As you probably know, I work with women and hunger.
ALL hungers. Not just food hungers.
That makes my work infinitely interesting and multifaceted. That’s how’d describe most women too—infinitely interesting and multifaceted.
My clients come to me to explore career hungers, relationship hungers, spiritual hungers, creative hungers, seemingly unnamable hungers, and, yes, sexual hungers.
And we, life coach types, are often known to say “There is nothing wrong with you” to our clients caught in the ego’s illusions. (An aside, Cheri Huber wrote an excellent book by this name.)
But rarely—perhaps because it’s a topic still so shrouded in shame—do we, life coaches or otherwise, come out and extend this fact to our sexual selves.
So allow me:
There is nothing wrong with your sexuality.
There is nothing wrong with who or what you’re attracted to.
There is nothing wrong with what you fantasize about, and whether you want those fantasies to come to life or simply remain in your imagine.
There is nothing wrong with the way your body smells, looks, tastes, or feels.
There is nothing wrong with the shape, appearance, or size of your genitals.
There is nothing wrong with how you like to be touched or how frequently.
There is nothing wrong with your own twisty, turvy, sometimes confusing path to your own sexual awakening.
There is nothing wrong with what gets you off or how frequently you orgasm.
There is nothing wrong with having different sexual preferences than your partner.
There is nothing wrong with having different desires than your parents or society condone.
There is nothing wrong with having an ebb and flow in your interest in having sex.
There is nothing wrong with not knowing your sexual self well or with evolving or changing as a sexual being.
We’re told and sold on such a narrow and messed up concept of women’s sexuality, if we’re even given any concept at all. We don’t have role models in this culture for healthy, real sexuality, so many women are left to come to their own conclusion, which is often that something is wrong with them. Add to this that women’s bodies have been ground zero for centuries of abuse, trauma, shame, neglect, fear, and war.
Here’s the deal: for most women sex is, at least some of the time, a journey, complicated, exhilarating, vulnerable, messy, confusing, uncharted territory, scary, changing, painful, never-like-the-movies, and of course, pleasurable.
Thankfully, there is a sex-positive movement and a growing number of excellent books, sex educators, sex coaches, and sex therapists committed to helping women heal and awaken their sexual selves. If you want support it exists. But please note, wanting to learn, heal, shift, feast, or grow sexually in no way means that there is something wrong with how things are for you right now. Do listen to those calls, but don’t equate them with a problem.
There is nothing wrong with your sexuality. Not. One. Thing.
A few weeks back I went to meet my partner Justin for lunch at his office. He works at one of those tech companies that provides a lavish lunch each day and he’s allowed to have me join him from time to time.
This particular day we met up during the peak of the lunchtime rush. After unsuccessfully scanning the cafeteria for an empty table Justin spotted a co-worker with two empty seats at his table. “Can we join you?” Justin said. “Sure” he replied moving two bowls of food out of the way. “It’s my dinner” he said referring to the two bowls, each topped with another bowl that served as a lid, “I have to eat before 6 pm.”
We nodded, not really listening, attempting a lunch date for two at this table for four.
I was able to get a few bites in before I noticed this co-worker take out a digital scale (You know, the kind a baker might use to measure flour). He then placed both of his dinner bowls on the scale, one at a time, and jotted down their weight in a small, spiral bound notebook.
We’ve got a dieter in our midst, I thought to myself.
I truly didn’t want to engage. I just wanted a nice lunch date with my guy. But, the co-worker asked me what I do (“I’m a life coach”) and then who I work with (“Women, around hunger”) and we were off to the races before I knew it.
After hearing that I work in the realm of hungers he says “Sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m so hungry.”
“Yeah” I nod knowingly, having experienced the same thing when starved myself “the body prioritizes getting enough to eat over getting sleep.”
“My body just really likes to be *** pounds so I really have to starve myself to get it lower.”
“Why? Why do all this? What’s this about?” Justin inquires.
“Vanity” he chirps matter-of-factly back with a nervous smile.
No. Nope, I think to myself, this isn’t a result of vanity.
This is a result of anxiety.
This is a result of not feeling like you’re enough, just as you are.
This is a result of a fractured relationship with your body.
Vanity is an easy scapegoat. Kind of like when we stay in bed all day and call ourselves “lazy” when what’s really going on is something much wiser, deeper, and nuanced.
