If you haven’t yet read the previous installments in our Self-Care Journey, please visit them here:
The First Step to Self-Care
Self-Care Part 2
Self-Care Part 3: Sustainable Change Begins!
Okey dokey! We’ve done all the prep work. We’re ready to dig in and start identifying the steps we’re going to take to achieve our goals. For those of you just tuning in, and those of you who may need a reminder, we have, for the past 3 weeks now, been on a mission. A mission to identify the goals you have in each of the key areas of your life; to identify the values and principles that you believe in and currently embody or that you’d like to embody in your day to day life; and to make sure that the goals that we identify are actually ours and not what others think we should do so that we can have the sense of purpose, motivation and excitement that we deserve to have when achieving our dreams.
This week we’re going to begin to identify some small steps we can take to get you from “here” to “there.”
I’m just going to pick a few goals out of the air and show you how to break them down into doable steps for some of the key areas someone might have. If you’d like help to sort yours out or with the recovery process in general, let me know and we’ll arrange a session.
Our current mindset, when we begin the journey from using food to cope (overeating, restriction, purging, dieting) is what I call “All or Nothing.” We most often believe that things, including ourselves, are either right or wrong, good or bad. The actual truth is that there are very, very few absolutes in the world; very few things that we can know for certain; and very few things for which there is only one right answer or one right way of thinking or approaching something. Our own truths change as we grow and experience different things too. For example are you still madly in love with that boy from grade 6 that you thought for sure you’d love forever? Is Bubblegum still your favorite ice cream flavor? Do you still love that suede jacket with tassels that you were certain you’d wear forever? Do you still believe it’s a great idea to lie to your parents to get what you want? Do you still fit into your grade 10 jeans? Chances are, those and many others things that you believed were absolute and life-long pieces of who you were, how you should be, or how life would always be have changed. That’s good, change is natural. It means you’re alive!!!
When we attach to behaviours or even beliefs as being “us” or “who we are” we get into trouble. We are organic, growing and changing beings. What we like or don’t like, want or don’t want will change with time unless we’re telling ourselves that there’s something wrong with us for changing our mind or our behaviours. If we’re doing that, we’re likely to end up dependent on some form of harmful coping behaviour to deal with the depression and anxiety that is created by stifling our lives indefinitely.
When we believe that our beliefs and behaviours define us, we lock ourselves in a small box for life. We feel beholden to those patterns and we feel shame and guilt for having them and for being dependent or controlled by them. We also feel bad and wrong and that it’s too scary to contemplate, when we have the fleeting thought that we need to change that pattern in order to be happy. We stick ourselves in a time machine and don’t allow ourselves to grow and change with the experiences of life. No wonder many of us who use food to cope feel depressed and wish that bus would just hop up on the curb and take us out of our misery.
But, when we have a solid sense of our values and principles; when our values and principles are what we believe in and what grounds us, everything can change. As long as I’m honoring my values of integrity, honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, respect, knowledge, self-awareness, authenticity, empathy, compassion, peace and family I can change what I think and what I do anytime and still feel grounded and authentic. I can admit I was wrong; I can admit the truth in someone else’s perspective, regardless of how different it is from mine; I can comfortably and sincerely apologize for the things I did or didn’t do that didn’t meet someone else’s needs without saying I was wrong (ie. without diminishing myself and my own perspectives and needs. This is such a gift – we’ll talk more about this soon). In other words, when I am not attached to my beliefs or my behaviours as being “who I am” but rather I am grounded by my witnessing of my own adherence to my values and principles in life I feel so solid, so strong, so loving and respecting of myself and do darned free and grown up all at the same time. I am not at all diminished by others with different opinions or judgements of me or what I should be doing or what I should look like. It’s true freedom.
One of my favorite quotes about values comes from the movie “The Contender” – I won’t go into the story line but suffice it to say that by the end of the movie you have a profound amount of respect and admiration for the heroine. At the end of the movie, when her opposite is asking her why she didn’t just cave in the previous months and give in to the pressure around her; get down to the level of the others who were actively trashing her, she responded like this: “Our principles only mean something if we adhere to them when it’s most difficult to do so. ”
I love that quote! It has grounded me many a time when, in relationship with myself, I was about to bail on a commitment because “no one else would know!” When I remind myself that my principles, the foundation of my life, only count when I stick by them during the challenging times, a sense of peace and strength is generated. What you are doing here with this process with me is generating your own inner peace and strength; your own rock to stand on as the river of life rushes by you on either side.
Now, are you ready!?
Let’s take a few goals:
That’s good for now.
