Taken from A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever, by Marianne Williamson. Published by Hay House (Nov. 2010).
LESSON 5 - Start a Love Affair with Food
You probably read this chapter title over a couple of times thinking that you’d caught a typo. Perhaps you thought I must have meant end your love affair with food, not start one. But nope, you read it right the first time. It’s time for you to start a real love affair with food.
What you’ve had up to this point has been an obsessive relationship, and an obsessive relationship is not love. Whether with a substance or with a person, an obsessive relationship is a dance of the wounded . . . a carnival of pain . . . but not a real love affair, because there is no love there. To think you need food that you don’t really need, to practically inhale food, to crave food, to obsess about food, to binge on and then alternately avoid food, to control food and need to be rigid around it—none of these bespeak a love affair. Pain and compulsion and self-hate are not love.
The true lover of food is able to take time with it. She can savor food, and non-neurotically delight in it. She can chew it thoroughly and actually taste it. She can eat without guilt and stop eating without too great an effort. She can celebrate how food is contributing to her health. She can wonder at it and appreciate its beauty. She can linger over a fruit stand and study the curves of a pear. She can gaze at a pomegranate and feel awe at the fact that thousands of years ago, people ate these, too. She can shop for groceries without wondering if anyone is watching her or judging her. She can gaze at a pretty bunch of grapes and consider whether she’d prefer them in her stomach or in a crystal bowl on her table. She can take one bite of something delicious, ecstatically breathe in the taste, and enjoy waiting before taking another bite. For her, the spaces in between each bite are part of the joy of her experience.
No, the compulsive eater is no lover of food. When it comes to your enjoyment of eating, your best days are not behind you but ahead of you!
The eating patterns of an overeater are chaotic, fearful, furtive, and out of control. And yet, these dysfunctional patterns are not your deeper problem. They are symptoms of the problem. Your deeper problem is the hysteria in your gut—the silent, traumatized shriek of “I’m empty! Fill me! I’m empty! Fill me!”—the irrational and irresistible energy that’s wormed its way into your brain, stationed itself in your nervous system, and won’t let go until you’ve eaten the whole thing. This course is a plan in dissolving your hysteria and filling your emptiness by replacing it with love.
Years ago, after a spate of horrifying incidents in which high-school students perpetrated acts of violence against teachers and classmates, I noticed an interesting but, I thought, disturbing kind of discipline imposed at my daughter’s school. All of a sudden the students had not five minutes between class but only two. Passing notes in class was punishable by serious time in detention. Outdoor activities of all kinds were forbidden, and “downtime” of any sort became verboten.
I lobbied the school administration, arguing that while I myself worked hard all day, every once in a while I needed to get up from my desk, stretch, do something silly for five minutes, go get some air . . . take a break! Kids are human and need that, too! In encountering the school’s resistance to my argument, I realized what had gone on here. This school—and perhaps others as well, I don’t know—had come up with a plan to prevent and discourage negative socialization by suppressing any socialization whatsoever. Don’t let kids meet each other; something awful might happen! Don’t let them form relationships; they might hurt each other! Don’t let them relax; they might use the time to hatch some awful plan! So, what is the plan here? I thought. Train them to be dehumanized zombies and then all will be well?
My daughter left that school soon thereafter, but what stayed in my mind was the odd irrationality of trying to keep children separate from each other at school. The answer to antisocial behavior among our children is not that we suppress socialization, but that we teach and model positive socialization for them. For me, that’s a really big “Duuuuuhhhhh!”
So it is with dysfunctional eating. The solution to overeating is obviously not to deny yourself food altogether; the answer is not to deny yourself at all (exception: the addict’s need to abstain from foods, at least temporarily, that trigger biological cravings). You don’t need to forget food, run away from food, deny yourself food, or avoid food. And the last thing you need to do if you want to stop thinking obsessively about food is to tell yourself not to think about it! Doing so is an invitation for such thoughts to overwhelm you.