Vanity is a scapegoat and I’d argue that it’s never once caused someone to go on a diet or fall prey to an eating disorder (a line this particular co-worker was teetering).
We use these behaviors to soothe our worrisome minds and to falsely bring us closer to feeling as though we are enough.
As lunch was winding down he said “I think I have that leptin disorder—the one where your brain doesn’t signal when you’re full. That’s why I have to limit my intake.”
Not able to help myself I replied: “Well, it sounds like you have a history of overriding your body’s cues and keeping your weight below what your body prefers…”
“No, this diet is recent. Before this I was just paleo.” he innocently replies.
I sigh and think to myself, What do you think eating paleo is if not a diet?, but not wanting to engage any more I just said “Well, sounds like what you’re doing is working for you and you should probably get tested for that leptin thing” and we went on our way.
I’m sharing this story because I want to challenge you to think about how you might be mislabeling your behavior. Do you think of yourself as irresponsible with money? Materialistic or vain? What about lazy or undisciplined? Selfish? Wasteful?
Instead of so quickly dismissing your actions with these labels and instead of looking upon yourself with judgement, inquire about what’s really happening.
If you think you’re dieting because your vain, could it be that you’re anxious and dieting (or losing weight or being a certain size) is soothing? Could it be that you’re living in a world gone mad, one that tells you there is no fate worse than being fat, and you don’t yet know how to be at home in your skin?
If you think that you’re careless with money, could it be that you’re afraid that you won’t have (or be) enough, and shopping (temporarily) alleviates that feeling of scarcity? or that you haven’t discovered a more soulful way of relating to your finances?
If you view yourself as lazy, could it be that you’re simply tired? or disconnected from your spark? or expecting yourself to be super-human?
Bottomline: In my experience, what we call vanity, is almost always just anxiety and the hunger to feel enough. We’re too quick to slap a one-word judgement on ourselves. In reality our behavior, when met with compassion, is rich with information about what we’re truly hungry for.
What’s right in front you?
Scan the scene. What’s around you. Look up from the screen for a moment and take it in.
Have a look at the present snapshot of your real life, in the room you’re in, right now.
Here’s what I see:
This might not look like much
But it is.
It’s more than the bare bones of my new office though if that’s all you see I’d understand.
When I look at this scene I see that I listened to myself.
I see a box full of my sewing tool and fabric stash. I listened to the call for this kind of creative expression. I listened to the call for swatches of blue and metallic ivories. I listened to the call to give my sewing practice designated space.
I see a desk that adjusts from standing to sitting with a touch of a button. I see a desk chair with proper lumbar support. I see a computer monitor screen that allows my neck to stay in alignment. I see that I listened to the call of my body for better care while working.
I see a white desk and a gray chair and a bamboo floor mat because, when making design decisions, I listened to the very clear directive for light in all it’s forms.
I see an entire office loft given to me by my partner so that I could better do my work in the world. In that I see I listened to the call for the kind of love that celebrates my taking up space. I see that I listened to call for the kind of love that is steeped in generosity. I see that I listened to the call for love that mirrors back the love, appreciation, and respect I hold for myself.
So it could just be a desk, just a box, just a jumble of wires.
But it’s not.
It’s proof, at least to me, that I listened to myself.
I’ll admit that living a life that’s a result of listening isn’t easy, or fast, or ever perfect. It’s also a practice that never ends as new calls speak up all the time. But, bit by bit, we can make choices that deliver us closer to a well-fed life—which sometimes looks like a desk, a box, and some wires.
Is what surrounds you proof in some way that you heeded your own wise calls?
Or do you see reminders that, maybe, in some important ways, you’ve turned a deaf ear to yourself?
Is what’s right in front of you there because you chose it, because you asked for it, because you claimed it?
When you look at your life do you see evidence that you listened to yourself?
You feel a pea under your mattress and instead of getting rid of the pea you admonish yourself for being a princess.
If it’s not a pea under your mattress, it’s your ill-fitting bra, or expired eyeglass prescription, or ergonomically disastrous work space.
Today is my call to MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE.
I have a client who realized that none of the seating in her living room was comfortable. Everytime she went to ‘relax’ with her husband she would find herself with a sore tailbone.
