In my late teens and through most of my 20s, I catapulted back and forth – sometimes daily – between lauding myself for my ability to follow super-strict food rules and hating myself for succumbing to out-of-control binge-eating.

For a girl who desperately wanted to be known as a “perfect healthy eater,” the frequent eating-8-cupcakes-in-one-sitting episodes provided more than enough evidence to prove my secret belief that when it came to food, I was an undisciplined, lazy-ass failure. I was constantly at war with myself.

If my default setting was undisciplined, lazy-ass failure, then being anything else meant bringing forth intense exertion to fight my “natural” impulses any time I was around food. It was hell.

And today, I’m grateful. Thank you, suffering, for showing me the way.

Because after years of unsuccessfully trying to overcome binge eating with willpower and frequent beatings from my inner critic, I finally realized my problem wasn’t that I wasn’t trying hard enough. My problem was the fact that I would never be able to hate myself into a version of myself that I’d love.

I needed to take a completely different approach.

One that traded self-flagellation for self-compassion. One that employed curiosity instead of shame. And slowly but surely, I did. Healing my relationship with food meant untangling the beliefs that were keeping me stuck.

The first beliefs I tackled related directly to food and body. I learned the science of why dieting doesn’t work and how it actually creates the perfect conditions for binge eating.

I realized how fat-phobic I was. I opened my eyes to the bigger picture and finally put healthy eating in its proper place, as one small piece of the self-care puzzle instead of the end-all, be-all measurement of my worth as a human being.

None of that was easy. But it was easier than what came next.

Because here’s what I’ve learned in four years as a Food Freedom Coach: as huge as food and body issues can feel – as much as they can overtake our lives when we’re in the midst of them – they are actually only the tip of the iceberg.

As it turns out, the real work – the deep, soul-shifting work – is tackling the journey of becoming who we really are.

This means learning to:

  • Feel our feelings (ALL of them)
  • Be present with discomfort
  • Say ‘yes’ when we mean ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when we mean ‘no’
  • Trust and believe in ourselves
  • Work with our inner critic instead of against her
  • Recognize the stories we tell ourselves and discern what’s true and what’s not
  • Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance
  • Proudly live a life that feels authentic to us instead of pretending to be someone we’re not.

Until we learn how to do these things, we will find ways to distract ourselves from the pain of self-betrayal. (Yes, self-betrayal. It’s a strong word that I’m using intentionally, because it IS self-betrayal to believe that we are not capable of doing hard things or that we are not worthy unless we change ourselves).

And if historically, our coping mechanism has been food, it’s likely that it will continue to be the first thing we reach for when the going gets tough.

Do you see why an approach to healing that only addresses food and body issues will have limited results?

True healing happens when we do the deep inner work of untangling untrue beliefs about ourselves. This almost always has to do with letting go of our stories about who we are versus who we think we “should” be, learning how to be present, and replacing self-doubt with self-trust.

In other words: the solution is to come home to ourselves. Looking back, it’s crystal-clear to me that my struggle with binge-eating was an incredible gift. The suffering that it created was a doorway to a level of self-discovery that I would never have dreamed possible.

Binge eating led me down a fulfilling career path as a heart-centered healer. It gave me colleagues, clients, and friends who have added incredible amounts of love and joy to my life. It helped me to see and own the fact that I’m a sensitive soul, a deep thinker and a truth seeker.

The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says “Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.” Thanks to binge eating, I’m well on my way. Inner freedom, here I come!

Annette Sloan

Annette Sloan

Food Freedom Coach

Annette helps smart and sensitive women and teen girls to make peace with food and their bodies.

Find out more here.