It is often said in Alcoholics Anonymous that “every problem comes bearing its own solution.” Food is not only your problem, it is also your teacher. It is a reflection of an even deeper problem, an opportunity and an invitation to face that which underlies your compulsive eating. Your only real problem—everyone’s only real problem—is a separation from your divine Source and thus separation from who you really are. Every step taken in love is a step back to your true self.
This course aims to put genuine love back into your relationship with food: not counterfeit love, not substitute love, but genuine love. Love and gratitude that food nourishes and sustains you. Love and gratitude that meals can build bonds among families and friends. Love and gratitude that food is something you have the right to enjoy, once you learn to relate to it with divine detachment.
Detachment means that you can take it or leave it; you can enjoy food if you’re hungry, but you can leave it alone if you’re not. Love, as always, is the key to making things right. By learning to love food, you will stop obsessing about it. And the obsession, not the food, is your actual problem. Obsession, whether toward a substance or a person, occurs when you’re open to give and yet don’t know how to receive. You keep grasping for more because you’re not feeling what’s coming in. As a child, perhaps, nothing was coming back, so now you keep trying to get more of something you’re already convinced isn’t really there. As you build a relationship with food that does give back, you’ll begin to experience a relationship in which love has replaced obsession.
The only way to attain healthy neutrality toward food is by learning to love it, and the only food you can really love is food that loves you back.
Does a hot-fudge sundae love you, do you think? It’s true that it can give you a momentary high, but so can crystal meth. For me, a special charge from hot-fudge sundaes was connected to the fact that when I was a child, my mother would always take me to Howard Johnson’s for a sundae to celebrate things like making a good grade or winning a contest at school. Unfortunately, my brain was then imprinted with the message that big wins should be accompanied by a hot-fudge sundae. It took me years to disconnect from that, and only recently did it occur to me that my mother came up with this celebratory ritual as an excuse to indulge her desire for ice cream! (Once you’re a mother yourself, you understand your own mother so much better. . . .)
No, hot-fudge sundaes do not love me and they do not love you. They are full of sugar and processed chemicals that bring us anything but love. Those things feed cancer, increase cholesterol, decrease growth hormones, weaken eyesight, interfere with protein absorption, cause food allergies, contribute to diabetes, cause cardiovascular disease, impair the structure of DNA, cause difficulty in concentrating, reduce defense against infectious diseases, contribute to osteoporosis, and more. I wouldn’t call any of those things love.
At the same time, this is not to say that eating a hot-fudge sundae is forbidden for the rest of your life. It’s simply to say that as you evolve to your highest sense of self, you won’t even want to eat a whole hot-fudge sundae; the experience will no longer feel like love to you.
Foods that love you are those that contribute to your well-being. From fruits to vegetables to whole grains, they make your body strong, fight illness, produce great skin, and keep you functioning normally. Vegetables make brain cells grow and function correctly, fruits provide healthy sugar and give you energy, and whole grains can help reduce risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. And in today’s world, there are more and more ways to find healthful food that is truly tasty. There might be healthier stores and restaurants you pass by frequently that you just never thought of going into . . . and now is the time.
Your problem may not be that you eat so often, but that you do not eat well. Particularly in today’s world, while it’s easy to eat poorly, it’s unnecessary. Today we’re in the midst of a food revolution, and that is very good news for the compulsive eater. Restaurants feature the best in nutritious, organic, even vegan, meals. And even when they don’t, you can learn to order in a way that benefits you. Beautiful magazines feature healthy recipes and food displays. Raw food, organic produce, and other optimal food choices abound. Is it always easy, convenient, or inexpensive to make wise food choices? Perhaps not. But let’s be very clear: it isn’t easy, convenient, or inexpensive to be a food addict either.
It’s not time for you to give something up so much as it is time for you to take something on. It isn’t time to deny yourself but rather a time to gift yourself. Once you know what it is and how to do it, healthy eating is not a punishment but a reward.
