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Why Do I Keep Doing This To Myself?

Obesity is Not Mental Illness, It is a Symptom of Food Overeating Hello, and welcome. It’s Michelle Morand here.

Last week I was a guest speaker on a talk radio station in Vancouver, BC, CKNW. It’s not my first time on the show. In fact I’m becoming something of a regular, which I find really fun and exciting. But that’s not the point of this article. The point is, one of the callers during the phone in portion of the show said something that I hear so very often I felt compelled to write about it. I was grateful for this man’s statement/question as it made for a wonderful and natural opportunity for me to educate the listeners on a key error in thinking that often keeps us stuck in harmful patterns. On the show I had 2 minutes to respond, so I had to keep it brief. On my blog though, I can expand and I will.

So, grab a cup of tea, curl up and read on.

The CKNW interview so far had been on the topic of using drugs to treat obesity – you may have caught the article in your local paper during the week of (September 11 – 13th, 2007). I made a comment which caused quite a stir among listeners and garnered some strong reactions. My comment was this:

“Obesity is not a mental illness. For most people* it is a symptom of the use of food to cope by overeating, otherwise known as Binge Eating Disorder, which, is already classified as a mental illness. Using drugs to treat a symptom will only leave those who take them dependent on the drugs and not looking beneath their symptoms to the true cause of their use of food to cope. Therefore, the individual never gets to heal and trust that they can live life without medication. This is similar for many people with depression and anxiety who are depressed and anxious for very good reasons, past and/or present who are given medication to dull their awareness of their body’s natural signals of stress or dissatisfaction. Those individuals aren’t healing, they’re just coping.”

The announcer, John, then asked me what those folks were coping with. I responded by saying that most people who use food to cope, or who struggle with depression or anxiety are doing so in an attempt to cope with the trauma of having unmet needs for security and for love/acceptance as children or young adults.

Well…, that was pretty close to what I said and I got a few calls from people who felt that I was saying that medication should never be taken and who clearly felt very strongly to the contrary. That wasn’t difficult to attend to, since I don’t believe that medication should never be used and I hadn’t said that I simply clarified that I do support the use of anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications in acute circumstances (ie. panic attacks, suicidal ideation etc.) given that the individual is using the medication to take the intensity from the emotions while they are actively engaged in therapy to attend to the true cause of the problem. And given that medication is seen for most people as a temporary measure and not a solution in and of itself. That seemed to help clarify and those callers went away satisfied.

Then, the big piece! A man called to say that he had an issue with my statement that overeating, depression and anxiety stem from trauma/unmet needs from childhood or young adulthood. The host, John, asked him, did you ever experience trauma or a lack of security or love as a child? The caller responded “sure, I did, and I struggled with depression later on, but everyone goes through those kinds of things.”

I became immediately aware that he had just made a key statement and that I had 2 minutes to respond effectively and educate the listeners on a key misunderstanding that leads to much grief and self-harm. Needless to say I said something general in response that invited him to challenge his assumption without opening a can of worms in the process – very unsatisfying to me but that’s radio!

His argument essentially was that since most people experience some unmet needs for security and/or love, acceptance and belongingness as children or young adults it is therefore not trauma and not the reason that people become depressed or anxious or turn to food to cope.

The most obvious response to that statement, which, I chose not to offer on the radio with only two minutes to respond, is to pose the following argument: In Iraq for example (insert any region in any time period that has experienced war/ or military dictatorship) millions of people have been forced to leave their homes, guns firing around them, bombs dropping intermittently, their basic human rights taken away, members of their families killed, lost, whereabouts unknown, future uncertain, no personal power…I could go on but you get the picture. Now if this caller’s argument holds water we would say that because everyone in those regions has experienced, or is experiencing, those circumstances, ie. because they were “normal”, they weren’t traumatizing? You tell me?

Now, let’s say that someone from Iraq moved to Canada recently and was sharing with you, over coffee, that they felt quite anxious and depressed and found themselves eating when they weren’t hungry. Would you think that person was weak? Would you judge them as having no willpower? Or might you suggest that because they had just come from a very stressful situation in which they didn’t feel safe they would naturally feel quite anxious and overwhelmed and that as they came to feel safer and more secure in their new environment they would likely feel less anxious, depressed and compelled to use food to cope? Consider that for a moment.

I was at a workshop yesterday and the facilitator spoke of a cartoon that I had seen a few years back in a psychological journal. It was a picture of a large auditorium, rows of empty chairs but for two people. A banner reads “convention for people from non-dysfunctional families” and one of the two folks is saying to the other “I think I’m in denial!” Quite funny – and quite true.

