Many dysfunctional eaters are woefully unfamiliar with deep, intimate connections and believe that having an honest and vulnerable connection is a rarity in life. In fact, sometimes the first authentic relationship they have is with a therapist. They are convinced that opening up and letting down their guard with people will only cause them hurt and harm. They are sadly mistaken and their self-imposed emotional isolation is no doubt a large contributor to their turning to food when they’re stressed or distressed.
I was reminded of how intimacy can bond people together when my husband and I were dining with two other couples. We’d known each couple for some time, and they had recently formed a friendship with each other. Granted that three of us were therapists used to talking about feelings, although that doesn’t mean we were totally comfortable talking about our own. Over the course of the evening, the six of us shared our histories: disappointing childhoods, crazy parents, remorse for actions taken or not taken, romantic love, failed marriages and dead spouses, survivors’ guilt, parenting challenges, and struggles to let go of shame. We ran the gamut of personal topics over four talk-filled hours, diving into deep waters rather than simply wading in the shoals.
I can’t say for sure, but I doubt that any of us had regrets the next morning about how much we’d shared. I believe we all felt the better for having swum together in such dark, deep waters. Sadly, many dysregulated eaters lack this kind of intimacy: they have one best friend from high school they rarely talk to, they used to have friends they shared intimacies with but no longer do since they moved/changed jobs/got older, they can’t find any friends to get close too, or they don’t trust people enough to open up to them.
If you’ve never had close relationships or lack them now, this is something to work toward in order to improve your relationship with food. Imagine sharing your true self—your authentic opinions, deepest fears, embarrassing moments, and most closely held secrets, knowing that people will listen, feel empathy for you, have compassion for your suffering, and be honored that you’ve chosen to share your real self with them. Imagine unburdening, not needing to pretend and, instead, feeling wholly accepted. When you allow yourself to get close to people, it makes you feel loved and cherished, reminds you that other people are as fallible as you are, softens being hard on yourself with compassion and helps you be self-compassionate, and makes you feel less alone and less a stranger in an often strange world. Next time you look to food as a best buddy, consider what it is you’re really seeking and call a friend or go out and make a new one.