It’s sad to realize, but people who spend the most time with food tend to not be those taking cooking classes, learning creative recipes, or eating the best meals. Even if the overeater is going to a fine restaurant in the evening, the chances are good she’ll have stuffed herself with so much junk food by late afternoon that the actual succulence of eating a good dinner and truly enjoying it will be denied her. By the time she eats the meal, she’ll be feeding her psychological appetite, perhaps, but not her stomach, because it’s already full. When it comes to the actual joy of eating, the overeater tends to be deprived.
It’s time to change that. Let’s begin your love affair with food.
This lesson comes with assignments, and all that matters is that you do them. Even if you’re still eating unwisely while performing them, that’s all right. Don’t wait to do these tasks until your overeating is under control, since doing them helps stop the overeating! You’re not repudiating old habits now, but rather building new ones. And it takes time to build new habits. The changes being ushered into your life with these lessons will take a while to trickle down from your intellect to your nervous system, and developing patience is part of the process.
Impatience is nothing but the fear-mind trying to convince you it’s hopeless and therefore you shouldn’t even try. It’s also the voice that tells you to eat the next bite before you’ve even finished chewing the last one, so remember that that voice is not your friend. You must be your friend now. And a friend is kind, so despite whatever self-disgust you feel, it is important that you be kind to yourself. This isn’t a course in self-discipline, but in many ways it is a course in self-love.
You’ve turned unhealthy eating into a ritual, a kind of magical and secret ceremony in which you’ve looked to the darkness for what darkness cannot provide. You will learn to build a new ritual now: the ritual of healthy, wise, nonsecretive, and loving eating.
It all begins with a beautiful napkin.
Now in addition to thinking that’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard, you might also be thinking that you already have plenty of napkins, thank you, and you do not need another one! Your drawers might be brimming with napkins—you might have inherited linen from your grandmother or bought an embroidered set from Italy or France. None of that matters now; you need a new one. For the ones you have belong to the old you.
It serves you at this point to understand the power of ritual. This course is asking a lot of you . . . from making lists, to writing out feelings, to procuring new items, to doing ceremony, and so forth. It is very much a to-do kind of book. Yet these actions are not gratuitous; they form a specific curriculum in fundamentally altering your mental habit patterns—thought-forms that have had you forever looping back to very self-destructive behavior.
It does not matter how quickly you move through these lessons, but it does matter how specifically and thoroughly you do them. You are giving a tremendous gift to yourself—even when you can’t help thinking, Oh come on, I have to do that?—if you simply do the lessons as they are described. If they don’t work, then they don’t work. But if they do work, your life will change forever.
A new napkin is important; you can’t build new rituals using tools that represent the old. And the last person in the world who should be discounting the power of ritual is someone who regularly performs the rituals of secret and excessive eating: driving around in the middle of the night aroused by the thought of food the way a heroin addict is aroused by the thought of heroin; opening and closing the refrigerator a hundred times in order to check whether Mommy’s love might be in there now; and scanning supermarkets for hours in a heightened emotional state just looking at all the food, whether or not you’re going to buy anything. No, don’t try arguing that you’re not into ritual. Nor should you discount the notion of brain triggers, when it clearly doesn’t take too much of a stress factor to send you straight into the arms of food most likely to give you a temporary high and then long-term despair.
You will undermine your negative rituals by replacing them with sacred ones. These will naturally lead to healthy eating, which will naturally lead to weight loss. Amen.
Back to the napkin. It must be beautiful, as beauty is divine. And this needn’t cost you much money; you can buy a beautiful napkin for very little, definitely less than you would spend on your next binge. Choose any color and any style. Just make sure it’s something you love.
Next you’re going to buy a plate, and no, once again, the plates you already have will not do. Just as Orthodox Jews have a different set of dishes for Sabbath and holiday dinners—meals consecrated by God—so you are going to obtain a sacred plate for use during this process. You are rehabilitating your food appetites by making them holy.