Now for each of those goals make an honest statement of where you are now:
a. I am currently 75 lbs over my natural weight.
b. I am currently 15 lbs under my natural weight.
- I want to be a natural weight for my body. (I realize that many of you will not know what that weight is as you’ve never been there – we’re going for a feeling of health and strength and tone in your body that you can sustain without restriction and over-exercise – you’ll definitely know it when you get there – if it’s not enough to be going for a feeling of ease and movement then go ahead and pick a ballpark number but don’t get caught up on the number, it’s the feeling of strength and ease of movement you’re really going for.)
- I want to have a peaceful relationship with food.
- I want to have an abundant financial situation.
- I want a career that fulfills me financially and intellectually and allows me time and energy for my personal life too.
- I want to have a loving, considerate, intellectually stimulating, passionate romantic life partnership.
- I want to have a healthy and enjoyable relationship with my …(fill in the blanks) mother, father, brother, sister, grandmother, uncle, my best friend that I’m currently estranged from etc. (I’m going to pick sister on this one but you can pick anyone)
c. I currently have a partnership that doesn’t meet my needs in a key way (intellectually, sexually, emotionally, consideration, communication….)
- I currently think about food in an obsessive and stressful way 24/7. L
- I currently have 25K in debt.
- I currently have a job that doesn’t stimulate me or pay me well enough to achieve my goals financially.
- a. I currently have no partnership.
Okay, now that we know where we are and where we want to be, as well as what our values and principles in life are, we’ve got all the info we need to begin.
Currently you’re likely considering your goals in an all-or-nothing way: I’m either here or there; I have it or I don’t; I’m a success or I’m a failure. That’s not true and not at all helpful. If you consider your goals as being on a continuum, you’ll feel the difference:
Where I am: step 1 step 2 step 3 goal realized
Notice how we’ve got continual forward movement? We can see our goal getting closer and closer with each step. And with each step our trust and confidence in ourselves builds. Our hope builds. Our sense of belief in our ability to, at long last, realize our greatest goals flourishes and we are sustained and re-motivated each step of the way by the recognition of our progress and how different this feels from any of our previous all or nothing approaches to success.
Once we learn this and begin to think in a more “possibilities mindset” we can allow ourselves to celebrate and recognize the steps we are taking each day towards our goal. We don’t punish ourselves by waiting until we’re solidly “there” to acknowledge any progress whatsoever. I’m reminded of my 9-year-old son and his reading practice. He must read to me for 20 minutes a night as part of his homework. I’m loving it! But I notice that if I don’t have any acknowledgement for him after each few sentences (“great suff” “wow that was a tough word” “awesome bud” etc.), he starts to get tired and discouraged and wants to stop after just a few minutes. If I offer any criticism at all (however constructive I might feel it is) he wants to stop and give up. However, if I just keep the acknowledgement coming every few sentences (authentically of course) he’s motivated and can easily read well past 20 minutes without even noticing it.
You see he, like you, wants to be successful in his goal. But because he’s never been successful at it yet, he doubts himself and he needs support and reassurance. He needs to know that his efforts are paying off and that that effort is recognized or his motivation dies very quickly. We are exactly the same. We may last longer than 20 minutes without positive reinforcement but it’s absolutely clear that if we don’t allow ourselves to regularly acknowledge and celebrate the things we did each day towards our goal, we will lose hope, we will feel diminished and fatigued and will not have faith in our ability to get “there.”
So, back to our small steps.
Let’s start with my #1.
1a. Where I am: I am currently 75 lbs over my natural weight.
Step 1: For 2 weeks: Encourage myself to wait until I’m hungry to eat and to stay tuned and stop as soon as I can when I recognize I’m full. Have one meal a day with no processed refined carbs and when I do feel the need to binge/snack, have lots of fruits and veg prepared and around so I have the option to have that instead. Carry snacks that I like the taste of and that are low in sugar with me everywhere and when I start to notice any signs or sensations of hunger have some or all of a snack – no matter how close to mealtime it is. Exercise once each week for ½ hour.
Step 2: For a month or two (depending on how long it takes me to get up to speed and feel like I have a rhythm with this), encourage myself to wait until I’m hungry to eat and to stay tuned to my body for cues of fullness so I can stop when I feel comfortably full. Have 2 meals a day with no processes or refined carbs (in case you aren’t aware, this includes multigrain and whole wheat as well as rice pasta) – go as whole grain, nuts and seeds as you can. Don’t concern yourself with fat content or caloric content, concern yourself with the quality of what you’re eating. Trust me! Continue to carry snacks and let yourself have one or part of one as soon as you notice you feel hungry, regardless of when meals are coming. Have lots of fruits and veg around for you to grab any time you feel munchy. Again, focus exclusively on quality and natural-ness right now not on caloric content and fat content. Those things really don’t matter when you eat well and eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Exercise 2 x’s a week for ½ hour (can be anytime – can be back-to-back days – can be 5 days apart – doesn’t matter – just be consistent, 2 x’s a week.)
