The emptiness high: how it creates a false sense of empowerment while hindering us from living life and why we have to establish our identity to reject it.
Today I’m so excited to be teaming up with Emily at Beauty in Christ and Kat at Kat’s 9 Lives for a little series called Discovering Whose We Are. Be sure to check out their posts (links at the bottom)!
Those of us who have had rocky relationships with food probably know it by now: food issues are about more than the food. Oftentimes, it’s about control when life feels out of control, forging a sense of identity when you don’t know who you are. The why behind all that is different for everyone; everyone’s struggle with food look a little different.
For me, that struggle manifested itself first in restriction. Restriction and the emptiness high subsequent. My fellow former-restricters, you know what I’m talking about. That false feeling of empowerment. When your brain is engulfed in a fog thicker than the walls of Jericho, but at least you avoided the doughnuts at work. When all you can think about is food, but at least you haven’t gone over your calorie quota for the day.
My memory of the first time I recognized the emptiness high for what it was shines clear. It was one of those crisp, clear fall days–rare in Oregon–where the sun gleams in a blue sky and the leaves crackle in the breeze like a disappointing first draft does in your hand as you crumple it. I was outside, walking up a flight a stairs to the gravel parking lot where my sweet ride (aka 1995 white Honda Accord) was waiting for me. All I could think about was food. More than that, all I had been thinking about for the last several hours was–you guessed it–food.
And so, at the bottom of the steps, I was dreaming miserably about granola. You know, the perfect huge clusters kind of granola. The granola of your dreams–bonus points for chocolate. But by midway up, my misery was replaced by the emptiness high. This wasn’t the first time something similar had happened. One minute, miserable, the next, weirdly elated. But this was the first time I recognized the feeling for what it was. The emptiness high. I didn’t push it off as, “oh, I guess I’m not hungry after all.” I knew I was feeding off this false sense of empowerment. I also knew that after the emptiness high comes the inevitable low.
That’s the thing with the emptiness high. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t last because we weren’t made to be empty, we were made to be whole, filled. That includes eating enough food to energize and satisfy you.
But rejecting the emptiness high for something more lasting? It’s easier said than done. At the top of the stairs, walking to my car, I wondered how I would do it. If I even wanted to. Because it felt like restriction was part of me, part of my self-controlled identity.
What I needed in that moment was to remember that my identity is in something higher than meeting my detrimental “health” goals. What I needed in that moment was to know that I couldn’t do it alone. What I needed in that moment was this:
John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
So when I feel the lure of the emptiness high, I remember: God created me for more. I have help to overcome it. I can rest in that.
Knowing this is the first step. Living it out is another. Here are three practices that help me when I want to fall back on the fleeting elation of the emptiness high:
- Stop and retrace your steps. Probably not literally, although that may sometimes be the case. The point here is to take pause and try to figure out why you feel the urge for control.
- Make a list of the things you can’t do when you restrict. Maybe it’s going out with friends, giving project your full attention, or even something as broad as “being joyful.”
- Make a list of the things you can/want to do while you’re fully fueled and satisfied. And do one or two of them!
And do all of the above with the knowledge that your worth is not in the number of calories you eat in a day. Nothing you say or do can take away the worth you have in God.