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In this episode of Women In-Depth, Karly Randolph Pitman and I explore the parts of ourselves that tend to overeat in response to stress through the metaphor of “Food as Mother” and how this perspective can help us understand why we overeat and move towards changing this behavior.

Karly is the founder and facilitator at www.growinghumankindness. She helps highly sensitive people who struggle with shame, sugar, and perfectionism and who want to heal painful habits of self blame, self criticism, and over consuming.  

Growing human(kind)ness arose from two things:  Karly’s own experience with 20 years of multiple eating disorders, chronic depression, shame, and anxiety; and from bearing witness to others’ stories of challenge, growth and rebirth. 

Karly lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Patrick and her family of two dogs, a very frisky cat, lots of dust bunnies, and beautiful oak trees.

Topics discussed in this episode: 

  • How food has become a refuge during the Covid-19 pandemic (3:58)
  • Food and the Mother archetype (4:56)
    • Food is safe, nourishing & comforting (5:16)
  • Food as Mother as a metaphor for our relationship with food
  • The significance of core needs
  • Overeating as soul preservation  (9:17)
    • Listening & connecting to the side of ourselves that is seeking solace in food (9:44)
    • Moving away from thinking of overeating as the enemy (9:56)
    • Tending and befriending rather than fighting (10:06)
    • How this approach helped Karly move away from shame regarding her eating disorder (10:22)
    • The shift in our approach to a challenging aspect of ourselves shifts our relationship to that aspect of ourself and plays a huge part in changing the behavior (11:45)
  • Our coping mechanisms for stress, overwhelm & trauma can be messy (12:29)
    • Stand in contrast to the Western culture of controlling your own destiny (13:08)
    • Can cause you to dislike your response to stress (13:31)
      • Examples: 
        • Eating when you are stressed (13:31)
        • Binge watching Netflix (13:36)
  • Understanding the base human need for connection (14:15)
  • Dr. Anita Johnston’s book “Eating by the Light of the Moon” (15:07)
    • How the kinds of food we are eating reflect the kind of nourishment we are seeking 
  • Recognizing the wisdom of the body’s desires for a particular food (16:42)
    • How sugar or comfort foods can make you feel heard, understood & acknowledged (17:03)
  • The risk that of not being heard or understood when you ask someone for support (17:47)
    • How the act of eating is used to fill the need for empathy (18:20) 
    • How the food reflects back what we are feeling and needing (18:45)
    • How food does not carry the same risk as someone dismissing or minimizing your feelings (19:09)
    • Yet food does not meet the need for connection (20:03)
    • Food becomes a safe substitute for meeting your needs (20:36)
  • How to transition from using food for connection to finding safe connections within ourselves and others (21:27)
    • Very different from breaking a habit (21:46)
    • Focus moves away from changing a behavior to nurturing safety within your being and others (22:12)
    • Deepening connections within yourself and the wider world (22:36)
    • Food becomes one of many ways for connection rather than the primary way (22:50)
  • Becoming consciously aware of the part of yourself that is overeating and your internal critic (24:11)
    • How Karly’s focus on self-compassion brings you into a loving and nourishing relationship with that part of yourself (24:47)
  • How connecting to the Mother archetype helped Karly (25:04)
    • Ideas for connecting with the Mother archetype
      • Gardening, caring for pets, relationships with loved ones (25:43)
  • Seeing your needs as sacred (26:16)
    • Befriending your neediness and healing your relationship with food are intimately connected (26:38)
    • Acknowledging our needs can be shaming (26:56)
    • When we have shame regarding our needs, there is no way to acknowledge them directly (27:21)
    • We can use food to fill the deficit, but we continue to feel unnourished, deprived and unprotected (27:21)
    • Having a different relationship with our needs often changes our relationship to receiving (27:55)
    • Being a place of receiving can be very vulnerable if we’ve been shamed for our needs in the past (28:11)
    • The risks in asking for help (29:43)
  • Karly & Lourdes’ work with Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) (30:41)
    • HSPs are more attuned to their needs and feelings (30:51)
    • Can create shame in a culture that isn’t attuned to feeling or emotion (31:06)
    • For HSPs, food can become a way of receiving mothering (31:30)
    • Asking for your needs to be met can be risky, but it’s the way forward to receive the help and support that feeds and nourishes us (32:00)
    • Suggestion for personal practice: Asking yourself and your loved ones, “What do you need?” (32:57)
      • Can make the person responding to the question feel very vulnerable (34:03)
      • Allow the person responding time to process before answering (34:29)
  • Some beginning steps to help someone working with overeating (36:44)
    • Consider overeating as a prayer in disguise (37:07)
      • It’s a part of yourself asking for help (37:19)
      • Pause and ask yourself: What are you feeling? What are you needing? (37:48)
    • Karly offers a free tool: The Binge Rescue worksheet (38:16)

Resources:

Karly Randolph Pitman’s website: https://growinghumankindness.com/ 

Karly’s courses: https://growinghumankindness.com/courses/ 

The Binge Rescue worksheet: https://growinghumankindness.com/binge-rescue/ 

Dr. Anita Johnston’s website: https://dranitajohnston.com/eating-in-the-light-of-the-moon/ 

Dr. Johnson’s previous episodes:

Episode 59: Cracking the Hunger Code Through Storytelling and Metaphor with Anita Johnston, Ph.D.