True Comfort

I’m writing this on a red-eye flight coming home from San Francisco. My husband and I flew out to join family in celebrating the brilliant life, and mourning the premature death, of 28 year-old Brian Thompson. The weekend was just what it should have been—a time of intense bonding, grieving, and love. Brian’s gigantic heart and wicked wit were brought to life again and again throughout a service that was poignant, tender, and frankly gut-wrenching.

It was harder than usual for me to stick with the Bright Lines this weekend. And I guess that’s natural. People around me were eating up a storm. And I guess that’s natural, too. There were many times when I came face-to-face with the thought that, “I used to eat over this.”

“This” being THIS FEELING.

In a Mexican restaurant, with family tension and chaos swirling around me, I stared at my too-soon-empty plate and scraped it with my fork over and over, wanting to find some kind of reprieve in putting that tiny bit of flavor on my tongue.

After the service, which was held at 2 p.m. (not lunchtime and not dinnertime, and therefore not eating time for me) I really REALLY wanted to partake of the massive buffet, and especially the three cakes that we were encouraged to eat up, because it would have been so much easier to lose myself in the food.

I didn’t eat.

Instead I focused on the people and spent time with them, one by one. I offered my shoulders to lift some tiny bit of the crushing weight off of Brian’s dad, mom, sister, and brother. I saw their eyes soften and brighten for those moments.

Then, earlier today, as I strolled down Pier 39 with my husband and brother-in-law on an uncharacteristically warm, clear, and sparkly January day in San Francisco, I felt the tug of desire to have something doughy and sweet to eat as I walked, like so many tourists around me. I quickly snapped my mind shut from those thoughts and redirected my attention to the shops, and the loveliness of the air.

Eating in restaurants meal after meal takes its toll. Gauging portions is hard and I am prone to eating too much. I am more peaceful when I can use my digital food scale for most of my meals.

Grieving is hard. It’s easier to feel happy and coast along with the world making sense.

Navigating interpersonal relationships can be tricky. I’m powerless over other people and how they handle situations. I only get to determine my half.

I think what I wanted all weekend was to use food as a crutch. Essentially, I yearned to find comfort in food.

But mindlessly eating a bunch of junk so I can check out of life isn’t really comforting.

It’s numbing, and in a way it really works (at least for that moment), but it’s a far cry from true comfort.

And because I personally am not a person who can recover quickly when I turn to food for comfort, because that one indulgence that I tell myself I “deserve” cascades into a snowball of obsession and desperation that most people simply don’t experience and can’t relate to, I must choose a different outlet for my momentary reprieves. I must stick with the Bright Lines or I simply do not get to live the life I live now.

So. All this raises a question that every Bright Line Eater must learn to answer for him or herself:

Where can I find comfort now that I’m not using excess food as a crutch?

What does true comfort look like?

We’re all different, so I don’t know what true comfort looks like for you. But I can share some of the things that have worked for me.

I don’t have to go back very far.

Just earlier this month, when I found out about the passing of my cherished friend Anna, and then 18 hours later learned about Brian, I didn’t think about eating at all. Surrounded by the familiarity of home and my normal mealtime routines, I instinctively sought comfort in more deeply nourishing places.

I retreated to my bedroom. I turned on the electric mattress pad and crawled under the covers with a hot water bottle on my tummy. I looked out the window at the trees, and over to a candle I had lit in memoriam that reflected in the mirror above my dresser.

I peeled and chopped a bunch of carrots so they would be ready to roast up for dinner.

I took a hot bath.

I called a friend.

And then another.

I cuddled with my teddy bear.

I doted on my kids and gave them the attention they so crave.

I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

I let myself slow down. All the way down.

I cried some more.

I congratulated myself for feeling the appropriate feelings at the appropriate time. I recognized that the grieving I was doing was my insurance policy against mysterious explosions coming out sideways at some future time, or perhaps the sudden need to go back to therapy.

I paid special attention to doing the things that keep me balanced and centered. Like exercising regularly, and meditating every morning.

I got down on my hands and knees, buried my forehead in the carpet, and talked to God.

I sat up, took out my favorite prayer book, and intoned fervent prayers for the happiness and progress of Brian and Anna’s souls in the next world.

Food is fuel, but it’s so much more than that. It’s comfort, connection, a friend, a crutch.

That’s normal and natural, and, for most people, completely and utterly harmless. But some of us have a history of hurting ourselves with food, and ours is the job of finding new, textured, deeply fulfilling ways of finding comfort and connection without bending our elbows and putting that fork in our mouth yet again.

It’s a process of discovery. It’s a necessity. And it’s a gift.

