Here’s a quick story about All-or-Nothing Thinking. So today, I was leisurely driving along on my way to an appointment, having left myself ample time to get from point A to point B. I had packed a lunch to take with me – a whole, skinless chicken breast that I had cooked the night before in garlic and sesame oil, (naturally making a few extra than I needed last night so my husband and I would have an easy, healthy lunch prepared); a container of fresh strawberries, washed, (I rinsed them well before I left the office this afternoon); an avocado; an apple and banana. Noticing I was feeling peckish and that my appointment was 90 minutes long, decided to eat something. I had one hand on the wheel and one hand on a chicken breast as I munched happily, listening to my favourite pop tunes playlist, which, at that point was serenading me with some vintage Fleetwood Mac, and enjoying more of that fabulous sun we’ve been having.
Finishing my chicken, I set the Tupperware container aside and reached over for my strawberries. It’s that season so they were truly sun ripened and fresh. I enjoyed a few and then noticed I was feeling comfortably full and set them aside, still slowly making my way to my appointment. I found a parking spot just outside the building and wandered up the stairs to meet with my friend and colleague, Stacy Sully. At the top of the stairs, I was thrilled to see Deb Moncur, the yoga instructor who has worked with me at CEDRIC for many years. She was just moving into her lovely new studio and showed me the beautiful space that our clients will be working in when they see her. We chatted for a bit about the power of following your dreams and about all the amazing things that happen when you just do what you’re passionate about.
I was sad to leave Deb as we so rarely have time to chat about things unrelated to work but I did not want to miss a moment of my time with Stacy. Stacy was giving me an incredible gift of an energy healing session with her. Stacy has been offering her services to our clients at CEDRIC for many years now as well and has been a powerful part of the success of our healing plans, as has Deb. Stacy has also been a great gift to me personally as I have had a number of sessions with her over the years to help me to see myself and the world more clearly and to stay grounded during challenging times.
Coming off the big transition of my move to Vancouver in September with my husband and two children and the many adjustments that that required, as well as the sudden death of my step-father in January, and some big changes at work, I was very much looking forward to my time with Stacy to help me to deepen my connection with myself and to clarify my focus in a few key areas (work and family, specifically).
My session was fabulous; safe, relaxing, grounding, and enlightening.
As I headed back to my car, I popped in to the little deli just in front of where it was parked and purchased a small imported chocolate bar and a limonata. I hopped into the front seat, noticing my yoga gear from the night before was slightly more fragrant than I might have liked…opened the windows, had two pieces of the chocolate bar, a sip of my bevy, and pulled onto the road.
Heading for the ferry home to Vancouver, with time to spare, I put on my headset and made a few calls, the last one being to my best friend who just returned from a family vacation. A wonderful time was had by all and we laughed a lot about the various antics of our children, partners, and ourselves.
It was then that my mind began to reflect on the events of the previous 3 hours. The peace, the safety, the trust and confidence I felt in my body and in my world, the warmth and love I shared with my colleagues and friend, and the time…..yes, the time.
There was a time when I truly felt like I had no time. I wasn’t on death’s door by any means, but I sure lived as though a demon was chasing me.
Back then, before my recovery from emotional eating (some may prefer to call it binge eating disorder or overeating, whatever you call it – that’s what I did – 24/7!), I lived in a state of chronic, high-level anxiety.
Instead of making extra dinner the night before, I would most certainly have consumed it all and then some, or not have cooked anything at all, and instead, picked up something quick and processed and eaten every morsel, all the while beating up on myself for my poor choices or the amount of food I was eating.
I would have told myself I had to eat a proper meal and would have thought it not just strange but “wrong” to eat a chicken breast on its own without the trappings of rice or potatoes or pasta or bread and some small token veg.
I would have told myself I couldn’t pack a lunch because I didn’t have time and I would have ended up grabbing something quick and fattening and fatiguing for my body, spending extra cash but also triggering the good old Drill Sgt.’s judgement about my food choices.
I would never have allowed myself to eat a chicken breast in my car, while driving. That’s just plain weird! Or at least that’s what I would have imagined others who might have seen me would have thought. (It’s okay if you think so, too.)
