After I separated from my husband I had to get used to being on my own again and I had to get used to being without my kids for some of the time.
My response? I ate chips.
I’ve always enjoyed chips but usually I had to share or hold myself back from eating too many as I didn’t want to feel judged. Now was my time.
I took time at the supermarket to choose just the right variety and flavour, my preference changed each time but it was never a “that’ll do” choice. These were to be enjoyed. They could easily sit in the cupboard until I was ready. Usually ready was after dinner when the kids were at their dads. I may have bothered to cook for myself or I might have just thrown something on a plate. Sometimes I made the conscious decision to eat less so there was room for my chips.
Then I would eat my chips. The whole bag or maybe less and finish the rest the next night. I ate them all. As I allowed myself to eat and enjoy all these chips, I realized that my enjoyment was lessening. I didn’t really feel like finishing the bag. I could roll up the top and leave it sitting next to me. Sometimes I needed a top up of another few chips and at other times I didn’t. The bag may have been finished off the next night but more and more often it would stay in the cupboard, untouched and unneeded.
Gradually I started to feel that I didn’t need to always eat chips on those nights that I was by myself. The chips had served their purpose and for that I am grateful. They helped me through a tough point in my life. They let me know that I needed support and self-compassion, that life can be tough sometimes. I had lots of support along the way but chips had their place too.
Do I still eat chips? Damn right I do. I’ll enjoy them with my kids for afternoon tea, with friends or by myself. And when life gets a little hard chips are still one of my comforts foods and that’s ok.
I could have viewed all those chips as a problem. Something to make myself feel even worse, something to beat myself up about. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of things I berate myself about but food isn’t one of them.
Usually we are taught to feel guilty about eating these foods and there was some guilt – if there wasn’t guilt why did I only do it when no one else was around. But the biggest emotion was comfort. It was allowing myself that comfort so that I could feel better about what was happening and how I was feeling. It was a time to wallow. But it was also with the awareness that I needed time to get used to my new life and to find other ways to help myself. I knew that I didn’t want to sit on the couch and eat chips forever. I wanted to feel good about myself and eating chips made me feel good enough about myself so that I was then able to get out and carry on with the work that my chips and self-compassion had started.
We all have our comfort foods and it can be anything for anybody. I know my mum’s comfort food in winter is leeks and white sauce with mashed potato. And this is a meal I have replicated on occasion because of course it was a part of my childhood but it doesn’t quite have the same effect for me. So your comfort food may come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It maybe one specific food or meal or it could be a whole range. But it is worth identifying the foods you are drawn to when you are feeling the need for some comfort.
When we acknowledge these foods and the feelings they bring up for us then it is a healthy way of comforting ourselves.
It’s necessary to spend some time and energy figuring out why we need a bit of comfort. Often the eating can be an avoidance technique. The physical act of eating means that we can avoid thinking about what’s really going on for us. And this is ok in the short term but to be able to move on and not need the comfort food quite so much we need to work out what’s really going on. What is it that we would rather not think about or deal with?
We are often taught to avoid emotion and we put on a brave exterior and just get on with life but life has a way of making you front up to what it is you want to avoid – one way or another. I’m no therapist and I don’t profess to have it all sorted myself but my chips let me know when it’s time to front up and get real.
When we respond to what we really feel like and our food choices aren’t clouded by judgement, guilt and anger then we can see our choices for what they really are - ways of nourishing ourselves. Whether that is emotionally or physically. We are more likely to make changes from a place of compassion and acceptance than we are from pushing our way through and putting on a façade.
I was aware of how I was feeling and why I was eating the chips. At the time they were what I really felt like. I ate without judging and I put them aside when I was ready.
Are you ready to be self-compassionate?