With love,

Susan

P.S. — What comforts you? Let’s start a community list! Scroll down and leave a comment. I can’t wait to learn some new tricks 🙂

Comments

  1. Linden Morris Delrio

    First and foremost , I would like to offer my sincere and warmest consolations for your loss Susan. How heartbreaking-ly sad.

    I do many of the things that you listed for comfort. As I continue to establish a routine in my new way of eating I am reminded that the new things I am doing; an established routine of checks and balances centered around Bright Line Eating, add up to a lot of comfort. It’s the comfort in not having to sweat the detail of a daily routine, knowing how much and when I will be eating, checking off my check list of numerous things I do in a day to keep me moving in the direction “I” want to be moving in. I’m not after crazed decision making, fueled by emotions rocketing up and down due to insulin swings and too dense un-nutritious food. Now I reap the benefits of a planned, well thought out Eating Plan. Along with that comes a general peace of mind and a way to manage myself when I start to spill over the sides, since, lets face it, life is never seamless nor without its vicissitudes. All of this adds up to “long term ” comfort unlike ” my life before; where most days were a revisitation of some kind of version of Groundhog Day, where I failed miserably on controlling or managing a healthy food intake and everything other emotional problem that is sure to come with eating badly. I know if I stay the course with my routines, and they really are routines of “Comfort,” that I will experience Happy Thin and Free in my new Ground Hog day! That’s a lot of ongoing Comfort!

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Yes, Linden! Three cheers for a NEW KIND OF GROUNDHOG DAY!!!

      (Simply brilliant!!!)

      Lovelove,
      Susan

      Reply ·
  2. Mellena Carlyss Kess

    Susan,
    Thank you for nuggets, no, BIG CHUNKS, of truth and wisdom! Thank you for your transparency … and sharing your gift!
    As always, you are in my prayers.♡

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Thank you, Mellena. Sending you love and prayers back!

      xox
      Susan

      Reply ·
  3. Shawn

    Love this, Susan, and know it all well. Since I’ve been challenged lately to eat addictive foods and eat them ‘NOW’ around three main areas (shoulder pain, stomach acid, and stories about feeling overwhelmed or clueless in business).

    My comforting rituals are often the same as yours, but aren’t working so well right now, so your post was a good reminder that the comfort from food ‘ISN’T’ and usually creates even more need for comfort! Reminds me to do a practice that involved questioning the thinking behind my emotional reactions (even to pain) and that really DOES work for me, that shifts everything, that brings calm, clariy, and good choices……

    And I haven’t been letting myself fall into the really LASTING comfort in this re-wiring as aspect of my thinking in this way (and having fun with it–it’s almost like a game). Grateful to you for the reminder that I DO know how to turn it over, that food isn’t the answer, that a truer kind of comfort is what I’m really seeking.

    🙂 Shawn

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Thompson

      Shawn, you bring up such an important aspect of comfort, and that’s the comfort of feeling a measure of control over our thoughts, and having a process for challenging unwanted and unhelpful thinking patterns, and even (wowza!) making a game out of reclaiming our mind from the Saboteur! You are the MASTER at this, and I’m so delighted to give you a high five as you return to this practice around your eating. Huzzah!

      xoxox
      Susan

      Reply ·
  4. Mary Lynn Reichelt

    “Blessed our those who mourn for they shall be comforted” You allowed yourself to mourn and you allowed yourself to be comforted. Not destructive but healing…. Thank you for sharing this.
    I find great comfort and healing in God’s art (nature). Especially if there is silence and few or no humans around

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Absolutely, Mary Lynn. This past summer I climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. I spent summers in Yosemite as a kid, and whenever I return to the grandeur of God’s creation I am filled with the truest, most powerful comfort and succor I have ever known. xoxox

      Reply ·
  5. Molly

    Susan, this is so beautiful. I am sending lots of love as you feel and grieve these big losses.
    Molly

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Thank you, Molly. (((((((HUG)))))))

      Reply ·
  6. David

    Thank you,for your work writing these pieces. They have been very helpful to me.I love to hear other people’s experiences with spiritual growth. I am very comforted in the presence of water,and the act of getting to the water,and getting out on the water is especially good for me. I crave practical active manifestations of the solution to my problems,so thanks again for the list.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      You’re welcome, David! Thank you for reading! And what a terrific addition to the list. WATER. Floating. Being buoyed up. Being supported. Nurtured. Love it.

      Reply ·
  7. Eleanor

    Sitting here getting ready to go into a breakfast conference (with my abstinent meal packed and ready in case what they’re serving is for normal earthlings) and finding so much comfort and inspiration to stay the course. Glad I waited to have time to digest this. Thank you, Susan.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Sending you blessings, Eleanor!!! xoxox

      Reply ·
  8. Jule

    Comforts: cozy slippers, silence, music, hot & fragrant bubble baths, high energy workouts, prayer, prayer & more prayer, getting to a meeting, reading some literature, affirmations. Sorry for your loss, Susan.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Silence. Cozy slippers. Prayer. Enough said.

