For this week’s article I’m happy to respond to a question from a telephone client on the Eastern Seaboard about stopping eating disorder triggers. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s relevant to anyone at any stage of the journey to complete freedom from food and body image stress, whether you have an eating disorder or just feel that food focus takes up more time and energy than you’d like.
“One minute after our talk, which I found extremely insightful as I always do, I walked out of office and into my cubicle to have my lunch. I had ordered egg salad on a wrap and fruit. I was ready to eat until full and, if I wanted, to finish rest later if I got hungry. I’ve really been working hard on trying to listen to my body cues.
One of my coworkers came in and said he had brought in my favorite fried chicken for us all, biscuits, etc. I went over and thought okay, I’ll have one piece and one biscuit as I love them both. As I was eating the chicken, I just had the physical and mental urge to eat more and more until I was stuffed, it was like the forbidden food, and if I overate, I would be a bad girl. I was even starting to lose focus of my surroundings as I do in a full head-on binge. It was scary I had just talked to you. In my head, I was thinking, Enjoy this piece and have that be it. Don’t let this chicken have that much power. I couldn’t decipher any Drill Sgt. stories as I was trying so hard to fight the binge.
Had I ate my egg salad, I would not have had this struggle, Why?”
And then a few days later…
“It happened again today. I had checked in during the morning and was doing okay, then I realized I was going to an area of NJ today that had a great local hot dog stand. I swear to you as soon as I thought of having a hot dog it went to immediately thoughts of having 2 or 3 hot dogs, then I got the urge to eat even though I had just had breakfast. I was immediately in all-or- nothing because I wasn’t going to have a salad for lunch but was allowing myself the hot dog which isn’t really a good choice when you should be losing weight and be dieting perfectly. I swear it was the pressure of having a hot dog and not being perfect with my eating that sent me into oblivion. It happened in seconds. Is that possible?”
Answer a la Michelle
Oh, yeah! It’s possible. It happens in a split second that our all-or-nothing thinking kicks in, triggers us to feel that urgent niggle, and we are off and running in our coping strategy cycle of negative /all-or-nothing thinking -> anxiety/feeling overwhelmed/feeling stuck/feeling hopeless -> numbing out with food (or thoughts of food), or alcohol, or TV, or isolation, etc. -> negative/all-or-nothing thinking -> more anxiety (and now we feel like crap physically, too! -> more numbing out…etc. etc.
What really happened was a lot of unconscious chatter that triggered you to feel unsettled/anxious which just gained more and more momentum as you continued to focus on
Thoughts of Food:
whether to have hot dogs;
whether to have 1 or 3;
what would happen if you had 3;
what kind of a person even wants 3;
you have weight to lose, you shouldn’t be even thinking of having a hot dog let alone 3;
what’s wrong with me…?
This cycle will repeat itself exactly as it did here, every single time you start to feel at all anxious or unsettled about anything until you learn the key piece of the puzzle:
Any thoughts of food that trigger you to feel anything other than peaceful are coping strategy thoughts.
Any thoughts of food that trigger you to feel anything other than peaceful are coping strategy thoughts.
That means that any time you start feeling that old familiar sense of push/pull, I love you/I hate you, just this once….I’ll start again tomorrow…., what is really happening is you’re into coping strategy mode and not in the present moment. The majority of your conscious and unconscious energy in that moment is either in the past or the future ie. this happened last time and that means it’s going to happen again… or…I wasn’t able to do X last time so I won’t be able to this time. It’s all part and parcel of the instability and insecurity that is all-or-nothing thinking that stems from unmet needs within you for connection (with yourself), for reassurance (from yourself), for validation and acknowledgment of your feelings and needs (from yourself) and safety and trust (with/in yourself). Did you notice a them there? All the key needs that trigger you to binge or purge or restrict can be met by yourself, easily.
Your Very Own Self-Esteem Brownie Recipe
Once you are able to recognize that any energy around food that isn’t peaceful is simply an indicator that you’re feeling unsettled about something (or a number of things) and you’ve just kicked over your manageable stress threshold into maxed out, needing-food-to-cope land, then your automatic default will no longer be to get hooked and ride the train of food focus and self-flagellation, instead, your reaction will be empathy and compassion. You will stop. You will breathe. You will say:
“Wait, I’m getting hooked into food focus here that isn’t feeling peaceful or good. That means I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed about something. What was I just thinking/what just happened that might have triggered me to feel at all anxious/unsettled/…pressured? And what am I telling myself that means? And was there any all-or-nothing thinking in that thought? If so, how else could it possibly go? And do I think that outcome is equally or more likely?”
There’s your recipe. It’ll make a perfect batch of self-esteem brownies every time! No binging and a solution to whatever was really bugging you, thus a win-win in the moment and an increase in self-confidence and an overall decrease in your baseline stress level.
The Double Whammy
In the example above, as with so many of these instances in our healing, what was likely taking place for you was twofold: A genuine stressor triggered some thoughts and feelings of distress while, simultaneously (‘cause goodness knows we don’t have enough to deal with already!) some good old diet mentality triggered guilt, shame and confusion about where you should be focusing your thoughts. In other words:
- You were feeling somewhat unsettled about a stressor or a few stressors in your life and some stories about how they were going to unfold or how successful you were going to be were likely starting to kick in, thus you weren’t starting out around food from a peaceful place and you weren’t fully connected to your own thoughts and emotions (if we use food to cope it means we typically check out to our own feelings and thoughts whenever we start to feel anxious/unsettled and we are in need of tools to help us notice those cues more immediately and respond to them appropriately rather than numb out to them, which really means we are numbing out to ourselves and our own, authentic experience of the world).
