We are continuing our Natural Eating Q&A session with a question that comes up with each and every client I’ve ever supported through this process. It goes something like this:
“What if I try to check in but the voice in my head just says: “Who cares about checking in?! I just want food now!!!”
Well, this is a pretty simple one.
If you’re hearing that dialogue in your head when you realize you’re wanting to use food to cope, it absolutely, no exceptions, means that you’re feeling overwhelmed and you are afraid that if you don’t use food to cope in that moment, you’ll get consumed by the thoughts and feelings you’re trying to keep at bay through the act of eating (and then maybe purging or beating yourself up).
And if you’re overwhelmed, it means that one of two things is happening (or both are):
1. You’re stuck in some all-or-nothing thinking about past events (earlier today/5/10/15 years ago etc.), or present day events, or future imaginings. The key here is that you’re not just remembering/experiencing or imagining something. These thoughts have an all-or-nothing quality to them that leaves you feeling stuck and hopeless and overwhelmed. And that’s what the core tools of the List of Stressors and Drill Sgt. Dialogue are all about.
In this situation, sit down with your food (or stand if that’s easier – sometimes we have a hard time allowing ourselves to be still when we’re anxious), and a pen and paper/computer and write out a List of Stressors while you eat. Alternatively, do a Drill Sgt. Dialogue if you notice the issue is self-talk/criticism-related and not some external stressor.
You see, all that’s happened here is either you waited until too late in the day to check in and identify any stressors and now you’re overstressed/overwhelmed (mostly from all-or-nothing thoughts that you will let go of through the use of the tools) and have kicked into your auto-learned helplessness thinking and truly believe that you’re screwed and that there’s no point in figuring out what’s really going on because there’s nothing you can do about it. You also have the added push of the story that you’re not going to feel the immediate release/relief you need if you use your tools as well as or instead of eating. These two bogus stories will keep you stuck in using food to cope.
The best way around this is to commit – yes I said the “c” word! Commit to checking in with yourself in the mid afternoon – preferably before you leave work, if you work outside the home, or before you transition to evening activities if you don’t. Do a List of Stressors whether you think you need one or not.
I can’t tell you how many times a client has said: “I don’t know why I used food to cope, nothing was bothering me…!” And within 30 seconds, we have identified one biggie or a number of small annoyances that this person was completely unconscious of but connected to instantly through the simple act of putting pen to paper in the structured way of the List of Stressors. This exercise is extremely releasing and validating, and is proves that there was something that was triggering you and it wasn’t just food and your lack of willpower (which is never the case by the way). It also proves that you are capable of figuring out what it is and that it’s never as big, bad and scary as you’re telling yourself.
2. You are, in this moment, experiencing a true lack of safety emotionally and/or physically or are acting in some way that is compromising your integrity which is triggering you to feel scared and overwhelmed and again, to assume that you are helpless and stuck and to reach for food to soothe and numb you. First, you must create true safety by removing yourself physically from the presence of anyone who is verbally or physically abusing you or threatening you. No exceptions folks. You can’t stop using food to cope when you’re in an abusive situation whether it’s at work, at home or wherever. It’s time to listen to the message that you’re trying to send yourself which is: “I don’t feel safe! Get me the *^@*out of here!”
You must respond to this message by removing yourself from the situation and keeping yourself safe in a way you couldn’t do when you were younger and truly powerless. If you’re not able or ready to do this, you must get some counselling (call us!!) to overcome the barriers to you feeling entitled and capable and desirous of a life that is abuse-free.
If the situation is that you are currently compromising your integrity – i.e. you’re exhausted but you feel obligated to stay up and spend time with your spouse or friend – how about responding in a compassionate and appropriate way by first not adding insult to injury and harming your body by stuffing it? Then how about asking yourself what would have to happen in order for you to feel completely peaceful in that situation and doing that?
For example, you might discover that what you need is just to honour yourself and say “I’d love to spend more time with you but I’m really exhausted and need to rest.” Or you might discover that what you really need is to give yourself permission to freely choose to stay up and connect, and instead of being resistant to it and harming yourself or feeling like it’s being done to you, acknowledge that you’re choosing this freely because it feels like the right thing to do and yes, the consequence is you’ll be tired tomorrow, but you’ll be less tired if you don’t use food to cope and you’ll feel better about your choice.
So, whether it’s #1 or #2, the solution is always to take a moment to ground yourself (use the 4-7-8 breathing perhaps, or kick right into a DS Dialogue or List of Stressors Exercise) and rather than assume you’re screwed and that the only solution is to eat, prove that there are a number of other solutions, and start to create a sense of safety being fully present in this moment. Start, through the use of your tools, to see that you only ever want to binge when you’re feeling overwhelmed because you have needs that aren’t being met and you’ve told yourself there’s nothing you can do.
Before you absolutely buy into that story and have another night of “failure” and frustration, why not at least add a new tool to your binge experience and eat while you write and process? You’ll find that you eat a lot less and that you feel better in that moment and the next day – which, as you know, sets you up for a better day and so on and so on.
Have a relaxing week. You deserve it. You no longer have to continue neglecting and harming yourself as you were neglected or harmed in your past. You no longer have to have a life that is filled with anxiety and stress. Trust me. That wasn’t your fault or your doing. Now you have the power to choose whether to continue to treat yourself badly and to doubt your perspective and your capabilities, or to learn to see clearly what is your responsibility and what is not, and to respond accordingly. For more details on that process, I encourage you to reach out to me and my team for support; join our interactive web healing program; and/or read my Blog article series: Relationships 101.