      Reply ·
  9. Joseph Fleischman

    Susan, what a touching post! I hope that my experience with comfort can add to the conversation.

    One of the best ways I’ve found for finding comfort is to walk away from it. What can that possibly mean? Well, it is slightly involved.

    For children, time moves very slowly. For old folks, it moves very fast. The older we get, the faster it moves. Have you ever wondered how that works? I have, and my answer is that the speed of time depends on new experiences. The younger we are, the more new experiences we have, and conversely, the older we get the fewer our new experiences. When we are born every experience is new, and by the time we get old, new experiences are far and few between.

    This is no minor thing, for slowing time is akin to having found the fountain of youth. How many times have we heard old folks wonder where the time went, or how it got so late and so fast? As we get older, time passes faster, to the point that when we get old, the passage of time whizzes so fast as to almost escape notice.

    Interacting with this is the tendency to seek greater comfort as we age. And because there is comfort in doing what is tried and true, in our quest for greater comfort, we sacrifice gaining new experiences. The older we get, the more comfort we tend to seek, thus the fewer our new experiences and the faster our passage of time.

    For me, the greatest comfort of all is to feel strong and youthful. In order to gain that higher value for myself, I escape my familiar and comfortable place in Missoula and travel to new places. In travel, I find new experiences and can even cherish the discomfort that often accompanies them. Because when I do that, time moves slowly and I am nourished by an exotic elixir taken from the fountain of youth.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      I’ve thought deeply about the reason that time speeds up for us as we age, and have come to the same conclusion as you. With familiarity comes automaticity, and when processes are automatic in the brain, they, by definition, do not need to be attended to. With age, life gets lived on auto-pilot more and more, and this causes the perception of time to speed up, as less and less is truly experienced. This hypothesis is bolstered by the reflection that at certain times in adult life time seems to slow down again, even to the same creeping speeds that are experienced in early childhood. Those times are when nearly everything that is done and experienced is new again. For example, right after the birth of one’s first baby. When my twins Alexis and Zoe were in the NICU fighting for their lives, weighing under 1 pound, 7 ounces each, those 117 days took a lifetime to experience. And for me, when I got clean-and-sober, time slowed down and the first few months felt like an eternity. I love your suggestion that travel can trigger the same “everything is new and time is paying a visit” feeling. Bravo!

      Reply ·
      1. Dolores

        I love what you have both said about time.

        Reply ·
  10. Jeanene

    Susan, I, too, want to send condolences for your losses. While I have too often turned to food for comfort, I do find real comfort in many of the same ways as others–prayer; music; the beauty of nature; a warm, cozy blanket; a bubble bath; and journaling.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

      Thanks, Jeanene. I love your comforts. So soul-nourishing. Hugs!

      Reply ·
  11. Hortensia

    So sorry to hear of your loss.
    I like to comfort myself with some alone time and cry if I need to. When I first moved to Los Angeles and I felt overwhelmed I would go out for a run and cry as I ran. No one to answer to, no one to tell me it’s okay. I just needed the space and needed to get that anxiety that I felt, out. 30 years later, I cope or rather comfort myself very similarly. If I’m home bound because I’m the only parent home I go out to the yard and do something repetitive and just let it out- cry if I must. Otherwise I go for a walk and occasionally an easy run.

    When my brother passed away almost 15 years ago, my coping method was put to a challenge. It was not as effective. I really struggled at the beginning. I ended up getting professional help and as a result I started practicing yoga. I practice yoga most days. It’s my comfort zone. It’s about me, for me.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

      Hortensia,

      I really resonate with your post. I often just cry as well. Sometimes for me crying is as much about relieving stress as about feeling sadness or grief.

      I love what you wrote about yoga. When I was growing up my mom was a yoga teacher. I did yoga as a kid. I haven’t done too much of it as an adult, though. I have a feeling that yoga and I are going to have a lovely reuniting at some point in my adult years….

      xoxox
      Susan

      Reply ·
  12. Stephanie B

    First of all, I am so sorry for the loss of your loved ones.

    My friend has been posting about you and bright line eating for several weeks now. I finally watched the videos and cried. It was as if you were talking directly to me. The line in this blog, “And because I personally am not a person who can recover quickly when I turn to food for comfort, because that one indulgence that I tell myself I “deserve” cascades into a snowball of obsession and desperation that most people simply don’t experience and can’t relate to” is something I deal with often. For me to listen to someone talk about the life they lived and how they changed it, a life that sounds so similar to mine, is very encouraging. I have PCOS, and with it, insulin resistance. It has been very difficult for me to lose weight for the better part of a decade, and I feel like a failure all the time. It has gotten to the point that I figure, what is the point in even trying? Then I heard what you had to say, and it just clicked. I am going to start right now, and hopefully this change in my life will help me too. Thank you for taking your time to help people, and I hope I will soon be able to write to you again with a success story.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

      Awwww, Stephanie. I want you to know that I am doing this for YOU.

      God bless you.

      Please let me know if there’s ANYTHING I can do to help you on your journey. I’m only an email away.

      Susan@BrightLineEating.com

      xoxox
      Susan

      Reply ·
  13. Valerie

    What an intelligent, compassionate group!
    Susan, I have shared your brilliance with my family and friends. You are truly inspired and inspiring. Bless your husband. 🙂
    For true comfort, I have found that writing Morning Pages is a wonderful way to let your subconscious express itself and to find inspiration that DISPLACES the panic and stress. Morning Pages is the brainchild of Julia Cameron, the famed creativity teacher. She has several current books available and they are all wonderful, but for now, I’ll give you the basics- Morning Pages is the freehand writing on your favorite paper first thing in the morning. For free spirits who don’t like journaling and for creative types, this is perfect. I use a certain kind of paper and purple ink.
    If you are at a crossroads in any way such as with the first few months of Bright Line Eating, MP helps you move to the other side and get excited! Try it, you will love it!

    Reply ·
  14. Diane Sontag

    Susan, so sorry for your losses. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on non-food comfort. Whenever I am upset, I walk into the kitchen, grab the dishrag and start washing dishes by hand. The water is warm, the soap brings cleanliness, and it calms me down. Then when the dishes are done and drying in the dish rack, I get out some watercolors and a pad of watercolor paper and create abstract images. One of my favorite painting activities is to do a large scribble drawing, then treat each individual space created by the scribbles as something worthy of color, and paint in all those spaces. It is always a surprise in the making! Crayons or makers or colored pencils will also do for this activity.

    Thank you for your heart felt writing.

    Love from Cincinnati,
    Diane

    Reply ·
  15. Susan

    Just stumbled across this beautiful post, Susan. I was deeply touched. Grief is an emotion that stirs the soul and it activates the part of me that wants to numb out with food. I love your comfort rituals and suggestions. I applaud your ability to listen to your inner essence and discover new paths of expression. You are creative, wise and so transparent in your vulnerability. What a role model and teacher. I admire you and benefit greatly from your written and verbal blogs. Thank you from the bottom of my heart….
    Things I do to comfort myself and caress my soul: work in the garden getting my hands deep in the dirt and focusing on the earth and my own groundedness. Walk barefoot in the grass or sand. Dance wildly, erotically and expressively to whatever music stirs me. Call a friend and ask for prayer/support and verbally pray out loud with one another. Get a massage (my body longs to be touched) I loved one of your talks when you said we are penetrated in two arena’s food and sex….WOW. I alternate addictions between these two and really heard you. The thought was provocative. Sometimes I get out the paints and wildly express myself with finger painting or abstract strokes that allow my unconscious to unleash itself. Singing is helpful, drumming brings out my natural rhythm, taking a nap restores me…There are so many ways of comforting myself that are not destructive nor do they lead to a shame based, regretful ache. Food always takes me down a rabbit hole…a path that doesn’t serve. Thanks for leading the way and doing your work! You are a blessing.

    Reply ·
  16. Suzi Kirby

    What a wonderful line, for those of us that hurt ourselves with food. WOW. You can not know how much I needed to read that. Thank you so much for what you are doing.

    Reply ·
  17. Bea

    Music gives me comfort.
    Although I am not in the the Bright Line Program yet (next t boot camp) I had set a few “bright lines” of my own without realizing. When I get hungry at what I feel is an inappropriate time of eating, I put a music station on. Sometimes Christian, sometimes Country, sometimes Rock. Whatever I can get myself absorbed in at the time. It almost always can take me away to another place and I can forget my hunger. What’s great is that sometimes the hunger then just goes away.
    When music doesn’t work, I try to find something to do that will take all of my concentration….like sorting my home filing, making an excel sheet of some sort, etc. This doesn’t necessarily give me comfort but it gives me the satisfaction of getting something done.
    I love reading and writing, but for some reason, I can not fully focus on those activities if I am trying to divert from food. So those two are not an option.
    Of course, these aren’t options that I can take in an outside situation but I could see how just delving in conversations with people or walking around the place you are at, concentrating on room details or outside scenery may help.
    Susan, I am learning a lot from your blog and from your personal experiences. Thank you for sharing. Honesty is so scarce Internet help groups. You’ve created a way of thinking that is based on honesty. It can only get better.

    Reply ·
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