To be truthful, I would never have allowed myself to eat anything while walking or driving in case anyone might see me. I was one of those overweight people who ate “properly” when everyone / anyone else was around, often passing up treats or snacks when the rest of the group was imbibing.
I felt so fat and ugly that I believed that if someone, anyone, saw me eating anything, they would judge me as fat and gross and bad, and they would be right. Of course, when I examine that story now, it’s just silly. What did I think? Did I think that because I had extra weight on my body I wasn’t allowed or entitled or needing of any food whatsoever? Well, actually, yeah. I did believe that I should just starve myself until I was “good enough” and then I could eat something.
Of course I couldn’t actually sustain my self-imposed hunger strike for very long. It always ended, as it would for any human on the planet as studies have shown, with a great big binge. This is where my insecurity and low self-esteem turned into a fullblown eating disorder with me trying to control my anxiety and insecurity through restricting food in the hopes that I would one day be thin enough to be acceptable and lovable and to never, ever, no matter what, be abandoned or rejected or judged by anyone.
Of course, being thin was going to bring me the love and security and accolades that I so desperately sought. Everything would be better when I was thin. Right?
For starters, my restriction kept triggering binges in faster succession to the point where I was starting a new diet every morning and ending it by coffee break then spending the rest of my day beating the crap out of myself verbally and feeling fat and gross and insecure and like the day was totally ruined, and I just had to wait for 8 am tomorrow to start again.
Somewhere in there the brilliant idea struck me that if I had already screwed up my day, I could just binge all day and start again tomorrow. And so it went, for years.
Throw some excessive exercise in there in fits and starts, and you have my life, every day, for most of my teens and early 20s.
The thought of making a lunch for myself as I had today would have overwhelmed me in so many ways back then. My all-or-nothing thinking was so rampant, there would have been countless barriers for me to overcome just to figure out what to put in my lunch:
The dialogue in my head would have sounded something like this:
- I’m trying to lose weight so maybe if I don’t bring a lunch, I won’t eat lunch and then I will lose weight, right?
- I can’t have “that” it’s too fattening, and if I can’t have what I really want, why bother packing anything?;
- That won’t be filling enough, I’m going to need more but I don’t have any more, so I won’t bring any;
- What if I don’t feel like having that when the time comes? Then I won’t enjoy my lunch and I’ll be obsessing about eating something else but I’ll be full and then I won’t get to have what I really want, so I better not take anything!
- What if it got mushy or squished? I have to bring a bunch of containers to keep it separate and then I have to carry them and wash them, and that’s too much of a pain in the ass, so why bother?
- What if other people think that it’s weird to bring “that” in my lunch? They’ll judge me and I’ll feel embarrassed, so it’s better not to bring “that” even if it’s my favourite and what I really want – and a relatively healthy choice to boot!
- What if someone was going to ask me out for lunch but they see I have a lunch? Then they won’t ask me, and I’ll miss out on the chance to hang out with them.
I could probably go on for another page about all of the worries and all-or-nothing thinking that the simple act of packing my lunch would trigger in me.
Is it any wonder I used to feel anxious as soon as my eyes opened every morning? Not a shocker.
Let’s take a look at these silly stories that used to have me stymied (say that 5 times fast!) and expose the all-or-nothing thinking nice and clear for you so you can challenge any similar thoughts in your own noggin’.
1. I’m trying to lose weight so maybe if I don’t bring a lunch, I won’t eat lunch and then I will lose weight, right?
Okee dokee, then – sure Michelle – here I’m completely forgetting that every day, for who knows how long, I’ve been trying to restrict, and ending up binging. It’s very all-or-nothing to assume that something is going to be different today just because I say so, when I’ve been saying so for years and have not been able to stick to my “plan.” I’m setting myself up for total failure here, and then my good old DS will jump in with his well-intentioned shaming and beratement, and I’m off and binging.
2. I can’t have “that” it’s too fattening, and if I can’t have what I really want why bother packing anything?;
Here I’m telling myself (again without rational respect to what I’ve been doing and eating for the past years) that I can’t have certain foods. The restriction only ever triggered me to binge. I’m also saying there’s no point in bringing any food at all if I can’t have what I want. So, what? I’m going to starve myself completely until I’m “thin enough” (who knows when that actually will be) and then eat junk? That makes good sense – a true recipe for success, no? No!
