Eating [and Being] Alone

Confession: I am one of those people who knows that you should eat without distractions, and secretly whips out her computer for a new episode of White Collar during lunch or a book to read during breakfast.

I am one of those people who know what is good for them, but somehow thinks that they will be able to manage the impact of not following my own advice.

And so, I get all of track: ignoring my stomach grumbling and drinking coffee instead of eating breakfast, refusing to be alone – ever – by the tag-a-long presence of my smart phone, and watching TV during lunch. Dinner, if I have a proper dinner, dissolves into a series of snacks, without any vegetables, because, well, when eating “snacks,” I don’t feel the urgency to incorporate something green.

You already know the end of this story.

You already know that the cycle that I described above is dangerously close to the eating brink for me, and possibly, for you too.

And yet, even when I’m writing this post, there is a part of my brain that is whining: but eating without any entertainment isn’t any FUN. I’m going to be BORED. I don’t have the TIME. I don’t like being alone.

In examining the response of that part of my brain, I am so curious. Fun? Boring? Don’t have the time – to feed myself?!

And then, ahh, the ultimate of all ultimate confessions: I don’t like to be alone.

I have spend many, many moments of my life alone. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was bullied and deeply unpopular. My mother often let me stay home “sick.” When I was in high school I had so many secrets wrapped up around my closeted relationships that I didn’t let a soul in completely, for fear of losing the person that I thought loved me. When I graduated from college, not knowing what else to do, I returned home, with out a single friend and spent every evening with my Father and my dog – not technically alone, but…

More importantly, I have often felt alone when I am with other people. I have felt like I should shut up or sit down or make myself small, so that I won’t intimidate them or make them feel badly. I scared many friends away, because radiated a light of my own, living according to my own rules even when they diverged from the crowd.

I have been told, many times and in no uncertain terms, that I am too much and that I will never be loved for who I am.

I have been told to cover up my weirdness, my excitement, my passion, and my intellect, to become more palatable and easier to swallow.

And so, even though I know, now, that those things aren’t true – I still pull up a computer, Twitter, Facebook, a book, a magazine, Harry Potter books on CD, Pandora, TV, blog posts, whatever I can to distract me from the dis-ease of sitting here, doing nothing but spending time with myself.

I run a quick inventory: Do I think I’m worth spending time with? Yes. Do I like myself? Yes, for the most part. Do I know that I will better honor my body if I shut the computer down and ate my breakfast? Yup.

Why do I hate sitting here and eating quietly, in my own space and solitude?

Because it feels like a punishment.

It feels like only the bad kids have to eat alone, surrounded by the undying shame of their social stigma. It feels like being left at school for three hours, because your mother has forgotten you. It feels like something that people do who don’t have the social clout to command a crowd.

It feels like something that Ishouldn’t have to do, if it were true that I am a sweet person, with a beautiful heart. A person that people like,now, and want to have around. A person that contributes to the world around her, making things that are a beautiful as she possibly can. A person who tries to be kind to everyone.

Sitting alone, eating in solitude, doesn’t feel like something a good person should have to do, because good people are a pleasure to be around. They have friends! They get invited to parties! They love their lives!

This revelation represents the deepest, most heart-clenched core of my relationship with food – that teensy place in my body where a little girl curls up with fists balled and eyes shut, praying to be loved by the world around her. It is that little girl whose heart is broken, a product of her childhood circumstances. It is that little girl who deserves all of my love and compassion.

But it’s not food that little girl is after.

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15 thoughts on “Eating [and Being] Alone”

  1. I’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering about this very thing for myself. Why do I want to watch TV or be online when I’m eating? For a long time, I thought it was because I didn’t want to be alone with myself. But the behaviour continues even after I feel okay with being in silence, alone.

    While in the past, I might have distracted myself while eating to avoid being with myself, today, I find that I do it because that’s really the only time I do watch TV. I also find that I maintain a pretty good sense of still being with myself even when distracted – there’s always gears turning and the mere act of eating keeps me anchored in my body.

    I’ve had too long in my life where I’m not connected, and now it appears that the connection is stable enough (most of the time) that I can do two things at once without being in danger of falling into mindless eating habits again. It’s taken me a long time on a hard road to get here, but I’m so grateful for that journey.

  2. This couldn’t come at a better time, Mara. I was just drinking up my breakfast smoothie while reading this (ooops…). I agree – eating alone represents being alone, and for a lot of people, no one wants to be alone. It feels scary and hopeless. I get like that sometimes, too. I also think that eating is not that important so I might as well save time and catch up on my favorite show/blog posts/to-do list so that I don’t waste any time in my day. But it’s all so silly!

  3. I really identify with a lot of what you are writing about. I crave alone time, but after awhile… it’s too much, and that’s when I used to binge back in the day. Eating without distraction is a major issue for me. I’m sure I will be ready to tackle it soon. Right now I’m just enjoy the peaceful place I’m in currently with food.

  4. It’s so hard to figure out the “why”s sometimes! I also hate eating without distraction. I’m not sure if it’s for the same reasons, but this has helped me start to figure it out. For me, eating and reading (or watching TV/Internet) is the ultimate zone-out where I don’t have to think of anything else. I’m trying to incorporate more non-eating zone-out activities into my life, and also figure out how to not get anxious/bored/etc. when eating alone.

  5. My heart just broke into a thousand pieces solely because this entire piece is so, so recognizable. I struggle with this immensely; just eating and not doing anything else. I know that’s what I should do, and I realise my body will thank me for it, and that it will leave me more peaceful and more at ease than when I distract myself, and still… Rarely do I eat a meal like that. It’s always with the tv on, the laptop open, a magazine,… Whatever fills in the spot of ‘distraction’. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in this.

  6. I have tried to settle into this lesson before (eat mindfully, without distraction) so many times. And yet somehow I still perpetually find myself doing exactly the opposite. Sitting with my smart phone while eating a delicious meal. Or terrified to be alone with my thoughts while I’m eating something I may want or not want to actually eat. I think you just brought something to the surface for me about exactly “WHY” that may be. And that may just be the thing to bring that lesson home for me…thank you.

  7. I do the same thing sometimes! I know it’s better to be more mindful while eating and to not multitask, but I honestly enjoy starting my day with an episode of “The Office” or some morning talk show while eating my bowl of cereal.

  8. You know…I never thought about the idea that, even though I am technically alone, I am not alone when I am engaged with the internet (FB, blogs, Twitter…). I fully recognize that I have replaced binge eating with bingeing on the internet.

  9. Hahaha, like Hannah, I was reading this while eating. 🙂 Thank you, Mara for always stickin’ it to me in all the right ways and with gentleness. It wasn’t until spending 4 months in Indonesia that I realized how wonderful it is to sit and eat in a quiet place and take at least 30 minutes to eat a meal. In Indonesia meals were prepared in the morning and left out for you to take and eat alone whenever you chose to eat throughout the day. I had a small table outside on my porch where I would sit, eat, and watch birds and insects – I was still busying myself but also able to be aware of appreciating the nourishment I was giving my body and more aware of when I was satisfied. It has been hard to keep that in practice now that I’m back home, but I’ve been reminded once again that it is necessary. Thank you.

  10. So very profound, you get to the very root of it. I am guilty of all of those scenarios when eating. Guilty of thinking that I am not worthy of food and a decent meal because I am single and its so hard to cook for just one. We don’t want to be alone, I am already alone most of the time. Just that bit of reprieve from ones mind, but it truly is running away from the self. And if you can’t be with your self, how can you expect others to be with you… Lots to contemplate with this post. Thank you Mara! I am so grateful to have found your blog!

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