After an emotionally difficult morning, my husband and I sat looking at each other over our respective lunches. I asked him what he was thinking, as I am wont to do, and he said, "I want to make you happy." I told him that he makes me happy. Jogging on my mini trampoline makes me happy. Writing makes me happy. Talking to my friends makes me happy. Playing RPGs online makes me happy. Taking a walk makes me happy. Cooking makes me happy. Having new experiences makes me happy. Doing work (both house cleaning and paid work), oddly, makes me happy.
After I said these things, I happened to look down at the table and saw the "fun size" candy bar which I'd eaten half of and wrapped the remainder back up with a rubber band. I said, "this doesn't make me happy, but I enjoy it." At that moment, I realized that another fundamental change had taken hold with me. It was a long, long time coming, but an immense step forward. It's okay to enjoy food, but it shouldn't be one of the wells from which my happiness springs.
In past posts, I've talked about how food was often the part of any experience that I most looked forward to. I have talked about how it made me happier than anything else and that limiting its role in my life made my life feel dull and lifeless. The lights didn't shine so brightly. There was nothing to look forward to. There was an empty hole that used to be filled with the happiness food gave me, and with all of the pain I felt everyday from my body and my mind, it was extremely difficult to bear, especially in the earliest stages of trying to lose weight. At that time, I had no new sources of happiness or pleasure and the misery of all of my limits and physical pain.
For a very long time, there were only two things in life that made me happy - my husband and food. My husband couldn't fill my need for happiness alone. Food shouldered the rest of the burden. When I took that away, I asked more of him than even he could bear and we had problems.
Through time and mental conditioning, it seems I've reached a point whereby food has lost that central role in my life. I enjoy it, certainly. I'd still like to eat more than is required to maintain a desired body weight because I'm no fan of being hungry and hate to sit around waiting to eat. However, food is not a source of "happiness", but rather a source of "enjoyment." There is a big difference. One is the fulfillment of a deep psychological need. The other is sensory pleasure.
I never set out purposefully to change this, though I did try to remove food as a central focus in my life (hence the reason I stopped counting calories and measuring food once I had an awareness of portions and general calorie content). This was not a goal I purposefully set up but a consequence of a multitude of related goals and actions that included an alteration in habits, attitudes, and thought patterns. The most important of which, in my opinion, was slowly building my repertoire of alternate things that could make me happy. However, I think this was a million little switches being thrown at different times resulting in a light finally going on. This light was one which I didn't even realize existed.
One thing about behavioral change and especially mental change is that you can't do it on a dime. You can't say to yourself, "okay, today, I'm not going to allow something that has made me happy for decades to make me happy." You can't hate something you love and need out of your head. If that were true, no one would ever suffer unrequited love as they could banish their unwanted affection for another. It took a long time to get here and the things that bring me happiness now were rather dull colors in my daily life at first. I did them, but it took time and repetition for them to gain brightness and meaning, just as it took time for food to lose it's glow.
I think that finding happiness is integral to banishing a bad relationship with anything. I have been reviewing old correspondence with my boyfriend at the time (now husband) that I first lost a tremendous amount of weight just after college and I am talking to him about how falling in love with him made me stop thinking about food obsessively. I inaccurately say that the love made me stop, but it wasn't the love. It was the happiness. After a long separation, he and I finally were able to live together in his home state. When I moved there and experienced things which made me incredibly unhappy, I turned back to food for happiness. I had never changed this dynamic.
I can't say that food will never be a wellspring of happiness for me again. I can say that I'm happy that things are as they are now and I believe I have a strong foundation for not falling back into the food for happiness trap. Anything which brings you pleasure can once again assume a central role. I can say that having this experience and awareness is something I find comforting. I knew a lot about how I dealt with food 25 or so years ago, but I didn't know enough to stop me from sliding back into old patterns. This time, I'm hoping that when something difficult happens, I don't go back to overeating for my needs.