We’ve all been there. We’ve had a rough day and cannot stop eating because the food feels so comforting. Bingeing can make us feel like we’ve escaped from our woes for a little bit, but it is not a way to face our problems. Geneen Roth, author of THIS MESSY MAGNIFICENT LIFE, shares how we can fill that emptiness in a healthy way.
I am sitting at the kitchen table enraptured with a bowl of tomato soup. Not just any tomato soup: mine has crushed tomatoes, coconut milk, sea salt, parsley, a dash of coconut oil, and honey. (If you try it at home, blend to a thick consistency, add some thyme, pepper, and cloves.) I look down at the bowl: a nip, not even a spoonful, is left. Although I’m no longer hungry, I still want more. Not of the tomato soup but of rapture. I am like my retreat student Uma, who said, “I feel bereft when I’m full because I can’t think of one thing, not one, that is better than what’s in my mouth. And so I keep eating to avoid the ending of goodness.”
And therein lies the problem, not just with food but with all things temporal. Every meal disappears, every vacation ends, dogs and cats (not to mention a raft of people we love) die before we do, and we are old ten minutes after we are rosy-cheeked, dewy-faced children. Bummer.
Bingeing—consistently eating beyond enough—is a way to not have to face that what we love ends.
I look back down at my might-as-well-be-empty bowl; I think again of my students and their reluctance, which is now my reluctance, to stop eating. Putting the spoon down feels like falling into the crack between worlds, like the ending of every relationship I didn’t want to end, like being cut loose from the mother ship.
I went to a friend’s memorial service the other day. When his wife of forty-two years spoke, she said, “He was here and now he’s not. I just can’t believe a person could disappear like this.” Later she told me that she’d gained ten pounds since he died. “Chocolate ice cream helps,” she said. “Eating gives me something to do. And it gives me something to feel besides grief. I walk around feeling very full. Empty but also full.”
As I listened to her, I realized that every time we stop eating when our bodies have had enough, we face a little death. We face emptiness, zip, even for a second. Which is of course why people find bingeing (i.e., not stopping) so helpful, albeit excruciating. Bingeing—consistently eating beyond enough—is a way to not have to face that what we love ends.
Today, at least, I put the spoon down and decide not to take a second helping. I sit at the table listening to the silence, the space between eating and not eating. Between one breath and another. And in the quiet, which is another name for emptiness, I hear the sound of the wind in the live oak trees. I look up from the table and see the sun illuminating a square patch of kitchen floor. The background birdsong suddenly becomes foreground, and I realize once again that jewels are scattered everywhere, not just at the table. And only when I stop eating do I hear or see or know them.