Ask A Counsellor: January 15, 2007

It’s Michelle Morand here, below you’ll find a fabulous question that we received from a client a few months back. She has given me permission to share it with you as I am certain it’s something that we all ask ourselves at many points during our healing journey Beneath her question you’ll find my response and you’ll find the response of CEDRIC counselor Beth Burton-Krahn. No doubt you’ll resonate with something in both and whichever piece sticks with you, go with that!: Question: I feel overwhelmed sometimes by this process and wondering what notes are important for me to keep in my little diary for checking in each day. I have so much valuable info and I have entered a lot of stuff but I keep looking at the ezines thinking, oh, I should add this to remind me of that….ways to handle situations. Any advice of what to add to diary and what to weed out? Michelle’s Response: Great question! I think we all get to a place like this in our recovery where we know we’ve got a hefty tool kit for most any situation and the problem then becomes figuring out which one to use when. In my own recovery process and that of many of our clients at CEDRIC I have found that you can simplify your process through the use of two fairly obvious cues to bring your awareness to one fundamental area of healing. This will make all the difference to whether you feel peaceful and grounded or anxious and compelled to use food to cope in the days, months and years to come. The two cues you want to be on the look out for throughout your day are:

A. The Permeating Level of Anxiety (your constant companion of low grade dis-ease or distress) and/or

B. Wanting to eat or actually eating when you’re not hungry. (Those of you who use food in a more restrictive fashion will want to note the times that you’re not allowing yourself to eat when you are hungry).

If you allow your conscious awareness to frequently be drawn to either of these cues throughout your day you are then in the perfect position to take action on what it is that is triggering you to either feel anxious or to want to eat when you’re not hungry. The tool I would recommend most once you have that conscious awareness is this: Ask yourself: “Where is the ‘all or nothing thinking’ alive in me right now?” You could also ask this in this way: “Where is the all or nothing thinking in the thought or experience I just had?” In other words, what am I telling myself right now absolutely has to look or be a certain way OR ELSE!? If you can’t identify it by simply asking within take the time as soon as you can to sit with a pen and paper and ask yourself: “What are all of the things that are going on for me: Past; Present; and Future that might be impacting me right now?” Then you will ask yourself for each one: “Where is the all or nothing thinking in that situation?” Inevitably, if you’re feeling anxious or using food to cope, the all or nothing thinking is there and it will reveal itself if you check in. If you have checked in in this fashion and the all or nothing doesn’t seem to have appeared it’s time to share your list with someone like a self-aware and safe friend or your counselor and ask them to locate the all or nothing thinking that is alive in you around those issues. It will be there. If you can’t find it on your own it’s only because you’re so accustomed to the all or nothing approach to situations it doesn’t stand out for you as anything amiss. So, that’s my suggestion for how to pare down all of the skills you’ll learn or have learned on your healing journey. There will be lots of times when you’ll want to bring other tools on board and have the time and consciousness to do that, but for now, whenever you feel like you need a quick jolt of the healing process locate the P.L.A. or the use of food to cope and then identify the all or nothing thinking beneath that. And what do I do once I’ve found the all or nothing thought, you ask? Well, in most cases, simply by becoming conscious of it it dissolves and you’re then left with a sense of release and the thought: “Okay, what are some other ways this scenario I’m imagining could happen?” And you naturally start to seek alternative solutions or outcomes. If you don’t feel the release it’s because you aren’t willing to allow yourself to really see your thinking as all or nothing. Instead you’re saying something like “This is how it is, there is no alternative!” ie. “I must have this house spotless by 6:00!” Or “I must get this assignment done today!” Experiment with this for a while and you’ll prove to yourself how much the all or nothing thinking impacts your anxiety level and your use of food to cope and how you are always able to find an alternative solution if not many. And remember, give yourself the gift of asking others to illuminate other possibilities. If you’re new with the awareness of all or nothing thinking, or if you’ve been using it as a coping strategy for some time, as most of us who use food to cope have been, it will be second nature and therefore, pretty slippery to catch! Please feel free to print this article and share it with others or carry it with you to reference. Let me know how it goes. I really would like to hear your experiences. Love Michelle



Beth’s Response


The most important tool in your tool box is going to a combination of growing self-awareness and self-compassion. Being able to stop and check in, to see what is happening in your life that is triggering your desire to use food to cope is the first step in breaking the cycle. Without self-awareness, making different choices is not possible. The second major tool, self-compassion is so important because without it, we tend to use the information we gain through self-awareness as another club to beat ourselves’ up with. These two tools form the foundation that your recovery is built upon. Self-compassion means giving yourself permission to be human, to make mistakes, to not know, to be confused, to lose your patience, and loosening the grip of perfectionism. We are all made up of the same stuff, none of us has it all worked out, we all struggle with finding our way and making sense of it all. As one of my favorite teachers once said, “Wouldn’t it be just great if we all admitted to being lost and confused and not having it all together?” It is so refreshing to hear things like this, because our tendency is to compare. To imagine that others have it worked out, and that we are the only ones struggling and having difficulties. But the truth is, life just keeps unfolding, almost without regard for OUR plans, OUR desires, so it is better to learn how to surf rather than endlessly trying to stop the waves. Self-compassion doesn’t mean doing whatever that little child part inside of us wants to all the time. Self-compassion or basic friendliness towards ourself is simply a recognition of our finite, human fragility. It is recognizing that we are equal to others in this regard. We ALL struggle, we ALL experience loss. None of us is immune. We really are all in this together. Take it easy with yourself. Go slow, be gentle.

Posted in: CEDRIC Centre

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  1. Julie January 18, 2007

    I happened to hear someone on CFAX the other day talking about the Centre and I was intrigued. I do use food to cope and am interested in learning more. I read these two entries and am so interested to learn more about the “all-or-nothing” thinking as part of or as the problem. I have said these very words when I’ve tried to explain how I feel about so many of the issues I struggle with in my life. I used to use great self control and force myself to lose weight and be in control of what I ate, but it had to be all or soon as I slipped off I’d give up. I’ve done this several times in my life so far but now find I have no motivation to collect myself together for another cycle of the same, knowing I will be back where I am now. I know I must get to the root of the issue and this all or nothing way of thinking is so real in my life, I was so excited to see it labelled as such in your entries. Please tell me more or point me in the right direction to online articles or other entries. I have a ray of hope for change with even what I’ve read so far..Thank you

  2. H January 20, 2007

    I wanted you to know that I was having a really tough moment last night. I then went to your Blog and the Jan 15th ask the counsellor question really helped me–just reading it, it helped me feel better as I feel like I have definitely been able to see myself thinking about eating when I’m not hungry (I wasn’t able to do that most times even a few weeks ago, but have really been working through that piece lately) but not being able to stop myself many of the times… so I’ve written down what to look for (the all or nothing thinking) and how to work through that so that hopefully I can do that tomorrow and from now on when I need to…. Thank you so much for posting that….

    I also wrote down all of the all or nothing thinking that I have rattling around in my brain right now–and as I was writing it down, I could see how ridiculous it all sounded but obviously it was in there so it felt good just to write it down.


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