Most of us experienced some fundamental unmet needs for safety and security and/or love, acceptance and belongingness as children. That’s true. What is not true is the assumption that those events do not impact us today.

Of course they do.

Not feeling safe; not feeling loved or accepted is very painful and prevents us from feeling solid and secure in the world on the whole and in relationships with others. This then prevents us from developing our hearts and minds fully as we become so desperate for external safety and approval that we stifle and compromise our authentic thoughts and feelings and desires and instead try to create the least disturbance, draw the least attention and struggle to feel safe and secure for just a moment.

Now, if only we were aware that we were stuck because of the pain of past unmet needs we could actually attend to those unmet needs in the present and step into ourselves as the confident, secure, beautiful beings that we are capable of being. But, for the most part, our society has the following story attached to it:

  1. That because those things happen to everyone they didn’t really hurt you.
  2. No one else has a problem dealing with them.
  3. Therefore, if you have a hard time coping with or getting over those events you are too weak and too sensitive and you should just get over it.

This is a story of denial. It’s a bunch of pahooey! As we saw in the example of the war torn region – just because many people experience unmet needs for security or for love and acceptance as young people doesn’t mean that those experiences don’t have an impact.

And rather than helping you heal and step beyond those past experiences, telling yourself that the past didn’t impact you or doesn’t impact your thoughts and behaviours today only keeps you stuck blaming yourself for feeling anxious and depressed and for using food, alcohol, drugs etc. to cope.

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.

Based on that definition it becomes obvious that the solution to healing any coping pattern (such as depression; all or nothing thinking; disordered eating or alcoholism to name just a few common ones) is not to focus on the coping pattern itself but on the underlying situation that triggered the need for the coping strategy in the first place.

If you focus on the coping strategy itself you’ll only spin your wheels on the surface and never achieve and lasting healing. That’s why, for people who use food to cope, no diet will ever bring lasting success.

The only real and lasting solution is to establish a strong foundation of respect and security within yourself, in the present. This may seem like a tall order, or perhaps, if you’re still buying into that old message of judgement and shame that society dishes out, you’re starting to scoff at the notion that any value can come from feeling safe in, and accepting of, yourself. But truly it’s not as difficult a prospect as it may seem. In order to establish that strong inner core and really know that you can trust yourself to meet your own needs for security and acceptance you must first begin to understand how you came to be as you are. That understanding is what we call empathy and only through self-empathy and compassion can you step free of the harmful coping strategies you’ve erected to barricade yourself from harm – past, present and future.

Perhaps you’re tea is cold and you need a refill – take a break – and, when you can, come back and read on as we get to greater clarity and most significantly, a solution.

Now, let’s back up the bus a little bit and look at your past. But first, I challenge you to notice if, as you read on, you hear a voice that says anything like: my experience wasn’t as bad as some people; so and so had it worse; it doesn’t impact me anymore; I’m over that…..etc. Just notice. And if you spot any of those dismissing thoughts and you know that you currently use food, anxiety, depression, alcohol or other harmful coping strategies then you know, with absolute certainty that you have bought into that societal story of denial and it’s time to refresh your perspective.

Or perhaps you’re feeling some resistance and annoyance at my proposal that your parents or other caregivers in your young life didn’t meet your needs for love or security. You may be saying “I don’t want to get stuck in blame, they did the best they could. What happens in my life now is up to me and I don’t want to dump it on them.”

Well, I support you and congratulate you for wanting to take responsibility for where you are now and the choices you make/have made as an adult. It is important that you see yourself as the person in charge of your life at this time.

It is also important for you to allow your primary caregivers or anyone who undermined (consciously or unconsciously) your basic needs for safety and love to be allowed to take responsibility for their choices at that time. Nothing is gained by blaming others and wallowing in the harm that was done to you. And in the same fashion, nothing is gained by pretending that your needs were met by key people in your life if they weren’t.

You see, both can exist: You can take responsibility for the choices you make in life now while also allowing your primary caregivers to be responsible for the choices they made as your parents/teachers/etc.

In fact, from this stance of seeing yourself as a responsible adult and seeing them as also having been responsible as adults in your life, you are in a much stronger, more balanced place from which to heal yourself and your relationships and to move through any past harm.

Allow yourself to imagine that when you were born you came into the world with peace at your core. The very centre of your being was peaceful and felt immense trust and faith in the world and in the people in it.

Had your basic human needs been consistently met from infancy onward you would have maintained conscious contact with that sense of peace and tranquility and you would now move through life from a place of balance and security, trusting that all is as it should be and that overall the world is a beautiful and safe place to be.