I know you might feel that your relationship with food is so dysfunctional . . . that your addictive patterns are so ingrained and have gone on for so long . . . that there’s simply no way to turn things around at this point. Once again, if you had only yourself to rely on in order to make these changes, then your anxiety would be justified. You are not alone, however. You have placed your problem in divine hands, and divine power is transforming you. That is why you are turning every step of your rebuilding process into a sacred experience. You’re taking every step with God in mind.
You will interrupt old patterns by replacing them with something beautiful and good. For where there is light, darkness cannot be. Where there is a connection to the sacred, compulsion cannot stand. In the presence of the real you, all that is not you will simply fall away.
The elements that make up this lesson are these:
· One new, beautiful napkin
· One new, beautiful glass
· One or two new, beautiful plates
· One new, beautiful knife
· One new, beautiful fork
· One new, beautiful spoon
· One new, beautiful place mat
· Two candlesticks (they can be ones you already have)
· Two new, beautiful candles
· One beautiful piece of music, especially wonderful to play while dining
Your family members, friends, or whoever you might live with are not being left out of this exercise, and you might wish to tell them that. The act of dedicating a single place setting is simply a response to the demands of your own healing, and not anything you’re doing to separate yourself from others.
What is not allowed here are paper napkins; a paper or rubber place mat; paper or plastic plates; or a plastic knife, fork, or spoon. All of those suggest eating on the run, and one of the patterns we’re moving away from is quick eating. Quick eating is a dangerous trigger for the compulsive eater. It triggers more quick eating, and quick eating means more food. Quick eating is a way of triggering a chemical rush and achieving an addictive high. It is very important, in laying the foundation for the new you, to cultivate a slower life. For by slowing down certain aspects of your life, you’ll become a slower eater. And by eating more slowly, you are more likely to eat well.
A friend of mine told me about a dinner party she once attended in Los Angeles, along with a woman who was eating so quickly that she could hardly stuff the food in her mouth fast enough. Referring to a city about an hour outside L.A., a man at the table whispered to my friend, “She’s eating like Hitler’s in Pomona.” There are many reasons, certainly, for why you might eat like an army is chasing you. Maybe you feel guilty about eating whatever you’re eating and want to get it over with fast so no one sees you. Maybe you have so much despair associated with eating anything that you eat quickly in an effort to eat the despair. Maybe as a child you had to eat quickly simply in order to get enough food.
It doesn’t matter the reason. Sacred ritual moves molecules, transforming energy in both your mind and body. A beautiful napkin, a beautiful plate, a beautiful glass, a beautiful knife, a beautiful fork, a beautiful spoon, and a beautiful place mat will help you. Candles will help. Beautiful music will help. And they are not immediately going into your kitchen or even into your dining room. They are going onto your altar, until you are ready to inhabit the energy they represent. You will place them there in a beautiful array, as you prepare a feast for the real you . . . the eater who has not quite arrived yet, but is being beckoned as you read this. The you whose appetite is elegantly aligned with the divine within you. And part of how we beckon her is by laying out her table setting and placing it on the altar.
To paraphrase a well-known adage, set the table and she will come.
Reflection and Prayer
Closing your eyes, see your altar and the table setting you have placed upon it. Now see with your inner eye a vision of an angel arriving and sitting before your new table setting. To witness the beauty, to enjoy the experience, to bless what is happening, to merely be. Allow yourself to witness this for as long as you can. Perhaps the divine being will invite you to sit as well, or perhaps you will find yourself merely witnessing what is happening. Whatever you see, simply allow the images to live within you.
Please help me begin anew to rebuild my temple and restore my body.
May I learn to eat well. Please send angels to guide me and transform my mind.
May food, which I have so used to hurt me, now become a blessing and a blessing only in my life.