eating the equivalent of an additional one or two meals. The best thing for my body, for my sleep rhythms, for my emotional well-being, is not to snack after 9pm. I sleep better when I don’t, and I wake up feeling somehow clearer, less foggy, not retaining water from the salt of last night’s snack. Sometimes I manage not to late-night-snack, but often I don’t. I have gotten really good at not keeping things in the house that lend themselves to mindless snacking — chips, candy, salty things, big bags of things. So when the urge does come I can only eat what I have — an apple or a single-serving yogurt. That’s all well and good, but when I’m tired and medicated (I take my migraine meds a couple of hours before bed) sometimes I still manage to overeat. Even bread can be a temptation. I crave something I can put in my mouth, bite after bite. I crave the dopamine stimulation of salt, the busy-ness of my hand going back and forth from the bag to my mouth.
Some nights I still eat too much. But as I’ve written before, it’s not overeating that perpetuates eating disorders. It’s shame. Do you remember my three rules of eating? Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, forgive yourself when you don’t? That last one, forgive yourself when you don’t, is the absolute most important. If you forgive yourself, that day is over, that binge is over, and you get to wake up a normal human being on a normal day. You can feed yourself a healthy breakfast, plan a healthy lunch and dinner, enjoy the taste of the food, the nice full feeling in your stomach, and the energy the food gives you. That night you might overeat, or you might just eat an apple, or even just go to bed with no snack at all.
If you don’t forgive yourself you wake up, not just foggy and bloated, but angry and in caloric debt. You try to force yourself to eat smaller meals, you punish yourself with bitter thoughts; you furrow your brow at your reflection in the mirror. You don’t feed yourself lovingly throughout the day, so when you get to the night you are hungry. You dislike yourself. Guess what makes you feel better while at the same time validating your self-castigation? Half a loaf of that raisin bread you were saving for breakfast. Shame begets shame. Forgiveness begets healing.
I have gotten really good at forgiving myself. I think that is the only reason that the 50+ pounds I lost a few years ago has stayed off. Sure, I could probably lose another 30 by breaking my rules, by not eating when I’m hungry, by turning my shame into the fuel to beat my body into submission. I’ve done that before, and it works, for a little while. But then the weight comes back, and, like the demon in Jesus’ obscure parable in Matthew 12, it brings back seven of its friends with it. Better to welcome the one demon you have, gently allow it space in your life without giving it control over anything. And maybe you will find that that demon was just you all along — wonderful, imperfect, adorable, multi-faceted, dearly loved you.
Something funny happened this past weekend, that showed me just how far I’ve come and just how good at forgiving myself. I went away for the weekend, and got back Monday afternoon. I didn’t have the energy to cook dinner, but I remembered that I had some leftover rice and planned to eat that with frozen veggies. But when dinner time came, I couldn’t find the rice anywhere. It wasn’t on my shelf in the fridge, or my housemates’ shelves. I asked Mark twice if he had eaten it, and he denied it. Then I remembered that Friday night I’d had the late night snacking urge. Nervously I pulled back the covers of my bed, and found it there: A Pyrex container of rice. It had been in my bed the whole weekend.
>Five years ago I would have felt that sick feeling of shame in my gut. I would have immediately begun spiraling into hateful thoughts towards myself. I would have thought that the rice represented a deep, secret, fatal flaw, that it confirmed that I was abnormal and broken. What kind of person loses rice in their bed? What was wrong with me? In an effort to purge and punish myself I would have thrown the rice into the garbage disposal and eaten only veggies for dinner. Three hours later, hungry and full of shame, I would probably have overeaten again, salt and sugar, something bad for me.
Do you know what I did this time? I laughed. I told Mark where I’d found it, thereby depriving the shame of oxygen and snuffing it out. Secrecy is oxygen to shame, did you know that? And I checked that the rice was still good (it was!) and heated it up with veggies and I ate it. I was hungry, so I ate good, healthy food, and I ate until I was full. I forgave myself, and I fed myself.
Friends, forgive yourselves. Feed yourselves. You are good and whole and loved. Yesterday is over, it does not get to make demands on us today. Go to sleep forgiven and whole, wake up to a new day, and feed yourself.