Lunch was a huge slice of pizza, eaten hurriedly in the car as I completed my errands. I devoured the cheesy, saucy goodness and savored the flavors. Chewy crust. Red sauce, tangy, with hints of garlic and oregano. Spicy pepperoni and sausage anchored by melted mozzarella, nestled with squeaky mushrooms and slightly bitter bell peppers. Tasty, drool worthy pizza.
I am still trying to lose the weight that snuck on my belly and hips while I was distracted by the Christmas holiday celebrations. Over a year ago. But I figured with careful caloric budgeting the rest of the day, I could eat the pizza and still end up below my calorie limit to lose weight.
A couple of hours after lunch as I puttered around my house, my stomach gurgled. “Feed me,” it complained.
Self-control turned her head and looked awkwardly out the window. There has been no fight in her lately.
I headed for the kitchen thinking about what sort of tasty—healthy of course–treat I could scrounge up. Out of nowhere, a thought edged its way into my head and stopped me in my tracks.
“You aren’t hungry, you are empty.”
Oh. I stood in the hall, my quest for edible companionship forgotten, and chewed on that morsel. Truth, harsh but loving resonates there. Perspective interjected into my snack-obsessed brain.
Immediately my stomach ceased grumbling and peace settled over me.
I’m lonely. Not hungry. Food cannot fill that void. Feeling stuffed won’t satisfy my need for friendship.
I’m no stranger to the idea that God cares about my struggles with food. And I was not unaware that various stress triggers regularly send me to the kitchen rummaging for something, anything that would keep my feelings at bay for a little bit.
Comfort food. The stuff mom made. Although if it were strictly that, I’d be eating soggy fish sticks and boxed mac and cheese when I’m anxious, sad, or lonely. I assure you, those are not the things I reach for.
Researchers theorize that comfort food reminds us of simpler times and connects us to people in our past…like mom. With the chaos adulthood brings, the responsibilities and pressures we face, it’s no wonder we sometimes want to take a culinary magic carpet ride back in time when all we were asked to do was set the table.
Expectations. Obligations. Failed relationships. Kids that refuse to be perfect in spite of our imperfect parenting. These things can send us in search of some sort of stress neutralizer. Food. Alcohol. Shopping. Even exercise.
The thing about these external stress relievers though, is they don’t work. There’s no more than a fleeting sense of “yum” when I stuff myself. What I usually feel after I turn to food for comfort is regret and shame.
Anxiety and uncertainty have been steady companions for the last couple of years. As my weight increased and I found myself unable to lose it through exercise and a fairly healthy diet I began to notice how often I turned to food to meet emotional needs. It’s not at all ironic or surprising that as my jeans, um, shrank I didn’t feel any comfort or pleasure in how I was dealing with my stress.
My snack attacks are triggered by a number of things. A demanding email from my ex-husband, a power struggle with my young adult son. And always, always anxiety churning in my stomach.
I was stress eating. I knew that. But until I realized I wasn’t hungry but empty, I felt powerless to alter how I coped with my negative emotions. Food fills my belly. But it can’t fulfill me.
Armed with that revelation I turned to God’s promises.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he heads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” (Psalm 68:5-6)
I don’t understand what I am going through. Why I am lonely. Why this stuff is so hard. But God is my defender. He will set me in a family. My emotional struggles are not too small or insignificant for God.
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:5-6
Those days when my emotions threaten to overrun me…this is what I need to remember. Deep in my soul. My hope comes from God alone.
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet; so he guided them to their desired haven.” Psalm 107:28-30
I can find God on this side of that handful of chocolate chips. When I turn to prayer instead of to food, I find comfort in God’s promises.
And God’s promises won’t make my jeans shrink.