Erika is an educator, activist, naturalist, and community researcher who currently lives in Albuquerque with her son and husband.
This is Erika's first post on Highly Sensitive Parent. Learn more about Erika on our About page!
We moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico one year ago and I’ve gained 10 pounds since then. The other day I realized (after wearing elastic-waist skirts all summer) that I no longer fit into any of my pants. And I’m not at all mystified as to how that happened. My increase in weight has happened because of an ongoing way of coping that I’m conscious of, or at least vaguely aware of, most days, yet I can’t seem to stop. I binge.
I’m fairly nutritionally aware. I’ve been through the Weight Watchers program and support group 5 times. Every day, I start with a very healthy meal and I carefully choose what I’ll eat for lunch. For the most part I’m pretty obsessive about making sure I eat at least five fruits and vegetables, as well as appropriate servings of lean meats and whole grains, on a daily basis. Yet bedtime hits and after I’ve put my son to bed, the craving for soft, white tortillas kicks in. Yes, tortillas. That’s my binge food of choice. Sometimes I stray and have cheese or peanut butter on the tortillas, or maybe a left over chocolate dessert, but for the most part plain tortillas are my nightly comfort. They are my warm blankets of love that make me feel full, happy, and relaxed…. at least for a few minutes. I tend to fold them up and gobble them down in the kitchen or while I’m reading my before-bed novel. The thought of going to bed without some lovely carb feels impossible.
Don’t get me wrong - I’ve tried. Weight-wise, I’ve fluctuated between a size 8 and size 16 for the past 11 years. I’ve tried low carb diets, Weight Watchers, and exercise with success, until I return to binging and sadly watch, defeated, as all the weight comes back on.
I know that my addiction to food can be controlled, and yet I truly feel, in the moment, powerless to stop myself from night eating when I’m no longer hungry. It’s strange. I can almost view my habits outside of myself, and yet when the moment strikes I feel as if there’s nothing I can do.
Most literature that I’ve read about binge eating suggests that those of us who succumb to it are seeking to numb pain. I think that’s probably true. Books on overeating suggest finding other non-food comforts to go to when overeaters feel a binge coming on. And so I’ve made lists. Taking a bath, going for a walk, watching a movie, doing art work, calling a friend, and reading a novel are all ideas I’ve compiled to substitute for binge eating. Yet when it comes to following my own list, I somehow fall short. I really want to get to the root of this. I want to stop feeling controlled by food and also I’d like to let go of the shame I have of my body.
Today I searched the internet for other HSP’s who might struggle with the same issue. I found a particularly insightful reflection on the connection between Highly Sensitive Persons and food addition. Commenting on HSPs’ sensitivity to outside stimulation, Kate Read in her website www.homeforthehighlysensitive.com writes,
“Because of this high level of processing and analyzing, the body and mind are more likely to be overwhelmed, overstimulated and over aroused. This is precisely where food comes into play. Overwhelm is the catalyst for unconsciously using food as a coping mechanism to oversensitivity of outside people, places, situations, and especially emotions. Food becomes an escape route from a world that seems too much [to] handle. The HSP becomes a sponge for the stress of the world – literally absorbing it into their bodies.”
This really speaks to me. The shame I’ve felt for years about not being “tough enough” to handle the demands of activism, teaching, and community work has gotten stuck in my sense of self. The frustration, anger, and sadness that I have felt around the mismatch of my desire for social justice work and the reality of the work itself have led to deep pain.
Perhaps only in my acceptance of my true nature, and by valuing the insights and compassion that come with being highly sensitive, will I be able to let go of my need to binge eat. Maybe I need to see myself as a child again, one that needs to know that my softness and love of the world is enough. Maybe I can release the shame instead of letting the soft sponginess of a tortilla absorb it.