My pain is my guide

We are human, and as beautiful humans, we are pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding.  It’s natural.

But what if, to avoid pain, I seek some pleasure, which then creates more pain?  We use a substance that we know to be pleasurable.  And we get the immediate hit – the dopamine rush of expectation – This is going to be so yummy!  Our tongues are tantalised by the deliberately engineered combination of fat, sugar and salt, a shit-storm of chemicals which leave us wanting more and more.  The taste, texture, smell overwhelms our senses, we are transported to another reality.  All is well and good, we are consumed in our eating experience.  And then comes the pain…

-the dry throat

-the distended belly

-the bloat

-the painful trapped gas

-the tension around the abdomen

-the hot sweats

…name your symptom!


This week, I was powerfully reminded that pain is a wonderful and expert teacher.  A guide, sent to show us the way back to comfortable eating.

On Monday, I overate.  I was amazed at the sensations I created in my belly – tightness, tension, a deep hurting that called me down, down, into the belly.  I was grateful for these feelings.  I was grateful because I knew that staying with them would keep me safe from eating more than I needed.

In the past, I may have ignored or disassociated from these feelings.  Distracted myself, keeping busy, ignoring the call of my belly.  But not today.  Today, my belly and I have been through hours and hours of “I eat what I need” groups and workshops, mindful yoga, guided mediations, mindfulness courses, podcasts, TED talks, reading, journalling, doodling, blog writing, video making, dancing, breathing…  My belly and I, we are buddies now, and I don’t abandon her when she calls me.

My belly was asking for me to lie down, breathe, and create space.  My belly was asking for hydration, oxygen, and no food whatsoever.  My belly was hurting, and I was listening.

Deep listening means picking up on subtler sensations.  So I kept listening, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday and today, Friday.  And I found that my belly was still hurting.  Not in a screaming, agony, painful way.  But during the evening, on each day, my belly told me unequivocally – I’m tight, I’m tense, and I’m best left alone.  Which meant no dinner for me, on any of these days.

And I was so glad of this pain in my belly, which had shown me indisputably where my attention needed to go, and what behaviour needed to follow.  It had guided me, easily and clearly, to eating what I needed, without having to use willpower, restraint, or cajoling.  What I also found was, after a while, that it was no longer pain at all.  It was sensation, and pain and sensation are very different.

Pain is something we want to get rid of.  Something to flee, to escape, to numb.  Sensation is something we can become interested in.  Something to explore, be curious about, investigate.

Sensation is your no-bullshit, say-it-how-it-is, direct and honest friend.  There is no arguing with sensation, no tactful conversation to be had.  This is hurting me.  I’m telling you that.  So listen, yeah?

Sensation isn’t interested in your excuses.  I can’t deal with this right now because…  I just have to keep numbing this feeling because…  I can’t change because…  The cycle of self-abuse continues, the suffering escalates, and the coping mechanism we once used to manage our lives becomes completely unmanageable.  We can forgive ourselves if we find ourselves in this cycle.  It’s OK.  You’re not alone.  Go to an IEWIN group, you’ll find a beautiful tribe of conscious eaters, ready to embrace your story, and all the times you’ve fallen down the same hole.

Befriend the uncomfortable sensations in your body.  Ask them to show you what behaviour would ease the intensity of the discomfort.  More food, on top of a bloated, distended stomach?  Really?  Or are the sensations calling for warmth, comfort, rest, lying down?

I welcome you, uncomfortable sensation.  I am grateful that you came here, into my body, to show me how to live more comfortably.  Show me the way.  I am listening.

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