I have another client who spent years wearing ill-fitting clothing (including her bra) because she refused to accept her body at it’s current size. Everyday she’d struggle to get a full inhale as her chest and waist were corseted by clothing that didn’t match her body.
I’m no different.
Ten years ago I bought an inexpensive mattress that I knew from the first night I slept on it that it was too soft. For ten years I have slept on what is affectionately called “The Marshmallow” despite waking with up serious joint aches and pains. To add insult to injury, I also spent the past four years running my business while contorted over my laptop in this very same squishy mattress.
Well my brilliant body said no more and I’m here to encourage you to listen to what your body might be whimpering about.
The good news is that both clients made the changes they needed to get comfortable. They realized that they deserved to feel good in their home and their lungs.
I too have made some pretty major changes.
New body and earth-friendly mattress? Check.
New electric standing desk? Check.
Regular chiropractic adjustments and massages? Check.
We’re so quick to grit our teeth and bear it. I say it’s not that ‘what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger’ so much as it’s ‘what doesn’t kill us may just be making us really uncomfortable.’
Do consider this my call to you to make whatever changes you need to make to be more comfortable, in less pain, and breathing easier.
You (and I) deserve to be as pain-free as possible.
Check in with yourself right now: what’s the metaphorical (or actual) ‘pebble in your shoe’?
Favorite Comfort-Inducing Items
You might think I regret my eating disorder. You might think I look back in shame at all the seemingly wasted energy I spent obsessing about the number on the scale or the food on my plate.
But I don’t have shame.
Instead I have compassion and a deep awareness that at that time I was taking care of myself the very best way that I knew how.
At the time I was in pain and I was anxious, both of which lessened when I focused intensely on food and my body.
I actually think 20-year-old me was pretty resourceful.
Yes, she was also miserable, ill, and hungry. But she was, nevertheless, resourceful, using her limited toolbox as best she could.
As the old adage goes: when you know better, you do better.
I frequently encounter women who feel such self-loathing for all the years spent riding the dieting pendulum, abusing alcohol, or over-spending.
However you cope, it is or was most certainly you taking care of yourself the best way you know or knew how.
I believe that when you know a better way you do it.
Regardless, whatever your salve, self-care is often mislabeled as self-harm and I want to change that.
Let’s forgive ourselves for the hurt our efforts to help ourselves caused.
Let’s celebrate that when we’re hurting our natural tendency is to take care of ourselves by any means necessary. (Look in the mirror, you will see someone who has, all along, been on your team).
And finally, once we’ve forgiven and seen the goodness of our true nature, we can move towards the discovery of effective, less-harmful self-care methods.
If it’s time for you to make your toolbox more robust…
If you’re ready for the resilient life that comes after you forgive yourself…
If you understand that being a sensitive soul comes with a different life-playbook…
If stepping fully into the roles of advocate, soft-place-to-fall, ally, lover, champion, and oxygen-giver for yourself is what you’re called to do…
I invite you to Feast.
Connection is hard enough without the ‘no fly zone’ of food and body preoccupation between us.
Here’s the rub: we need connection with each other like we need air and yet nothing scares us more than connection, than being seen, than being so vulnerable we could be rejected.
We need connection and yet we live during a technologically-centric era of human civilization where real connection is often traded for isolated screen-time and high-light reels.
We need connection but judge ourselves so harshly we don’t give others a chance to see, like, or love us.
And with connection so essential and already so challenging, what we don’t need is the added barrier of body shame and food obsession.
I thought this the other night as my partner’s hand traversed the curve and softness of my belly and I could actually feel all that didn’t stand between us — and all that could — and all that does.
Because connection is hard and it’s everything.
I thought of this because I know what life feels like when we don’t love, or even like ourselves. I know what life looks like when we’re hungry, empty longing for a crumb of connection.
I know what life looked like before and I know — hallelujah — what life looks like on the other side. I know just how unnecessary the wall is that our loathing, shame, preoccupation, and obsessions build. I know how easy it is to think that we’re the weird one, that we’re the exception to the rule, and that everyone else but us is deserving.
At another time in my life when a partner lovingly touched my body though we were in the same room, in the same bed there were miles and miles between us.
Tear the wall down. Even if it’s grain of sand by grain of sand.
Behave kindly toward yourself. Don’t proclaim to do this. Bring it to life in small tender moments.
