There is something that is very important for you to know about yourself in order for you to quickly, comfortably, and peacefully step free of any food and body image stress and the underlying insecurity that triggers it. And, once you know this little tidbit o’ wisdom and truly understand it, you will never be bothered by food stress again. Not only that, but the rest of your life will be much easier and much more fun, too!
It’s about your brain.
You know those thoughts you have that you shouldn’t have to ask for what you need; that if you have to ask it takes something away in the receiving? That if you have to ask, it means others don’t care? That if you have to ask and people provide what you ask for, they’re only doing it because they have to / feel guilty and not because they want to really? Therefore, you just shouldn’t ask.
Or how about the thought: I can’t do / have / be what I want because others might feel hurt, insecure, or judge me as being selfish and rude, dominating or controlling.
Or what about those thoughts that go something like: If you really knew me you wouldn’t like me. If you really knew me you wouldn’t want to be my friend. Therefore, I can’t share myself with you no matter how lonely I am or how much you’ve shown me that you’re a decent person.
Or how about: If you leave my life/end our friendship/relationship that means you never really cared and that everything you said and did was false.
Or: If you leave my life/end our relationship that means there is something wrong with me.
Or: If you’re mad at me it means I’ve done something wrong.
Or: I’ve never been successful with having a healthy, easy, relationship with food, so I never will.
Or: I’m the one person in the world that this process won’t work for.
….. Well, sound at all familiar?
Each and every one of these thoughts are all-or-nothing thinking. They are not rational. They have no basis in fact. Even if you think you can find truckloads of proof for these stories, I can guarantee you that your “proof” is actually built on large amounts of assumption and speculation. But without some tools to prove that to yourself and to step free of this harmful thought pattern, you will, as would anyone else, spend the rest of your life feeling insecure, stifled, anxious, depressed and needing to numb out from your emotions and your mind through food, drugs, alcohol, TV, shopping, isolating, sleeping, and other harmful coping strategies.
The definition of a coping strategy is: Any thought, feeling or behaviour that allows you to remain in an uncomfortable situation without being aware of how uncomfortable you are.
Now, right now, in this moment, stop and ask yourself: “What’s going on in my world right now, or what has happened in my past or what am I worrying about in the future that might make me feel uncomfortable?”
Then ask yourself: “Why do I think that the best way to deal with those situations is to ignore them, check out and harm myself with a coping strategy that makes me hate myself and feel even more insecure that I did before?”
Chances are you said something like:
“Because I don’t know what else to do,” or “there is no solution,” or “it’s too overwhelming to think about let alone begin to resolve it,” or “I don’t have the energy to deal with it now, I’ll deal with it tomorrow…”
And, no, I’m not following you around with a video recorder and a PET scan machine. You’re a normal human.
These are the kinds of thoughts you’d have to be having in order to get to the extreme state of using food to cope (whether you’re binging, purging, restricting, etc.) or other debilitating coping strategies like depression, isolation or drinking often.
So, if you’re in such good company, how is it that others have learned to step free and find true peace and contentment in themselves and in their lives overall?
Well, for starters, I taught them a little something that I’m about to teach you. And then, step-by-step, I taught them how to change their automatic all-or-nothing thinking, and in a few weeks to a few months, they were off and running on their own, experiencing greater and greater peace and security in their lives.
So here goes.
Just so you know, while the following is a simplification (in order to make it fit on just a few pages) of the amazing organ that is our brain, the statements I am making about the brain and its development are scientifically proven and widely accepted among neuropsychologists and bio-psychologists.
In essence, it could be said that humans have two brains. We have the old, instinctual, often referred to as “the reptilian” brain. And we have the fabulous evolutionary development that is the frontal lobes/rational thinking brain.
From here on in, for purposes of simplification, I am going to refer to the first as the “child” brain and the latter as the “adult” brain. The reason for this is really the key to your distress with food, with others and with yourself:
Your child brain can only think in black and white; fight or flight; good or bad; friend or foe; threat or non-threat. It’s the part of our heritage, developmentally, that we share with most other animals and it is all about instinct and assessing the situation at hand from a purely base survival mode.
Your adult brain is the piece of our anatomy that more than any other part, makes us human. It provides us with the capacity for big-picture thinking, for intricate problem solving and for the perception of space and time and of our own selves (consciousness) in a way that (we homo sapiens believe at this time anyway), is uniquely human.
Your child brain attaches every event it witnesses to you. Everything is perceived from the perspective of how it pertains to you, impacts you, and revolves around you. If the child brain had a mantra it would be: It’s all about me!
Now, rather than being about us just being incredibly vain, this is actually just a natural developmental limitation of this part of our anatomy. The child brain lacks the capacity to think in any other way than: It’s all about me! And is it a threat or not?