Now, allow yourself to imagine that for each experience as a child of your basic needs for food, security/safety, or love/acceptance and belongingness not being met you felt pain. In those situations you felt an appropriate and healthy response of sadness, fear or anger. In response to these healthy, but painful responses to your needs not being met, you began to erect a barricade around your peaceful, trusting core. You began to wall away and protect your authentic self from those painful experiences of insecurity and rejection.

Therefore, instead of experiencing life from your natural state of feeling balanced and centred and peaceful, you began to respond to life from a more defensive stance of anxiety and agitation, feeling unsettled and ungrounded. This is what is otherwise known as the “flight or fight” response. And, if you use food to cope or anxiety or depression among other common harmful coping strategies you can guarantee that you are still approaching life from this flight or fight place – on guard constantly and ready to fight or flee as the situation demands.

In essence you can picture yourself as a whirling tornado, spinning through life; frantic to find your lost sense of peace and acceptance, at all costs. You are perpetually looking outside of yourself for a sense of peace, acceptance and security which cannot be found anywhere but within.

Now, it would be bad enough if this pattern of being harmed and walling more and more of your authentic self away stopped when you reached adulthood and became responsible for yourself. But the reality is, because you have become so accustomed to feeling anxious and agitated, and to interacting with others in a certain way, you continued, in a manner of speaking, to do the same thing to yourself that was done to you: To engage in circumstances where you do not feel safe or loved and respected.

The “solution”? First and foremost you must learn to become aware of when you feel that your needs for security or love and acceptance are not being met by learning to notice when you are using your harmful coping strategies to survive. Then you must learn how to take steps to protect yourself (if you truly are being threatened) or learn new tools for challenging your patterns of thought that lead you to feel threatened when no threat is really present. That’s where counselors like myself come in. We help you to understand what is really going on underneath your coping patterns and how to heal those old patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Just so you’ve got a sense of the kinds of things to be on the look out for when you’re asking yourself to keep an eye out for coping patterns here is a list of some harmful coping strategies that you could be using:

Behavioural Coping Strategies:

  • Overeating
  • Restriction (not eating when hungry)
  • Purging
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug Addiction
  • Retail Therapy (shop to feel better rather than because you really need something)
  • Relationship Addiction (can’t be without one and be happy)
  • Co-dependency (believe you are responsible for the feelings and needs of others and/or that they are responsible for your needs and feelings)
  • Procrastination
  • Avoidance
  • Isolation

Emotional Coping Strategies:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Alexithymia (unable to identify what you are feeling, or that you are even having a feeling)

Thought Coping Strategies:

  • All or Nothing Thinking
  • Bad Body Thoughts
  • Intrusive Ideation (worst case scenario thinking)
  • Self-Criticism
  • Self- Blame
  • Harmful Core Beliefs (I am not good enough, etc.)
  • Paranoid Thinking
  • Suicidal Ideation

This list is not complete but it’s a good solid start to get you going.

Some of you would have seen these patterns of thinking and behaving modeled for you by parents, grandparents, teachers etc. and either naturally took them on as “the right way to be” or rebelled against them only to find yourself with an equally harmful and overwhelming way of being in the world.

So, if you’d like to change any of these patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving, start by inviting yourself to be more aware of when you’re doing them. Perhaps even ask people in your life that you feel safe with to gently point out those patterns when they see you using them to cope.

Your awareness of these coping strategies is the first and most important step in changing their strangle hold on your peace and happiness. But remember, awareness without compassion is just a set up for self-judgement and shame. That’s why understanding where your coping patterns came from, ie. why you needed to develop them in the first place, is so important because once you understand that piece you cannot help but have empathy and compassion for yourself.

Stay tuned for more guidance on what to do now that you’re tuned in to your coping strategies – but always remember – there is a reason for why you do what you do and I absolutely positively assure you it has nothing to do with willpower or your capacity to heal and grow.

You are a beautiful being. Regardless of what you may currently believe about yourself, I assure you, you deserve the same peace and happiness and freedom that everyone else does. You can create a life that is filled with passion and abundance. All you need to do is begin to allow for the possibility that things are not as they seem, that your perspective on the past needs a little tweaking and that you truly are worthy of all that you desire.

Love Michelle

*I say for most people because there are some who would identify themselves as overweight but have become so due to hormonal imbalances (thyroid concerns) or through accidents which have left them temporarily or permanently unable to exercise and they have yet to find a new balance with their nutritional intake.