Practice inhabiting your own skin. Don’t proclaim to do this either. Rather, right now, feel your skin touch the air and your thighs touch your seat.
Most of all feed yourself so the gnaw of hunger quiets and you can make the connections that are what you’ve been hungry for all along.
One of my obsessions is how women relate to themselves.
I’m so focused on this because I believe it to be the switch that, when flipped, sets everything good in motion. Like, I believe wars could be stopped by people shifting their relationship to themselves. Whoa.
I was talking with talking with my colleagues Dana and Hilary of Be Nourished this week (psst: our full conversation will be available for Feast participants). Their offices are right next to each other and Hilary was saying that every time one of Dana’s clients is leaving a session she can hear Dana say “Kindness is the way out.”
I couldn’t agree more.
You want to heal your relationship with food?
You have to start with kindness.
You want to heal your relationship to money?
You have to start with self-compassion.
You want to heal your relationship to your sex or intimacy?
You have to start with turning sweetly toward yourself.
You want to know if you’re lovable?
You have to love yourself.
You want to end the war you are waging with your body?
The ceasefire you are seeking is with yourself.
If you want to heal your relationship with any part of life, you must first practice being kind to yourself. Emphasis on the word ‘practice’.
Our relationship to ourselves must be brought to life. Self-compassion and self-love are, above all else, verbs. Before we can address whatever unrest, misalignment, or longing that has shown up in our life, we must first bring to life a compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves.
Women come to me with threadbare spirits, exhausted from years of anxious searching for peace with food, their body, and their lives. In our work together we so rarely, if ever, begin by addressing what they would define as ‘the problem’.
No, instead we begin with their heart.
A woman who has an adversarial relationship with herself, or no conscious relationship at all, will ask me “Beyond saying nice things, which can feel, what does it even look like to be kind to myself? Where do I start?”
They think I’m going to give them a homework assignment (which I might). They think I’ll give them a book to read or some activity to do after our session (which I might). They think that they might be able to think their way into this one (which they can’t).
I say: “You start right here.”
And we do.
I guide them towards themselves in the very moment we are in. I guide them to soften. I guide them to expand their capacity for their own experience. I guide them to welcome all of themselves to the embrace, not just what’s pretty or palatable. I guide them to set down judgement and to listen for and offer whatever their spirit and heart are aching for.
Here’s the key: we do it right here and now.
Want to give it a go?
Place your one hand on your heart and the other on your belly.
Take a breath.
Ask: “Darling, what haven’t I made enough space for? What part of our or your experience do you need me to allow to just be?”
Ask “Sweetheart, what do you need to hear from me? How do you need me to gaze back to you in the mirror?”
Ask: “My love, I want you to feel seen and embraced, with that in mind, what can I offer you ?”
Ask: “Cookie, where can the warmth and light of my love melt away any shame or fear you might be feeling?”
Feel your hand over your beating heart.
Feel the warmth of your skin.
Feel your place in family of humans, all trying to do their best to find safety, love, belonging, relief, and peace.
In every moment, especially this one, we can practice standing in kind relationship to ourselves. Emphasis on the word ‘practice’.
I want to share with you some thoughts I’ve been having lately about the waning paradigm of the hungry woman, about the difference between hungry women and Well-fed Woman, and about why I created Feast.
It’s not often I do a video blog, but try as I might to channel these thoughts through my keyboard this week I could not.
Before you watch, there are some unnecessary qualifiers I feel compelled to make:
Like the video might be a bit rambly, I’m not always sure I’m making sense, and I certainly didn’t remember to say everything I wanted to say. Perhaps it’s the vulnerability of it that makes video my rarely used medium. Regardless here’s a good bit of what wanted to be offered to you with a whole lot of heart.
Being in control feels awesome.
Determining the outcome of things because we’re in control, double awesome.
When we feel in control, our nervous system is as calm as if we were a baby snuggled in our mother’s arms. Control feels safe and safe is where it’s at for many of us.
Unfortunately our sense of control, especially as it pertains to outcomes, is most often an illusion.
I know a thing or two about pursuing control. I spent a good chunk of my life white knuckling the steering wheel. I was in hot (and often rigid) pursuit of controlling my weight, other’s perceptions of me, and how successful I was at whatever endeavor I’d embarked on.
Perhaps you can relate.
