I received some wonderful feedback from you readers this past week about the last few articles I’ve written. Some of you posted them to the blog so I feel free to share them openly here. For future info if you are okay with me sharing your feedback with others you can still email to me directly as many of you do, just let me know in your email if I can share it as is, or anonymously, or not at all. If you don’t specify I won’t share it at all. And if your feedback comes in anonymously (ie. no email address etc.) I won’t share it as I feel an obligation to my readers to at least have a sense of whose feedback I’m sharing (ie. that you’re a person and not a corporation etc.).
Here’s a great reminder from Judy:
“The idea of writing out your stressors at the moment when you have the overwhelming impulse to eat is a powerful tool indeed! Who would have ever thought it could be so easy! When I do this I am shocked by what sets me off, even sometimes things I wouldn’t have thought upset me so badly.”
And here’s a very affirming piece of sharing from Christy:
“Thank you so much Michelle, I always want to send you some cash after I read your articles because they are so valuable. I too had eating disorders like yours and can identify completely. I eventually got help at Mental Health here in Victoria, but after that, I was ready for your Centre. I am forever grateful for your Centre, the time I spent there with Karen and the group I was in, and your ongoing support. On my journey, I have found Echart Tolle, whose philosophy complements your teachings. The new thing I am experiencing is being able to make mistakes. If I were to judge myself, I would say that I am making mistakes that I should have made back as a teen, but as long as I am making them now and learning from them, I can move ahead out of my rut. In particular for me is asking for or accepting money in return for my work, which is difficult because of my diminished sense of self-worth. By not numbing out with food after selling myself short, I am able to feel the pain of my mistake, comfort myself without food and learn from it.
Again, thank you for your excellent and all too rare insight, clarity and dedication. If there is a way I can donate to the Centre in return for your free emails, please let me know. Yours truly, Christy Gain.”
Thank you Christy, and Judy. I appreciate your feedback and sharing very much. The greatest gift you can give me and the Centre is your continued health and commitment to being the best that you can be. Your freedom from food stress is what puts the bounce in our step. Just keep enjoying the articles, contributing when you feel compelled to share, and if you feel so moved, share with others, out there in your day-to-day world, our newsletter and about the success you’ve experienced with our support and tools. That would be perfect!
All-or-Nothing Thinking 101 Continued
I speak about all-or-nothing thinking so often with clients and at educational events that I am very often reminded by the questions that attendees will ask during or after a presentation or session, that most people really don’t know what all-or-nothing thinking is. I mean of course you can get a sense of it from the title: “all” or “nothing.” You might assume from that phrase that we are talking about extreme thinking, absolutes, good and bad, right and wrong, only one possible approach or solution, some rigid and perhaps even, self-righteous thinking, and you would be absolutely (no pun intended) right.
However, if I asked you to give me an example of all-or-nothing thinking or show me places where it continually catches you and messes up your day, could you?
Now if you’re starting to squirm a little, don’t worry, you’re in great company. You see, the all-or-nothing thinking is the culprit. It is the cause of your current suffering and very likely, a major contributor to your past suffering and to any future suffering you’re imagining experiencing. Thus, learning how to identify and step clear of your all-or-nothing thinking is key to you living the quality of life you desire in all ways, including a complete removal of the use of food to cope and any stressful food and body focus.
It is very simple to learn to let your old all-or-nothing thinking go, but as I said last week, it’s a really tough thing to do on your own because the old brain is slippery and even when you begin to explore you thoughts with the intent of routing out the all-or-nothing, you will often find, without support, that you were unsuccessful. This leaves you feeling more stuck and defeated than before and perhaps, turning to food to cope with your frustration. Unfortunately, many people never stop to consider that it wasn’t that exploring their thoughts more consciously didn’t work, it’s just that a new all-or-nothing thought snuck in, and without an external observer, or a very clear, step-by-step process that you commit to writing out so you can see your thoughts more clearly, the new all-or-nothing thought comes in like a whisper, completely unnoticed and you buy it hook, line and sinker and are back to feeling stuck and hopeless.
