By Michelle Morand
I am sitting at my breakfast table and remembering how I ate that much, my big fluffy orange cat curled on my lap. All is dark and quiet outside. It is 5 a.m.
My homemade soy latte helps rouse my sleepy head and I begin to reflect on the events of yesterday. Conversations with clients, friends, family; an outing with my son; this stress and that; deadlines; self-care etc. An average day all in all. As I sit here in my peace and calm, I am drawn particularly to one conversation in which a client was so beautifully excited to share about her experience of not using food to cope during a stressful situation. She was no longer just taking it on faith from our work together and from other books she had read, that recovery was possible; that she could have a life free from constant thoughts of food and body, she had lived it. Not only that, she knew she could recreate that experience and that that would become her “norm.” We were both very excited!
Thinking about that event calls me to remember my recovery experience of shifting from 24/7 focus on food and body to hardly even giving it a second thought. I distinctly remember getting home after work one day, a few months into my healing process, and realizing that I hadn’t thought about food once that day!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I ate that day, and I ate well. I just hadn’t thought about it, before, during or after. It was just eating, naturally. I was so amazed and excited to have realized that I had just had one day free of the constant chatter and stress and bad body thoughts guess what I did?
How do you like that? My first day free of food obsession and I eat to celebrate! But I was also eating to soothe my fear. For it had hit me in that moment that if I continued my healing journey I would get to a place where I no longer used food to cope; where I didn’t eat to soothe myself.
Now, that was what I had been aching for for years at this point, and working hard to attain for months in counselling. So why the fear?
Simply put I had gone into all or nothing thinking and was freaking myself out! I was telling myself that if I kept on healing I would get to a place where I couldn’t use food to cope even if I wanted to. I was also telling myself that now that I had had that one “good” day I had to repeat the performance the next day and here on in to eternity. Those all or nothing stories were enough to make me feel the need to cling to food like a life line in that moment. And so I had binged.
But…..What I also did that was new and different and ultimately led to my complete recovery was to begin to ask myself the following questions while I was eating:
What is the situation that is triggering me to feel that my needs for love, acceptance, security, or connection are not being met?
What am I telling myself about that situation that is making me want to use my food and body focus coping strategy?
Is there any all or nothing thinking in that story?
What are some other possibilities (what are some other ways that things could go)?
What would have to happen right now in order for me to feel peaceful (unrelated to food and body!)?
In answering those questions I gave myself a wondrous gift. I proved to myself immediately that neither one of those all or nothing stories was true. First off, I could use food to cope any time I want, there was/is nothing stopping me. I just allowed myself to begin to choose not to because it harmed me and because I was in the process of learning so many other, life enhancing, ways to cope that I didn’t need to hurt myself and numb out from life.
Remembering How I Ate That Much
And telling myself I now had to be perfect every day because of one day without food and body focus was missing the point entirely. The point is: If I felt drawn to use food to cope, I knew one thing is for certain: I had a need, unrelated to food, that wasn’t being met. As soon as I acknowledged that my wanting of food or of a different body in that moment was really a signal from within that I was not feeling secure or loved or accepted, unrelated to my body and to food, I was in a position to ask myself those questions and begin to change old and deeply embedded patterns of thinking and behaving.
Every single time I found myself wanting to use food to cope I would ask myself those questions and within a few weeks I had proven to myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that some all or nothing thinking that was undermining me, making me feel frightented and insecure, creating distress where none needed to exist. Through the simple process of noticing myself using food to cope (or wanting to) I could walk myself back through my feelings, through my thoughts, and into the need. Here, in full awareness of that need, I was in a position to take action to meet it in a way that I could not do if I was still focussing my energy on what I was doing, or wanting to do, with food.
Automatically, my focus on food would cease as I naturally focussed more constructively on the real issue and what I needed to “do” to feel peaceful about it. I felt stronger, more capable, more trusting in myself and my ability to handle life which led to less insecurity and therefore, less desire to use food to cope.
It’s a beautiful cycle and it works the same for any coping strategy that you know you use: Alcohol, avoidance, isolation, procrastination, shopping; over-exercise; co-dependency and all the others.
All you have to do is to be willing to allow for the possibility that your food and body focus isn’t all about food and body. If you’re willing to give me that much, you’ll be able to make great use of this tool by just asking yourself those questions when you notice yourself drawn to use your coping strategy.
Well, time has flown by. My kitty is still fast asleep, my coffee is in desperate need of a refill. Light is dawning out my kitchen window. How I love this time to myself, to think and reflect; to just be and let the moment take me where it will. Thank you for sharing it with me.
Have a wonderful day.