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The Process of Lasting Change

Overcoming Food Obsession Repeated patterns are a window to your needs. For every pattern you repeat, for example: overeating, purging, or restriction, there is a need which is being met within you. Your inability to change the undesirable pattern has nothing to do with lack of willpower or discipline. The pattern is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. If you direct your efforts only at attempting to eliminate the symptom without putting effort into understanding and dissolving its cause, you are setting yourself up for a very fatiguing and defeating battle. Awareness is the first step in changing any behaviour. You must first become aware that you are doing something which is detrimental to your values and life plan. Resistance is often your immediate reaction to becoming aware of what you are doing and why. This makes perfect sense. You have lived your life with a certain set of behaviours and beliefs. Given this, change, even if desired on some level, often feels less like innovation and more like annihilation of your entire existence as you know it. You wonder what will be left of you, your relationships and the life you know, when you have made the changes necessary to free yourself of this debilitating behaviour. This really means: when you are fully aware of the underlying need that led you to execute this behaviour, will you still choose the people and things you have chosen thus far? From this perspective, change can look very scary and the outcome very lonely. This is why so many of us have to hit our own personal “rock bottom” before we are ready to challenge old, harmful patterns of thoughts and behaviours. You must reach a place where you say, “I don’t care what the outcome is. Just make it stop!” And yet, questioning what life will look like when you are “done” is a wise and significant thing to do. It implies that you know you can change, and on some level you know that your current behaviour is providing you with a way of remaining in an uncomfortable situation without having to fully feel the discomfort being generated. In other words, you know you are numbing yourself to certain aspects of your life, and, because you have chosen this approach to problems for so many years, it is a little scary to imagine being fully present and aware. You are saying that you want your life to be different but are fearful of how this change might appear. This sounds reasonable, from the perspective of the person who has yet to experience the benefits of the change and can only imagine the void which will remain by the removal of the old behaviour. Until you have experienced the pleasure and freedom that is created by letting go of the old pattern, you are naturally going to have some discomfort and doubt about the change.

It is human nature to seek familiarity and feel comforted by it. Often, even when the familiar behaviour is harmful to your essence and prevents you from fulfilling your dreams, you will cling to it because of the comfort provided by the familiar. This very tendency in all humans is why lasting change must happen gradually and this is where overcoming food obsession starts to kick in. When you demand immediate and complete change, you deny yourself time to learn the lessons that the problem or situation you have created is meant to teach. And you certainly don’t have a solid base or foundation in place to feel secure as you move into unfamiliar territory. This means you are likely to flounder and find yourself returning to your old familiar behaviour when things get a little challenging. This can leave you feeling defeated and hopeless.

Just think of any diet or “nutritional plan” you have tried. You no doubt discovered that your attempts to heal your relationship with food and body-image focus, prior to understanding the cause, set you up to have short-term success. Your success could last only for as long as you did not require those coping strategies, that is, as long as nothing in day-to-day life upset your apple cart! This is why, at the pinnacle of our Diet Mentality, many of us can stick to a diet or some form of restrictive behaviour for only about 12 hours! Max! You can be “good” during the day when you are busy, out and about or in front of others, but when you get home, or the chores of the day are mostly attended to, you decompress with food and the whole cycle repeats itself. If the underlying trigger that leads you to use food to cope is unattended, you will be in trouble when something happens that you hadn’t planned for, or didn’t happen the way you had hoped. The feelings and unmet needs, which naturally and appropriately get triggered in those life situations, currently drive you to restrict, binge or purge to cope.

To be successful in changing an old coping strategy, you must have the confidence of knowing that a nurturing force is standing by, ready to catch you when you start to naturally default into those old patterns. And this force must be predominantly found within. Building a solid, nurturing, supportive and understanding relationship with yourself can take some time?as it would with others; however, you will begin to see the benefits of this stronger and more supportive internal relationship immediately, in your awareness of what you are thinking, feeling and needing in that moment and in your ability to respond to those thoughts, feelings and needs respectfully and appropriately.

With a greater sense of trust, security and awareness of yourself rather than the impatience your Drill Sgt. was throwing your way, you will feel a sense of relief which allows you to relax and trust yourself to make life-enhancing and dignified choices around food, yourself and others.