Step 3: For as long as it takes: Only take step 3 when you have had a sense of ease and flow with step 2 for a few weeks. Continue as you are with food, eating when hungry as much as you can, stopping when full as much as you can, having snacks with you that you feel good about eating and that don’t trigger your Drill Sgt. (your inner critic). See if you can have a few days a week with no processed or refined carbs (by now you’re very likely noticing how fatigued and bloated you feel after eating them so it’s not a hardship to step back from them a little more. The goal is isn’t to never have them but to recognize their impact on your body physically and emotionally and choose them every now and then as opposed to daily.) Exercise 3 x’s a week for ½ hour. Again, don’t get attached to when or how close together or even what you do during that ½ hour. It doesn’t matter. Just move.
Realization of Ultimate Goal: I am a natural weight for my body and maintain that weight easily. Oh Ya! Check you out!
1b.Where I am: I am currently 15 lbs under my natural weight.
Step 1: For 2 weeks: Identify foods I already eat that I feel really comfortable eating (even if there is just one) and encourage myself to have a little more of that food each day. If I start to get preoccupied with the sensation of fullness in my tummy, remind myself that feeling full is healthy and natural and that as long as that feeling doesn’t last more than an hour, I haven’t overeaten I’ve just eaten more than I’m used to.
Step 2: With your increased sense of comfort with a little more food in your tummy and a sense of fullness, invite yourself to pick 2 foods you’d like to experiment with. Add a little of them to one meal each day. Pay attention to the feelings of fullness and allow yourself to stop when you start to feel a little full. If you get hungry an hour or so later you know you didn’t eat enough for your body’s needs, and next time you can comfortably ask yourself to have just a little more. You’re shooting for a balance between your own physical sense of comfort in your body and having about 3 hours between sensations of hunger. You must commit to feed yourself as soon as you start to get hungry, don’t wait – even if it’s just a few mouthfuls, otherwise you’re just playing games with yourself, and you can’t build trust and really honor the signals of your body. If you’re exercising more than 4 x’s a week, ask yourself to either take a few minutes off each workout or to take one out all together – you decide. You can always add it back in later if you really truly enjoy exercising that much and truly have time for it in your life once you have achieved a state of balance.
Step 3: For as long as it takes: Once you have a sense of ease and flow with Step 2 for at least 3 weeks, you can begin step 3. Pick a few more foods to add every 2 weeks. It doesn’t matter what they are, just whatever you like and whatever is going to feel good in your body physically (enhance your health). Add them in the same manner: A little bit here, a little bit there, always listening to the signals from your body about hunger and fullness. There is no benefit whatsoever in extending hunger just as there is no benefit whatsoever in overeating. That just triggers the Drill Sgt. and his all-or-nothing thinking, so go slow. There is no rush when you think big picture and that you are creating a life of freedom. Taking an extra few months to get where you want to go is absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. Just keep moving forward. Make sure you carry snacks with you that you feel comfortable having and make sure you have some (even a few bites) as soon as you start to feel hungry. Check in about how your body is feeling with the amount of exercise you’re doing and if it’s feeling fatigued at all let it be okay to have an expectation of 3 workouts a week as a minimum, and when you truly have the space and the energy you can always do more. Take it day-by-day, week-by-week regarding any additional exercise as long as you’re doing your 3 a week. And when you exercise, listen to what your body says each time about how much energy it has and what it really wants to do. Honor that and you’ll get much more benefit from your exercise over all.
Realization of Ultimate Goal: I am a natural weight for my body and maintain that weight easily. Here you are! You have a relationship with food and with your body based on listening to what it needs and wants and you’ve seen yourself respect those signals for months. You have a sense of ease and trust in yourself that you’ve never had before, and food just isn’t an issue.
Next week I’ll run through examples of some of the other goals I made up above. If you’d like me to work on one of yours, email me and I’ll do that. Give this a go this week. Let me know how it goes.
Remember, I’m here for sessions if you want to have some one-on-one with this. And also remember, we’re kicking off our web program in a few short months where we’ll be working as a group through exercises like this. So if you’re wanting a sense of connection and support as you step your way to freedom, consider joining our web program (more info on that to follow).
Have a great week.
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- I currently have no connection at all with my sister.