From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Chocolate Is Not the Enemy

He can inspire a group only if he himself is filled with confidence and hope of success.

Floyd V. Filson

It wasn’t yet 7:00 in the morning and already I was chain-eating lime chili tortilla chips. I stood at the kitchen counter, emotionally hung-over from yet another fight with my boyfriend. I was crunching the anger, salting the wounds. Crunching and salting with bites of chocolate for good measure. I couldn’t stop. Even the tortilla chip bag had a wickedly furious crinkle. I couldn’t eat fast enough to block the tension of not wanting to abandon my relationship, not knowing how to go on. I was broken, a whir of helplessness, powerlessness. This echoed my drinking days. Twelve years I’d been sober. How did I get this way with food? This had to stop. Had to stop! What had been an occasional binge followed by days of deprivation had become a near-daily nightmare.

A prayer flashed through my mind, one that my friend Marti Matthews shares in her book, Pain: The Challenge and the Gift. It goes like this: “Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!” Which, she suggests, can be repeated with hands thrown in the air.

I repeated it silently all the way to a breakfast with one of my best friends, a bearer of wonders and wise words. While I collected myself, she whipped out a flyer from her bag and slapped it on my empty plate. “Taking Your Own Shape: Explore Your Relationship with Food and Body,” it said.

What? Oh my God. The most important part of praying for help is recognizing it when it arrives. Darn, I’d have to go.

The class was intimate and scary. Six women sitting on couches. That first night, I felt like someone who’d arrived from another planet with a “Waiting for Instructions” note pinned to my soul. Please tell me what to do and when to do it. Give me the whole calories in/calories out regime with a few collages thrown in to express my creativity and no one will get hurt. Now!

Instead, we talked. And we listened. We talked about our bodies—what it felt like to live in them.We shared our love and lack of love for others and ourselves. We set no weight-loss goals.We suffered no weekly weigh-ins or calculations of the foods we ate, and in what proportions. Got no stickers for eating right. Or scowls for eating wrong.

In fact, Dr. Becky Coleman, our teacher, said there was no right or wrong, only alive and less alive. She needn’t have told us. She radiated acceptance. She embodied an invitation to a whole new level of living that was spacious and expressive. She’d weighed 300 pounds, not once, but twice. Eight years ago, she lost 170 pounds and has never found them again.

How strange. My body was a Frankenstein to me, out of control, hunted and feared by the villagers. Becky practiced compassionate experimentation. Explore your weight. Don’t condemn it. Perhaps hunger was a message from your deep, wise self. What if your body generously expressed what you were afraid to? Well, if my body was speaking, it was mumbling, that’s for sure. Maybe because its mouth was full.

One evening we introduced our “Favorite Food Friends” to each other. A vegetarian brought a huge plate of steak and french fries. I showed my old faithful Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream. Chocolate-covered peanut butter–filled pretzels tucked into vanilla ice cream. I’d met Chubby Hubby years ago when my then live-in boyfriend moved away. It was everything: salty, crunchy, soft, sweet. Thanks to Ben and Jerry’s planet-friendly ethics, I could save myself and the world at the same time.

“You say you crave variety,” said Becky. “Interesting variety in that carton.” She invited us to experiment with our food friends. Did we reach for them in anger? Sorrow? What would happen if we held the tension that triggered the craving just for a moment?

The next time Chubby Hubby called, I paused with spoon in hand. I let my body experience the ache for peace with my lover. Then I ate the ice cream.

Instead of slapping my thighs and cursing my willpower, I became curious. So there really were emotions trying to emerge between bites. My body relished the pauses from chips and chocolate. Attention at last! I began to enjoy feeling fluid and elegant instead of leaden. Twenty pounds fell away. Discovering that my cravings, my clenched heart, my anxious belly had answers for me was like being lost and panicky in the woods and discovering the trees could speak. Now when trees speak, I listen.

Jan Henrikson

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