Sadly, the tight grip I tried to have on everything–and everyone–didn’t produce the results I’d hoped.
My weight yo-yo’ed, people judged me, boyfriends left me, employers fired me. Try as I might, seeking to control the end game never seemed to work out for me.
These days I have a radically different approach.
I make choices about how I show up and what my boundaries are, releasing all outcome, as much as possible.
Success today is defined as whether or not I did my part, not whether a certain result came to be.
In my very real, and very imperfect life this looks like…
Practicing eating intuitively and releasing any control of my body’s weight.
Committing to showing up with my clients with presence, curiosity, and love. Releasing whether or not they’ll get anything out of working with me.
When I was single, this looked liked choosing how I wanted to show up on dates and releasing whether it went anywhere. Whether the outcome was rejection or a second date, success’ hat was hung on how I chose to show up.
In a relationship, this looks like a personal requirement that my partner and I do work with a couples therapist long before there are any major issues and releasing whether or not we’ll be together in 60 years. It looks like telling the truth, even if it’s not what he wants to hear because I want whatever outcome is the result of the truth.
This practice is entirely about having awareness and commitment of how we want to be in our lives.
I want to be honest. I want to be present. I want to be relaxed. I want to be compassionate. I want to allowed to be human. I want to be creative.
And I can play a part in all these things. I can play a major part in how I’m showing up.
I can’t however, determine or predict what will happen tomorrow around the bend. I don’t know how others will receive me or my work. There is so much I don’t know, and accepting that–living without attempting to be psychic–is freedom.
The impact of my being is not in my control and to chase it would be fruitless and exhausting. Of course, I only know this from the painful years I clung to controlling outcomes.
Something unseen in all this is the belief that I’m enough.
If I didn’t believe that I was enough I would still be chasing that through all the same old dead-end alley ways.
In my coaching practice I see this showing up when a client is utterly terrified of dating (while hungering for partnership). Terrified she’s being awkward or that she’ll be rejected. Terrified. The solution isn’t to avoid dating. The solution is to figure out what she can control and make that the definition of success.
This same phenomenon shows up when clients have career or creative hungers that paralyze them with fear. This is a sign that success (and safety) is defined as a certain outcome rather than simply the act of going for it with heart.
So I propose this:
If you’re exhausted from trying to control your weight, stop. Try instead to eat in a way that feels good, tastes good, and honors your body. If you can do that (and you can), what your body weighs will matter a whole lot less.
If there’s a creative project you’re pregnant with or a career move calling to you, play with defining success as trying something new, or as Brene Brown says, as getting into the arena.
Today, success for me is hitting publish on this post. It’s far from perfect. It might not even be useful to some people stopping by. But it’s honest and communicates something that has been liberating for me. And thankfully, my sense of my own enoughness doesn’t rest on these 700 words. And that feels way more awesome than being in control.
As I turn my attention to the end of our year the metaphor of a well occupies my mind.
I love the rhythm–that we draw from a source and that source replenishes. When the source runs dry, so do we.
The drinking well is a practice that helps to gently remind us to keep our own well full. The practice in it’s most simplistic terms is to have a drinking vessel that is chosen to represent the well and is used throughout the end of the year, daily, to support staying literally and metaphorically hydrated.
In more expanded directions…
Find a drinking vessel. It can be a mug, tea cup, tumbler, mason jar, water bottle, or even a bowl if it’s something you like drinking from.
It can be something you own or a new special acquisition.
Hold it in your hands. Ask it: when I drink from you, will you fill me up?
If the answer is yes, then it can be your drinking well.
Now give it a bath. Not a “doing the dishes” scrub, but a slightly ceremonious cleansing. Extra hot water. Loving touch. Purifying thoughts. Ending with a clean cotton towel pat down.
Your drinking well is ready.
Keep it near you. Drink from it often. Clean it with care.
When you do drink. Pause. Taste. Breathe out.
Notice where your skin meets the surface of the vessel.
Notice how the liquid feels washing down your throat.
Notice where your deeper well needs filling and where you might have sprung a leak.
When we fill our drinking well, we are reminded that there is an ebb and flow of energy that must be respected, especially this time of year.
The practice is this: when we fill our drinking well and our drinking well fills us.
You can see some of my favorite drinking wells over here on Pinterest.