And know this as well: you own this process of change. It does not own you. You can take it as fast or as slow as you like and as you have time and space for. You can look at as much “stuff” and be as aware as you want at any given time, and you can make as many changes as you wish; furthermore, you can return to your previous comforting behaviour whenever you feel the need for the old numbing peace that it brings. Soon, you will naturally find that the old, comfortable coping behaviour no longer fits. It just doesn’t feel right any more. It is not who or where you want to be, nor will you really feel the need to find “security” this way. You will naturally choose not to use it, opting to engage in thoughts, feelings, and behaviours which you have had some practice with and that are coming to feel so much more respectful and natural?so much more “right” – on a gut level than that old coping strategy ever did or ever could. You have found yourself. You have found peace.

Michelle Morand

Posted in: CEDRIC Centre, Relationship with Self, Tips for Natural Eating

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Holding a Torch

It’s Michelle here. I had a very interesting experience yesterday. I was interviewed by a t.v. station for a promotional piece on my presentation at the Health Show in Victoria this weekend. That wasn’t the interesting thing although the interviewer was extremely handsome! No, the interesting thing was that at the end of the interview the last question was: “What do you get out of doing this work? What’s in it for you?” I immediately replied: “I get the gift of seeing someone who has been wrestling with issues of stress and control around food and body image for years finally understand that food is not the problem; when I see that light bulb go on and the awareness of a brand new and much easier way to approach food and life begin to take form in that person I know that their life is forever changed.” And this is the healing journey on eating disorders. That answer was definitely true and it is a significant moment in the lives of my clients and in my own life as well. But, it was what I went on to say that brought me to tears and made me think even deeper than that. I said “You see, when people first come to this process they are disillusioned. They have tried so many different diets and programs and they have lost hope. They keep trying because intuitively they know something has to change, but in many cases they’ve kept trying the same thing, diets. And because diets don’t work for someone who uses food to cope, they continue to experience defeat and continue to blame and judge themselves as flawed and lacking willpower. So my role when someone first comes to the centre is to hold the torch and let that person know there is hope; things will change; they can heal. I will hold that torch until they are able to hold it for themselves” Well, tears came to my eyes when I said that. And I knew then that I had really struck the core of why I do what I do: It gives me such fulfillment and purpose to see someone, for whom hope was all but gone, come to life again and recognize their worth and power. To see someone shift their focus from the hoplessness and despair of what isn’t working or what hasn’t worked and learn a whole new set of tools for what will! That’s fulfillment for me. And it got me thinking about Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Basic Needs. If we are using food to cope we are absolutely using food and body focus in an attempt to meet needs for saftey and security and for love, acceptance and belongingness. That’s a fact. And the healing journey is about finding new and honoring ways to meet those needs. But there is also a part in each and every one of us that aches to feel fulfilled and passionate about something; to know that we are making a difference in the world or in the lives of others. It is what Maslow called Self-actualization: The fulfillment of our life’s purpose. Regardless of where you are in your healing journey you can begin to identify what it is you really feel passionate about and what it is you really want to be able to offer to the world. You can begin now to take steps to realize that vision. You don’t have to look or be any way other than you are right now to begin. In fact, I can guarantee you that focusing some of your energy of moving forward towards identifying and then pursuing your passion will take a big bite out of your use of food to cope.

Healing Journey on Eating Disorders and Hanging On to It

So, think about hope. Think about how much hope you carry in yourself for ever truly healing your relationship with food and with your body. Think about how much hope you carry for ever attaining or even identifying your life’s purpose. Realize that a lack of hope around those things will lead to depression, apathy, lethargy, procrastination, frustration, resentment, envy, annoyance, sadness, isolation, fear, negative self-talk, bad body thoughts, worst case scenario thinking and other harmful coping strategies. And offer yourself the thought that, even if you don’t know how to do it right now, you can be shown how to connect with your higher purpose in life; you can be supported to take the first steps on the path to self-actualization. “Why would I want to do that?” you say. Well if any part of you would like to be rid of the coping strategies I just listed above, it’s one of the easiest and most pleasurable ways of doing just that. So, think about the ways in which you currently bring hope to the lives of others, and, as long as it doesn’t compromise your self-care or healing journey: Do More of That! And if there isn’t any way right now that you feel you are in that zone of self-actualization pick up some books on passion, aliveness, career development etc. My favorite book of this nature is: I could do anything if only I knew what it was. by Barbara Sher. I read it in my twenties and it helped me formulate the idea for and move forward with the creation of The CEDRIC Centre. It’s great! We have copies in our lending library for those of you who live in Victoria. So, think about holding a torch of light and hope for others and what burns in you to be expressed and shared. What light can you bring to the world? If you can answer that question: Get on it! Make it happen, or keep it up! If you can’t answer that question, take action to find out. Love Michelle

Posted in: CEDRIC Centre, Relationship with Self, Tips for Natural Eating

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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.

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