Hence, it is key to make sure you’re using your tools for attending to all-or-nothing thinking properly and that you’re not getting caught in a more subtle all-or-nothing thought once you have learned to catch the more surface/obvious ones.
I am sure I’ve mentioned before that I have had clients who have been purging, binging and restricting for decades completely cease these behaviours in a matter of 5-10 sessions (that’s 2-3 months), never to begin again. And it is important to note that these many men and women did not just “stop” the behaviour, they truly felt no pull, no compulsion. They were completely free of the food and body stress that had plagued them for years. That is the most important part to me, to be honest. I am not at all content for a client to just stop behaviourally using their coping strategy. That’s still not success as far as I am concerned. Complete and lasting recovery looks like not even thinking about it and like feeling completely at ease in your body and around any food any time. That’s what we call success and learning to identify and attend, respectfully, to your all-or-nothing thinking is a key component of that complete and lasting success.
It’s easy, you just have to learn how and have some support to do what I call “fine-tuning and tweaking” to ensure you feel confident in your ability to know when and how to use your tools.
Let me share some examples of all-or-nothing thinking with you so you can begin to look for them in your own thinking and release yourself from their grasp. Next week we’ll explore this even further.
Maryanne was planning all day to go to the gym after work. She had committed herself to it in the morning and had been reminding herself of that commitment throughout the day. By 5:00 however, her energy was down and she just wanted to go home after a long and stressful work day. She battled with herself all the way home, trying to pressure herself to go to the gym. But before she knew it, she found herself in her home and in the fridge, all night. Maryanne was a victim of all-or-nothing thinking. And not just during the day at work, but on her way home, and all night at home. Here’s how:
- Maryanne didn’t feed herself much throughout the day because she was trying to make up for the extra food she had consumed the night before so she restricted and did not listen to the needs of her body for food. Now she feels more fatigued than she otherwise would have been simply because her body is drained of fuel. “I ate too much yesterday so I have to restrict today, no matter how hungry I feel I’ll only eat X, and no matter what I’ll go to the gym and work off some calories too.”
- Here Maryanne is so stuck in her all-or-nothing that without knowing it, she sets herself up in the morning to not have enough energetic resources to follow through on her gym plans. The same thing she did yesterday, and the day before… Thus, in her Drill Sgt.’s mind, she has demonstrated yet again her laziness, lack of willpower, and lack of trustworthiness.
- The statement: “I ate too much yesterday” may be true. Only Maryanne can say if she felt that familiar overfull and lethargic feeling we get from having too much to eat in one sitting. But every statement after that is all-or-nothing:
- “So I have to restrict.”
Here our Maryanne is so stuck in the diet mentality that she believes that the only solution to having had extra calories the night before is to make herself go hungry for some of the day today. This is called the diet- binge-guilt cycle. She’s unwittingly setting herself up for a binge by restricting and not honoring her body’s need for consistent fueling throughout the day. At some point her body’s basic need for survival and sustenance is going to hormonally override her mind and its need for a certain pant size. She’s doomed before she even leaves the house to repeat her diet-binge-guilt pattern today unless she begins to let go of the all-or-nothing story “I have to restrict,” and instead says something like: “I overate yesterday. My body doesn’t feel as good as it could today as a result. Let’s take a moment to figure out what might have triggered me (out comes my list of stressors) and today I’m going to eat smaller amounts throughout the day when I notice I’m hungry, stopping when I’m comfortably full, and that means I’ll have more energy at the end of my day to do some exercise and I won’t feel so ravenous and exhausted when I get home that I want to eat everything in the house and then some.” (This is such a mature, balanced, self-caring approach to food and life. It is so self-respecting and can only lead to a more enjoyable day and a less stressful night. Yay Maryanne!)