3. That won’t be filling enough, I’m going to need more but I don’t have any more so I won’t bring any;
Ummmm. Yeah. Sure, that makes sense. I’m going to be hungry because I don’t have enough (for starters how do I know that for sure until I’m there and finished and still hungry – all-or-nothing…), so I won’t take anything. How’s that for all-or-nothing thinking?
4. What if I don’t feel like having that when the time comes? Then I won’t enjoy my lunch and I’ll be obsessing about eating something else but I’ll be full and then I won’t get to have what I really want so I better not take anything!
Really? Why can’t I take a bunch of different things and let myself decide when the time comes what I feel like having and have that? Problem solved. In fact, that’s what I do now if I’m not sure what I want – I bring a bunch of things, as I did in the car, and just pick as I feel drawn to. Of course, my all-or-nothing thinking back in the day would have been very hooked in telling me that I was going to eat it all and so I couldn’t bring more than I was “allowed” to have on the diet du jour. It would also tell me that people would judge me as weird and piggy if I brought a bunch of food that day for lunch. I don’t care now what others think of my eating and food choices but back then, any judgement from anyone was crushing, so I just didn’t take care of myself if I thought others might judge me. Sad, but true, and a very all-or-nothing perspective. Why should I care more for them and their perspective of me than for my own needs and feelings? That’s just the old co-dependent training and has no place in a healthy life.
5. What if it got mushy or squished, I have to bring a bunch of containers to keep it separate and then I have to carry them and wash them and that’s too much of a pain in the ass, so why bother?
It might not get squished. I might be able to consolidate and use fewer containers. Wouldn’t it be better in the long run for me to bring the dishes and accept that I have to carry and wash them than to set myself up not to have good choices and to binge as a result? Yes. But those options didn’t pop into my mind because of my all-or-nothing worst-case scenario brain.
6. What if other people think that it’s weird to bring “that” in my lunch? They’ll judge me and I’ll feel embarrassed, so it’s better not to bring “that” even if it’s my favourite and what I really want – and a relatively healthy choice to boot!
Co-dependent, all-or-nothing me. “Their” approval was everything, and I would sacrifice and contort my own needs and feelings to do what I thought would generate the greatest approval, even if that meant me binging later because I didn’t eat enough or eat what I really wanted. My priorities were not just somewhat skewed – they were downright screwed. Now I just eat whatever I really want, when I’m hungry for it, and my body has been exactly the same natural healthy weight since my mid 20s, regardless of whether I exercise or not.
7. What if someone was going to ask me out for lunch but they see I have a lunch? Then they won’t ask me, and I’ll miss out on the chance to hang out with them.
Awww. Here again, I’m so in that co-dependent all-or-nothing mind that I am planning to compromise myself just in case, on the offffff chance that someone might want to spend time with me. Was I lonely? Yes. Did I have needs for connection? Yes. Did I need to compromise myself in order to get them met? No. In fact, any time I did compromise my needs physically or emotionally in the hopes of having connection with someone, I always ended up binging and feeling more insecure and beating myself. This is simply because any time you, or anyone else, dishonours your authentic needs and feelings, you have undermined your trust in yourself and your sense of safety in yourself, and you will feel more vulnerable, less safe and trusting in the world. In essence, you’ve just told yourself – I’m going to abandon you if someone else comes along. Imagine your boyfriend or girlfriend saying that and how safe and secure you’d feel in that relationship. And then remember that you eat to manage your anxiety levels, and you will see very clearly that the quickest path to not using food to cope and to feeling happy in life and in your body overall, is to identify and meet your own needs first and then meet the needs of others, if, and only if, it really feels right for you and doesn’t compromise you in any way.
See what you can come up with tomorrow or on Monday for your own list of all-or-nothing thoughts around eating that day and meal preparation in general, and give yourself the gift of calling a spade a space – all-or-nothing thinking is just co-dependency and will only ever create more anxiety – never less.