Your adult brain, on the other hand, has the capacity to place you and your needs in context with the others around you and with the world at large.
If you’ve ever spent time with a 3-year-old who does not want to leave the park, you know what I mean! The world has come to an end. They don’t want to leave so they shouldn’t have to. Who cares that their brother needs to be picked up from school; who cares that you have to get dinner started for the family; they want to play and that’s that! That’s the all-or-nothing, it’s all about me and why can’t you just wrap your head around that, brain.
Now here’s the kicker.
Your adult brain, that peaceful, rational, balanced, mature thing in the front of your skull, doesn’t fully develop until you’re in your late teens/early 20’s. So that means that the brain that you have operating full tilt through most of your childhood and adolescence is the child, “whatever’s happening, it’s all about me”, brain.
Through your most formative years you are truly, physiologically incapable of thinking: Oh, Dad’s just had a bad day. I don’t need to be hurt by his anger. It’s not about me.
Or My brother is being bullied at school, his behaviour towards me isn’t about me. Poor fella.
Or Mom says I’ve got to lose weight but she’s preoccupied with her own body image. It isn’t about me. I sure hope she gets a handle on that.
Instead, you are stuck with a brain that actually is wired, in any unpleasant situation, to think:
I must have done something. What did I do? And how do I ensure I never do it again?
But, of course, if it really isn’t about you, as it so, so, so rarely is when we’re young people, then there really, truly, isn’t anything you can do about it.
But what if you have to stay in that situation where people are grumpy around you, dumping on you, neglecting you, or harming someone close to you? Well, if that’s your situation (or at least how it seems to your “it’s all about me” brain), that’s going to be a pretty hurtful and scary place to be, for anyone. You’ll feel anxious all the time, just as anyone would.
Well, if that is your situation then you definitely need a handy dandy coping strategy to get you by. Remember the definition of a coping strategy from above?
Any thought, feeling or behaviour that allows you to remain in an uncomfortable situation without being aware of how uncomfortable you are.
If you’re in a situation that is beyond your control and where things are happening that hurt you (emotionally or physically), you will, as most people would, choose the coping strategy that is being modeled to you by key people in your life: Anger, isolation, blaming, drinking, smoking, depression, eating, restricting, relationship addiction, etc. (For the record we often have a handful of harmful coping strategies on board when we start to heal from the use of food to cope. This process will attend to them all simultaneously and the same tools work for all coping strategies.)
So, you’re stuck in a situation that feels beyond your control but is making you feel anxious and overwhelmed and you start to use a coping strategy to disconnect from your pain and anxiety, and voila, you have perfected the art of distracting yourself from your anxiety and distress in an unsafe/unpleasant situation over which you truly have no power, by focusing instead on what’s wrong with you or with others or by numbing yourself with food/drugs/or alcohol. If you’re a young person with no power, this is a fundamental survival tool, and as such, I encourage you to release any judgement, shame or self-deprecation you are carrying towards yourself as a result of these choices.
So far this is all pretty straight forward stuff, right?
But here’s the kicker.
What happens when you’re old enough to have power, to leave home, to have your own money, make your own friends, realize your full potential and never again have people in your life who treat you badly, never again settle for relationships that make you feel anxious more often than peaceful and loved?
Well, one thing we know for sure. There isn’t some automatic mechanism that kicks in and says, “Hey, Sally, your frontal lobes are fully online now so you don’t have to think all-or-nothing anymore. In fact, you might want to review your past and your perception of events and let go of any stories you’re carrying about things being your fault, about you being bad or wrong or not good enough and just let all that old crap go because it was never about you anyway.”
Nope. That doesn’t happen. Instead, even though we’ve got this amazing brain now that allows us to see everything in perspective and context and not take things personally, because we’re so trained to see things in that old all-or-nothing way, we just keep right on doing so straight to our graves if we don’t learn otherwise. This means, we keep right on feeling the urgent need for our childhood/adolescent coping strategies, too, even though we are truly so capable and it’s so simple to just fire up those frontal lobes and have an adult, rational brain operating at full tilt.
Remember those thoughts I suggested you might be having at the start of this article, those ones about what you can or can’t do and what others should or should do? Those are your proof that you’re still living from your child brain. Those stories and the underlying automatic child brain default are the root of your problem, not food.
Now you know something about your brain, about how it develops and therefore, about how you were taught to see the world. Now your rational, adult brain also knows that it doesn’t have to be that way even if your child brain thinks it does.
Now you have a choice. Continue to live from your child mind and let the old all-or-nothing training you’ve had in the world run your life, continuing to create unnecessary stress and anxiety and needing to check out with food and body focus OR learn how to catch yourself when you’re kicking in to that old child mind and instead, step into your adult self and see how easy life is and how your stress and your focus on food to cope just falls away naturally.
I’m here when you’re ready!