Have you ever had an experience that just left you glowing, filled with a sense of joy and rightness in the world? What was the source of those feelings? They came from that amazing experience, right? Well, to give my perspective, I’d like to share a story about a woman named Abby, and her powerful discovery.
Abby is an impressive technology professional who works for a big name company in Silicon Valley. Over the years, she’s worked up the ranks to the level of director, becoming instrumental to the creation of their products. She’s remarkably intelligent, strong-willed and deeply creative. And, despite being able to use these attributes to solve complex problems outside herself, Abby found herself coming up short whenever she attempted to overcome her lifelong struggles with her weight.
After working with a well-regarded nutritionist, Abby learned she had an underlying physical condition that was contributing both to the weight gain, as well as her struggle to lose it and keep it off. That said, the nutritionist advised that the physical condition may not be the only contributing factor to Abby’s challenges with weight.
With the doctor’s words echoing in her head, Abby wanted to focus on the idea that she might have a food addiction. After all, what else could explain her inability to keep herself from eating the foods which negatively impacted her health, exacerbated the weight gain? She saw herself successfully exhibit willpower in other aspects of her life and yet, after all the training and nutritional tools she employed, she still found herself compulsively eating “forbidden” foods.
One of the first areas she examined was how she felt immediately after eating those foods — not 20 minutes later, but 30 seconds to a minute afterwards. Recalling meals past, the tone of her response was quite telling. She softened and one could palpably see her glow as the memory of this feeling came back into her experience. Abby recognized herself feeling fulfilled, complete — that all was right with her world — a feeling that she rarely felt in other areas of her life.
Interestingly, these feelings only were present until the very moment she completed her meal. Thereafter, this uplifting experience was immediately replaced with feelings of guilt and shame that lasted long, long after the meal had ended. To add insult to injury, her body sent her unambiguous signs that it did not approve of her food choices.
Abby came to realize that she wasn’t necessarily addicted to the sugary, gluten-heavy foods she was craving. What she was “addicted to” was that experience of feeling complete and at ease. That feeling was so compelling to her that even fleeting moments of it held more sway over her actions than all of the guilt and shame that followed.
When Abby recognized that she was using food as a surrogate for this core need to feel loved and fulfilled, she also became aware that the food itself could not be the cause of the love that she felt — it was only food after all. And of course, if the feelings were not coming from the food, they had to be coming from her. In those moments where she consumed that food (before the guilt and shame showed up), Abby was choosing, allowing herself to feel love that was present in her all the time.
With this realization, Abby changed her focus from attempting to prevent herself from eating those forbidden foods to finding new strategies she could use to generate these feelings of love from within herself. She started doing daily affirmations. She looked for opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate her successes. She spent time with a mirror, sending feelings of love to herself. Now, when a craving appears, rather than attempting to satisfy it with food, Abby uses the hunger as an indicator to employ these and other mindfulness practices to generate an internal, longer-lasting, and more sustainable experience of fulfillment.
This new strategy has provided Abby with a number of positive effects. Not only have the cravings diminished significantly, and not only is she on path to reducing her weight to her body’s ideal, but the conscious focus on generating love from within has positively impacted how she shows up in her world, providing her with a greater sense of peace and confidence.
Abby also came to realize that food was not the only strategy she uses to generate this experience of love through some external means. Be it at work, home or with her family and friends, Abby began to see how she worked to manipulate and control her relationships, so that love could continue to flow to her. She could see how these strategies led to a deeply ingrained fear of change, and also the huge amount of energy they required from her, both emotionally and physically.
With this new awareness, Abby began examining other aspects of her life to discover where she employs strategies to control life to have the experience of “receiving” love, even though it’s a moment of choice to feel the love that is already inside her.
It’s sinking in for Abby that she can choose to feel love whenever she wants; that each craving for love from some external source is a moment of choice to feel the love that is already there. This realization has helped her release the need to control every aspect of her life, and is steadily reducing her fears of change. In turn, this is freeing up mental and emotional bandwidth for her to feel more peace of mind and less stress, to have more fun, and to be more creative.
Abby’s situation is not unique. It’s common for us to focus on external experiences as a substitute for what we crave internally. With a little self inquiry, we too can discover if we are looking to control some part of our world so that we can “receive” feelings we neglect to consciously create for ourselves. Through this understanding we can more consciously choose to feel these emotions whenever we want to.
What are some ways that you find yourself seeking out an emotional experience from an external place? Do you purposefully act in way that ensure that source continues to flow? What are some ways for you to source this feeling internally?
“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain