You can’t know what will feed you unless you taste it — and taste a lot of other things that don’t feed you.
And sometimes you need to taste something many times before you know if you like it, if you need it, and how much of it is supportive for you.
This will mean tasting things that don’t taste good.
This will mean tasting things that might make you ill.
This will mean tasting things that are almost right, but not quite (Hello, Goldilocks).
If you’re not sure what you are hungry for, start by tasting anything and allowing your wise body and heart to tell you what is satisfying.
This might mean trying out dating a wide range of people.
This might mean a career path that is anything but a straight line.
This might mean asking to sample all 31 flavors when you go for ice cream.
It’s not only okay to take the time to taste all that life has to offer, but it’s essential if you are to be a Well-Fed Woman
Wouldn’t it be a magical world if we already knew what was right for us before trying anything out, before making a mistake, before embarrassing ourselves, or ruffling any feathers, or hurting feelings, or ‘wasting’ time.
Nah. That world sounds bor-ing.
Tasting the full menu is one of the best parts of life. It allows us to feel grounded in knowing that what we’ve chosen is more right for us, in comparison to what we’ve let go.
When I look back on my life I see a woman who needed to taste some very icky, very off, and very painful things in order to learn what worked.
When you ask yourself “What was I doing back then (in my 20’s or 30’s…)? What was I doing with in that relationship? What was I doing in that dead end job?”
The answer to all of these questions is: “I was tasting.”
Seize your freedom to try new things that might feed you so you can discover what actually does.
Want to be a Well-Fed Woman?
Better get to tasting.
I have never had a drinking problem. In fact, I’m a one drink woman because two puts me to sleep, but I had a therapist once plead with me to go an AA meeting.
She had spent months, maybe years, watching me spin inside my own illusion that my pain was somehow different, that my angst was somehow greater, and that no one could understand my personal hell, at least not without feeling a great deal of judgement towards me.
I was pretty far down the rabbit hole of separation. There was me and there was everyone else. Everyone else had it easier. Everyone else felt more at peace. Everyone else was lovable. Everyone else….everyone else…everyone else….but not me. not poor me.
There was you and there was me.
And none of you, could understand or relate to me or my pain.
So my therapist told me to go an AA meeting. She wanted me to sit in a room with other people, who just like me, suffered. People, who if I passed them in the grocery store aisle, I’d assume had it all together. People who both look like and not like me, but nevertheless feel the same feelings and worry the same worries.
I didn’t end up at an AA meeting, but I did end up in group therapy and the desired effect was just the same. And it was there that something fundamental shifted in me. For ten months, every week, I sat in a room with about ten other women all awash in their shame, their obsessions, their stuff. And it looked an awful lot like my own stuff.
Put simply: I woke up to our sameness. I woke up from the illusion that no one would-could understand the agony I experienced. I woke up from the idea that everyone else, but me, had it together.
Let’s go even further back in time…
At the height of my anorexia, more than a decade ago, I was leaving a dental appointment and stepped into the elevator to leave the building. I rode down with a woman whom I had never met—a stranger. She blatantly eyed my lithe frame up and down. Then said to me “Oooh girl, I only wish I had whatever willpower you’ve got.” Not even a week later I went to get a bikini wax, and laying there on the table, vulnerable, naked, and insecure the waxer said to me “You must work out, you have a perfect body.”
In both of these cases gave a pacifying half smile and I said nothing aloud. Yet inside I was screaming: “I don’t eat! You want the perfect body?! Stop eating! You think it’s willpower? No it’s soul-level terror!”
These women had made assumptions about me. They had placed themselves on one side of line and me on the other. In their mind, they were fat. I was not. They had no willpower, I had it spades. They were lazy, I was on top of my game. They were wild pigs and I was smoothly in control.
Yes, there assumptions were wrong, but the point is that I was doing the same thing.
Me and my pain over here, everyone else over there.
And I needed to wake up. The separation was killing me. Literally.
Recently a client confessed that she had taken money from her office’s petty cash box. She’s paid it all back by now, but the shame of her actions still plagued her. While she seethed with self-judgement, I felt nothing but empathy and our shared humanity.
There isn’t any part of her that’s different than me. I’ve been lost. I’ve made choices that hurt other people. I’ve acted from insecurity. And while I consider myself a person with boatloads of integrity, if you went through my (or your) whole life with a fine tooth comb you could easily find where I’ve faltered.
Over the past six months I’ve noticed myself slip a bit into otherizing. It’s been a natural period of creative fallowness and incubation where it’s all too easy to look at other people who are in creative flow and think, once again, that they are somehow better than me. Them over there, me over here.
This matters to me because when I’m lost in this place I feel half alive, half connected, half of service, and half myself. I know that each of us is here to serve by being full and whole, not dimmed to a mere fifty percent.
I’m naming my own otherizing here for myself and for you, should you find yourself drawing this unhelpful line in the sand.
There is no human experience that we have alone. It’s up to each of us to tear town the chambers of isolation that comparison and fear build.
It’s just you and me, them and us—all together.
That person you idolize. That internet guru. That person you loathe. The bully from high-school. The person on the front of this week’s tabloids. The one who beat you out for that job. The suitor who liked you, that you didn’t like back. The noisy neighbor and the perfect-from-the-outside acquaintance. The criminal and do-gooder. Yep, all of us. Our pains and sorrows. Anxieties and dilemmas. Joys and callings. Sacred reverberating essences.
Say it with me: WE.
Here’s a wonderful and related TED talk from Elizabeth Lesser:
This is how I’ve spent much of the past seven months.
While leading six crazy-courageous groups of women through reading and implementing Intuitive Eating, and many of those women through an additional 10-week alumni intensive, I have become a professional jailbreaker.
At the heart of this work is illuminating something I call The Pendulum and then shepherding the participants to often hard to find off-ramp.
The Pendulum is the seemingly never-ending ride between some form of a restrictive state of mind and overconsumption state of mind. A say ‘state of mind’ here and not ‘behaviors’ because we need only psychologically restrict or overconsume to experience the tortuous ride. That is to say that feeling restricted or believing we have overconsumed is far more significant than behaving either way. The mind is a tricky thing. Certainly, we can (and often do) behave these ways, but it isn’t necessary in order to perpetuate The Pendulum and feel the inevitable mental distress that comes with the back and forth swing.
And back and forth we swing.
These two phases of the cycle manifest in a broad array of ways, but all with the same two flavors.
On the one side we feel in control, high even. Above our hungers and with a sense of calm.
On the flip side we’re in chaos, often experiencing some level of shame and self-loathing. We feel out of control.
You probably already know much of this. After all, this is human nature.
We’re hard wired to react to one swing of The Pendulum with the other. (Read: this is not your fault.)
I’m talking about food here, but this is a universal law of energy and applies to many other aspects of our lives.
Back and forth. Restrict. Overconsume. Feeling like we’re being ‘good’ only to be feel that we’re ‘bad’.
Sometimes minute by minute, hour by hour, or month by month. The time between swings isn’t important. What matters is that we can’t cheat The Pendulum. We can’t game the system. As human beings we’re wired to swing one way if we swing the other.
Unless we step off the ride.
The Off Ramp
Every pendulum has a center point. We must pass through this point on our way from one swing to the other.
We can stop the ride if we can only just slow the momentum and rest in that center point.
We do this by meeting the ride with compassion and nonjudgmental observation, this makes it much easier to slow the swing.
We do this by meeting the moment post-overconsumption with a conscious choice to return to the center (i.e. reject restriction).
We do this by returning to our body. The Pendulum swings are perpetuated by an override of our body’s preferences. The off ramp is found when we decide to cease the override.
Again, the polarity of the ride is hard wired into us. We often think that it is our own failing that leads us to over consume, but rather it is our beautiful and human need to both find soothing and avoid famine (real or psychological) that leads us to the ride.
So what does this look like in real life?
It looks like getting clear on your own unique tendencies toward restriction and overconsumption. It looks like getting to know your triggers and the fears and stories that fuel your ride.
Do you tend to restrict certain types of food? Do you restrict eating at certain times of day? Or is it about limiting quantity?
Where do you find yourself most often past the point of comfortable fullness? When do you find yourself feeling like you need to ‘recommit’ to whatever ‘plan’ or ‘program’ or ‘rules’ you identify with?
Identifying our patterns can be tricky as they are often subtle and entirely socially condoned. You can usually sniff them out by following the thread of where you feel guilty around food.
Draw Your Pendulum
Take a piece of paper and a pen. Draw your pendulum. On the left half write out all the ways you see yourself restricting. On the right half write out all the ways you find yourself overconsuming. Again, these can be restrictive or over consumptive thoughts and fixations, not just behaviors. Track your own pendulum swings. Use arrows. Note your flow. Observe how one sets off a chain reaction that leads back to the other.
If you’re tired of the back and forth, commit to returning to center as often as it takes. (It took me a solid two years of practice) Commit to taking the off ramp as often as you’re able to. Commit to paying loving attention. Commit to not blaming yourself for The Pendulum and accepting that it’s part of how our species operates. Commit to restrict nothing but restriction itself. Commit to using common sense instead of sensationalism when it comes to what to eat. Commit to choosing happiness over thinness. Commit to choosing real life instead of chasing perfection. Commit to being smarter than the false promises of restriction. Commit to breaking yourself out of jail.
Freedom is possible and it’s worth committing to it’s pursuit.
“I am never full.”
“The pain will never stop.”
“There isn’t ever enough love.”
“I will never not want to eat the entire grocery store.”
Many of us walk around with the sensation of deep emptiness.
With that sensation is often a fierce belief that there will never be enough.
Be it food or love—too often we walk the earth feeling as though we are a bottomless pit.
One strategy we use is to try to fill it. With entire bags of chips. With another pair of shoes. With 5 o’clock bottles of wine.
On the flip side, we attempt to cover the bottomless pit with a band aid tale of having minimal needs. This where we tell ourselves we’re fine to subsist on crumbs—literal or metaphoric. We keep it together. We stick to the diet. We keep our muscles toned. We don’t need a partner, or attention, or chocolate cake, we’re fine—or so we tell ourselves.
The sad part is the bottomless pit is an illusion. One that has us running in all directions for temporary salves that aren’t sustainable and never leave us feeling very satisfied.
Your local child protective services agency has shown up at your doorstep with two foster children you are charged with taking care of for a year. They tell you that the children came from a home where there was barely anything to eat.
Over the first few days you notice that one of the children eats until they are sick. They eat quickly and with an anxiety that clearly belays their fear of there not being having enough.
The other child eats very little. Nibbling on this or that but not taking enough sustenance or enjoying the delicious food you have offered. This child is attempting to exert some control where they can. When they wasn’t enough in the past, they told themselves that they didn’t need it as a way to feel a level of control where none was.
And all of this makes sense.
Neither of them can be sure that there will be enough. They can’t yet trust that there will be more food anytime they want, and that they don’t have to eat until they’re sick or continue to deny themselves nourishment.
What you find over the weeks to come though, as they learn that there is enough food and they have as much as they want, when they want, in any quantity they want, is that they normalize. They are each able to eat with enjoyment, relaxation, and able to stop when they are physically sated.
Are you getting the metaphor?
Our lives are the home where there will always be enough food.
The question is whether we are willing to heal the trauma of our deprivation by ceasing to deny ourselves. It is we who too often deny ourselves the love we long for. It is we who too often deny ourselves the food or pleasure we hunger for.
The result is that we feel like a bottomless pit.
And all along we had our hand on our own spigot able to turn it on and let it flow.
The trick is to turn the spigot on and don’t turn it off until we’ve had enough – and we find the point of ‘enough’ after a period of reconditioning ourselves to know that there will always be more.
We must let it flow long enough to teach the part of us that is traumatized from deprivation that there will always be enough. What we find when we do this is that that part of us relaxes.
What we find is that the bottomless pit, the one that never existed in the first place, disappears.
“Poison and medicine are often the same thing, given in different proportions”
One of the most common traits (and pitfalls) I see is dichotomous thinking – or seeing everything as either black or white.
There is a frenzy to our lives. A striving, masculine energy to achieve, improve, and purify.
Many of the women I work with come to me when they can no longer bare the tightrope walk their life has become. Slaving in pursuit of being ‘good’, being ‘liked’, and being ‘beautiful’.
But life isn’t a tightrope walk, unless we make it that.
Nothing is good or bad, unless we name it that.
Green vegetables and white sugar are not opposites, nor are they enemies.
Everything is everything, depending on the circumstances. Depending on where we are standing and what is needed now.
I’m calling out for less purity and more messy holding of both. Less pigeon holing. Less throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
This requires paying attention.
When we think in binaries, we get to sleepwalk through life. We decide ahead of time which category something fits into and we live accordingly. No need to reevaluate, it’s all already been decided.
Real Housewives of Anywhere? Pathetic waste of time.
Homemade food? Holy.
And on and on.
If we could use our Martha Stewart label makers on life, I’m sure we would.
But life isn’t black or white. It’s every shade of gray, and pink, and green, and yellow that can be found. And those colors change moment by moment.
This requires we pay attention. This requires we get comfortable with an unlabeled life.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
and I’ll add…
There is a time for Facebook and a time for being miles away from a screen.
There is a time for zafu cushions and a time to find stillness in the least likely place.
No one thing is arbitrarily better than another.
If you want to know if something is medicine or poison you must listen.
Your heart will tell you. Is it soft?
Your lungs will tell you. Are they tight?
Your flesh will you you. Is it supple?
If you listen.
Sensations of ease, joy, enoughness, and vitality are signs of a medicine.
Sensations of deadness, contraction, and insecurity are signs of poison.
Right now, not yesterday or last year, what’s your medicine?
Today, mine is shaved legs and a new sundress. Offering myself sustainably. Crisp and cold caesar salad. Haim’s The Wire. Writing only when I have something to say.
And you? What’s your medicine? What’s your poison?
As a child, if I couldn’t be assured that I’d do something right the first time, I didn’t even want to try at all. The result of this fearful stance was that I didn’t learn to swim (until I nearly drowned and my parents insisted) or to ride a bike (I’m still working on this).
What I’m talking about is the resistance we feel to being less-than-masterful at anything. We loathe performing awkwardly, even though this is a precursor to doing anything more gracefully.
Embracing our inner awkward toddler crucial if we’re to find our way to being well-fed. Like toddlers learning to walk, this is the two-step we must do: Toddle forward. Trip. Stand up. Toddle some more. Go splat on the floor. Get up. Toddle again.
Towards the end of 2013 I looked around my life and saw that everything was fine.
Fine is good.
Fine is important if we’re to function in the world.
But fine is not enough.
Feeling fine isn’t the same as feeling alive or particularly satiated. Fine is just fine.
What I know: the only way through to what’s really good in life is to embrace being awkward for at least a time.
In the spirit of embracing more of this energy in my life I’ve started back attending Laurie Wagner’s brilliant Wild Writing classes wherein we instructed to write poorly, pen to paper, and then share it with the group. It’s awkward strength training at it’s best.
This Sunday I’m attending my first 5Rhythms practice where for two hours I’ll move my often-less-than-coordinated body to the music amidst a crowd of strangers. I’m not sure if it will be a practice in managing my inner critic or the holiest fun I’ve had in my life–or both. I want to find out.
What you and I have in common is a hunger to feel alive. To feel more than fine. This I know.
As a little girl, my fear of being criticized trumped my hunger to feel alive, to have fun, to ride a bike, or to swim in the lake.
As a grown women, though, I’ve learned that external sources of criticism don’t matter and that I can soften around my own.
As a grown women, I’ve learned that being awkward is just one exhilarating step toward being well-fed.
It’s an unexpected contradiction that after a month of making over my home – purging, deep cleaning, organizing, painting, new furniture – that the theme for January would appear to be: messy.
Now messy isn’t my word for the year, I’ll get to that in a minute, but it does feel like the word for right now. In order to find my groove I need to splash a little in the mud. I need to play a little more. Write more shitty first drafts. Dance a bit more awkwardly.
This morning my boyfriend told me he dreamt that I was standing naked in a house and all the walls disappeared and I was just standing there naked. The house was on a busy street and everyone could see me. In his dream I wasn’t concerned, embarrassed, or rushing to cover up. While there won’t be any nude photos to kick of the year, I like the sentiment of this vision: get more naked.
We’re all so practiced at wearing masked. We know how to please people, wow to show them what they want to see and hide what we fear might bring rejection. Your good at it. I’m good at it. I’m also good at taking off the masks. It’s a practice.
And it’s through this practice that I’ve come to know that bearing oneself just a bit more isn’t something we master. New masks are always itching to be put on. It’s just too easy to edit what’s real out of the picture. Yet when we do this–when I do this–what follows is always a longing to be seen, connected, heard, and free.
So in the spirit of taking off the mask and getting messy I’m ready to share my word for the year. It seemed fitting then to make an honest, unpolished, unrehearsed, unscripted, make-up free-in-my-pajamas-while-having-the-flu video.
This is a pali word that means empathetic joy. It is the happiness that comes from another’s happiness.
I think of mudita as the opposite of jealousy.
My meditation teacher, James Baraz, introduced the concept to me many years ago and it’s stayed with me as a powerful spiritual beacon.
In 2009 my sister got married and I spoke of mudita in my toast to the couple.
When it came to my sister’s marriage, mudita was an easy quality to cultivate. I was so genuinely joyful in response to her joy that it felt like breathing.
In Buddhism there are four “sublime attitudes” that, through spiritual practice, we cultivate: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy (or mudita), and equanimity. It’s said that mudita is the most challenging of these “attitudes” to call forth.
I can attest to this. When it comes to situations outside of my sister’s marriage, this is where the rubber of the spiritual practice hits the road. Perhaps you can relate?
The other night I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. I like to do this before bed – catching up on the joys of people I care about and enjoying the day’s beauty from my favorite iphoneographers.
I ended up stumbling into a place I call ‘triggeredville.” Have you been?
There I was. Scrolling through the photos from a colleague of mine and her life seemed so perfect.
She sported gorgeous designer clothing. Her business appeared abundantly successful. Her marriage loving and harmonious. Her being: radiant and glowing.
I felt jealous. Not happy for her. Jealous and with a pit in my stomach. Taking a quick measurement–my life came up short.
The pit in my stomach was still there when I woke up the next day.
I named it. It was clear. I was triggered and jealous.
And it was an opportunity to practice cultivating mudita.
I chose to practice not because it’s easy. It’s not.
I chose to practice because my jealousy was based in illusions. The illusion that she has something I don’t or can’t. The illusion that there isn’t enough to go around. The illusion that she and I are separate…other from each other. The illusion that I am not enough. The illusion that my own hungers can’t be satiated. The illusion that her life was charmed and pain-free.
I chose to practice because I seek to live a life as awake from these illusion as possible.
I know these illusions create a separateness between myself and life and that separateness is a source of great suffering.
So I practiced.
I sat in witness of my thoughts. Noticing the spinning and the burning fire of comparison.
I sat in witness of my body’s reactivity.
I sat in witness of the stories that “she has it all (and therefore I don’t)” and “I’m not enough, because I don’t have…”
I invited in empathy, the ability to feel the experience of another. In this case: joy.
and even pain, as she, like of all of us, is not immune.
I empathized with her. Knowing her joy is my joy. Her pain is my pain. She is part of me. I am part of her.
I found pockets of life to practice. I stayed attuned to the physical sensations of jealousy.
I practiced not judging the jealousy, as it’s as human as a skin rash, but instead I chose to call forth a different state of being.
Mudita. Empathetic joy. Seeing clearly that your joy is my joy, your pain is my pain, and Instagram has a less than natural rosy hue.
I keep a P.O. box for my business. It’s for my basic safety and peace of mind, as I’m required to include an address in the footer of all my newsletters which go out to thousands of people. Not all of whom I’d want an unexpected visit from.
Of course, I’m not talking about you.
You should come over for tea.
Where was I. Right. I swung by the post office earlier this week and discovered a letter that I have to share with you.
Dear Sweet Rachel,
It was exactly one year ago that you and I had a one-on-one. You may or may not remember that you presented me with a challenge. The challenge was to not weigh myself for one year. I remember at the time being overwhelmed with the challenge, especially given that I had purchased a scale several weeks before our chat. But after our call I made the decision to trust the process and stay away from weighing myself. So here we are, a year later, and to date I haven’t stepped on the scale. I just wanted to thank you – this past year has been quite the journey and I’ve just barely begun. I am grateful for you, your dedication to the work that God has designed you for!
Teary, standing by P.O. box 3433. Wow.
I was and am moved and honored and awed.
It’s events like this that reinvigorate me and rekindle my fire for calling women forth into Well-Fed living.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: what we weigh is useless information. It tells us nothing of value. Just about everything worth knowing comes from inside of us. Knowing our weight is rarely ever about well-being. We step on the scale to measure our worth, to gauge how out of control we are (or feel) in our lives, and to help us make decisions we’re afraid to let our bodies make.
If you didn’t know what you weighed, what would happen? How would you know when to eat and when to stop eating? How would you know when to move your body and when to rest? How would you know if you were enough or too much?
You would listen. Ear to yourself and you’d hear “Feast. Rest. Trust.”
You would listen. Ear to your heart and you’d hear “You are enough, never more, never less.”
The scale takes you away from yourself. Giving it up brings you home.
If you’re ready to come home, but crave some support and someone to walk a while with you on the path, get in touch. I have a few spaces open in my coaching practice and always offer one-off sessions, like I did with this letter writer, to get you started.
I’d love to see just how free, embodied, and well-fed you could be.
These days pinterest abounds with images of softly lit, sunrise horizons with “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” emblazoned across a mountainside. Or perhaps it’s a glistening ocean behind text that says “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
I believe life begins INSIDE of our comfort zones and only when we feel safe enough to stretch out does life (and our comfort zone) expand.
I am simply a huge fan of everyone feeling safe and I think safety has become linked up with weakness.
However, I have seen how safety allows us to blossom.
I believe that feeling safe is a prerequisite for connection, learning, relationship, growth, and for feeding our hungers.
The only time I have ever been able to heal or grow is when I first felt safe.
The only times I’ve been able to hear my own hungers calling for me is when I created a safe space for them.
The only times when I’ve been able to ask another to feed me is when I feel safe with them.
It’s true that we often want or need to do things that aren’t safe or don’t feel safe.
Taking the stage. Quitting the job. Asking someone out on a date. Trying something new and unknown.
It’s my experience though, that we have to feel a level of safety first.
It’s also my experience that women tolerate lives, situations, and relationships in which they are not safe to be who they are, want what they want, and say what they think and feel. This needs to change.
Needing safety does not a weak woman make.
It’s okay to value safety. In fact, it’s imperative.
It’s okay to ask someone to create a safer space for you. It’s okay to remove yourself when you don’t feel safe.
When we feel safe enough, we can sail away from the harbor.
I’ll leave you with a few questions for us to ponder:
Where in my life don’t I feel safe?
What factors create a sense of safety for me?
What would change if I felt a greater level of safety to be who I am, want what I want, and say what I think and feel?
Who don’t I feel safe around?
Who could I offer more safety to?
How could I offer myself more safety from which I could try new things?
Where am I pushing myself too far outside of my safety zone?
May we all be safe so we can soar.