- “No matter how hungry I feel I’ll only eat X.”
Here, Maryanne is missing the mark entirely. She’s focusing on the food and not on the “why” she overate the day before. She overate the day before for 2 simple reasons, she uses food to cope and she was stressed (in large part because of her forced restriction and self-judgement), and because was approaching food with severe all-or-nothing thinking (ie. good and bad foods; until I weigh X I’m not allowed to eat Y, etc.) rather than simply asking herself the following questions that just naturally arise in the minds of those people who don’t struggle at all with food stress: “Am I hungry?” yes? “What do I feel like having?” Ok, let’s have that. “Am I full?” Yes? “Okay, time to stop, man that was good!” Quiet mind, no Drill Sgt., easy peasy.
- Maryanne made her day end just like the day before because she was still focusing on food in a diet mentality way and restricting herself rather than just encouraging herself to learn to identify and manage her stress about other things more directly and to practice the simple steps of eat when hungry stop when full everything in moderation you can always have more later. Ah, well, there’s always tomorrow! Wait! That’s all-or-nothing too Maryanne! You don’t have to wait till tomorrow. You can start now to wait until you get hungry to eat and then to listen to your body about fullness cues while more consciously attending to any stressors that might be triggering you to feel overwhelmed or want to numb out or judge yourself.
- “No matter what, I’ll go to the gym and work off some calories.”
Here, Maryanne has set herself up, big time. This all-or-nothing story leaves no room for anything to change or for her energy to be low. She either goes to the gym or she hears about it from her Drill Sgt. all night. She could have said, “I’d really like to fit in some exercise today, what do I need to do in the way of self-care today at work to make sure I have the energy for that?” That would have worked much better. Or even, “I don’t feel like going to the gym now, I’m too pooped for a full workout, I think I’ll just get off the bus earlier and walk a few extra blocks for my exercise today.” Ahhhh, so much more honoring than either forcing oneself to exercise a fatigued and undernourished body or just going straight home and pigging out. Balance, respect, big-picture living, rather than rigid, stuck, all-or-nothing. Simply by noticing when she’s feeling anxious or stuck or resistant and checking in for any all-or-nothing thinking (any shoulds, must-haves, must-dos or must happen a certain way or else) Maryanne has so, so many chances all day long to turn her day around and to care for herself and to arrive home feeling more balanced and less stressed, frantic, and desperate for food or to numb out.
You see, it’s not all-or-nothing. If you miss an opportunity to catch some all-or-nothing thinking, you’ll get another one. What matters isn’t that you missed that first one but that you don’t keep spiraling into all-or-nothing and say, “Well, I screwed that one up. I guess I’m screwed for the day – I’ll just start again tomorrow,” but instead say, “Well, that was some all-or-nothing thinking back there, what else could I have done in that situation or in response to that thought? Let’s do that next time.”
Life is for learning. If we don’t permit ourselves to learn from our missteps and to cut ourselves some slack when we aren’t perfect and instead, default into old training, we make it unsafe for us to learn and grow. There’s no purpose or value in that whatsoever. It only cements you in your current half-life.
I could take you through Maryanne’s thoughts on the drive home, her thoughts when she gets home, her thoughts as she eats, her thoughts as she lies in bed, etc., but they would all have a similar flavor (no pun here either!). Be on the lookout for your own stuck, sinking, anxious feeling and ask yourself what you were just telling yourself. Look for any shoulds/musts, etc., and if you find them, which you absolutely will, see if you can begin to simply say, “That’s all-or-nothing thinking. It’s what keeps me stuck. What is another way of thinking about or of approaching this situation that could also be a possibility?”
Play around with that and we’ll fill it out a bit more for you next week. And if you’re just joining this series of articles I urge you to head back to Step 1 and read it and Step 2 before you explore this piece. It’ll only take a few minutes and will make this process much more successful for you.
Have a fabulous week!
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© Michelle Morand, 2010