- When the opportunity to have some of your favorite food arose, not the choice you had planned for yourself, there wasn’t any balance in you, just all-or-nothing thinking (again, you were already a little/lot unsettled because of underlying stressors so the all-or-nothing thinking Drill Sgt. was already up and about – the presentation of a “bad” food choice just kicked you that much faster into the food-to-cope mode of making the focus of your distress food, rather than what was triggering you initially): “That’s bad food; I should eat “diet” food; I’m bad for eating this; I’m bad for wanting this; I’m going to get fat; I’m never going to lose weight; I’m evil; I’ll never figure this out and… our favorite: someone should probably just lock me up in a room full of jelly doughnuts and throw away the key, now! I give up!!!”
A Little Natural Eating Refresher
Had you had the natural eating handout in your hot little hand at that moment (or up on the wall in the staff room! Even better!!! J ), you would have been reminded of all the key pieces you needed to stop and chill out in that moment:
- If you’re hungry, eat!
- When you’re full, stop!
- As long as you honor those 2 steps, you can truly eat anything and not be overweight! I know it for a fact from my own life and from thousands of men and women who have gone through The CEDRIC Centre program.
- If you can’t do that you’re absolutely, 100% guaranteed, using food to cope and you need tools and support to identify why, and what to do about those underlying stressors (that’s where we come in).
- Eat everything in moderation
- There are no good and bad foods, it’s only when we eat when we’re not hungry, and eat more than we’re hungry for that we have extra weight on our body. Now, of course, certain foods are healthier than others, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about judgements of goodness/badness, rightness/wrongness, that make us feel bad and wrong for eating or even thinking of eating certain foods, rather than realizing that in moderation nothing is “bad.” These judgements only serve to alienate us further from our needs and feelings in the moment thus increasing our need for food to numb out rather than reducing it. The diet mentality and the all-or-nothing Drill Sgt. will never do anything but make you feel stuck and crappy about yourself.
- We don’t need to focus on the kinds of foods we’re eating at this stage, only why we are eating (for hungry or emotional reasons). The truth is, once you cease needing to use food focus to cope with life, which can only happen once you’ve developed the self-esteem and confidence in yourself to handle life in competent, respectful and dignified ways, you will naturally be drawn to more honoring food choices regarding types of foods and quantities, it happens with no effort, and there is no sense whatsoever of restriction or of “I can’t have…”.
- No guilt ladies and gents! No guilt! No guilt! The only reason to feel guilty is because you’re out of integrity with what you believe is good or right for you. So if you’re feeling guilty around food, check in with yourself and ask: “Am I feeling guilty because I have some all-or-nothing thinking about what is a good food vs. a bad food, which is the diet mentality and which I am committed to tossing out the window as I drive alongside the Loch Ness?” (because that’s really just an old, stupid, misguided societal crap story that only ever made people feel bad about themselves) “Or am I feeling guilty because I’m not hungry and I’m reaching for more food and I know that means I have needs that aren’t being met and I need to take a few minutes to be with myself and identify what’s stressing me and what I can do to resolve the issue?” If it’s the first, head to Scotland, fast! If it’s the latter, breathe (4-7-8, or just 3 deep breaths), prove how safe it is in that moment to be in your body, in that moment, and learn to identify what’s really going on in your mind and in your life that’s making you feel so overwhelmed and stuck.
My guess is that if you had been able, in that moment in, what shall be forever known as …“The Chicken Incident” to remind yourself of the first 3 bulleted points above, you’d have been just fine. Same with the hot dog incident. Same with most of our overeating experiences.
Tired of Watching the Train Wreck?
So do what you have to do to create opportunities throughout your day for the next week (and beyond as needed) to remind yourself of the above key points of natural eating, and know that any time you’re relating to food any way other than the natural eating way, you’re using food to cope which means you’re anxious/stressed about something, have told yourself you can’t handle it (which is always a big pile of pahooey!), and are checking out so you don’t have to stand by and watch the train wreck.
Well, the truth is, there is never going to be a train wreck, because you are competent, you always pull “it” off and get by. That’s reality. That’s truth. That’s what your life has shown you. It doesn’t matter if you pull it off at the 23rd hour or in dirty underwear for Pete’s sake! You do it, you’ve always done it and that goes for all of you reading. You know it! You’re not perfect (welcome to my club 6 billion members and counting), and you don’t have to be. You only need to do your best in each moment and get off your case. That’s all! Really!
Let go of The Old All-or-Nothing
It doesn’t matter what anyone else from your past told you you had to do, think, feel or be. You only need to hold yourself to their expectations if you choose to continue to hold the all-or-nothing perspective that that person (those people) is God; that somehow, they have the “right” answer and the “right” way of doing things and that they are “perfect” and that your life depends on their approval. That’s a very irrational, childlike perspective on the world. It made sense to see key people as Godlike when we were small because, in essence, they were our everything. We were completely dependent on them, and we had brains at that time in our development that couldn’t entertain any grey area or multicolored approaches to life. The child brain can only think in terms of all-or-nothing, fight or flight, threat or not, good or bad, right or wrong, period! That’s why we are in the pickle we’re in.
That old brain made us see ourselves as those people seemed to (flawed, bad, wrong, stupid, fat, ugly, lazy, selfish, weak…), not realizing that they are just people too. They had their own strengths and weaknesses. They had their own needs and their own (often) ineffectual ways of meeting or coping with those needs.
What we all Needed
What we all needed, was parenting and role modeling of an open-minded, moderate approach to the world in which we were taught:
- That what we were feeling was valid, as feelings only arise, automatically, from our thoughts which come from an instinctual sense of some need not being met, therefore, they can’t be bad, wrong, or even “too much” they just are;
- To ask questions and seek to understand things that seem strange or don’t meet our needs in some ways;
- To express our feelings in ways that are respectful of ourselves and of others and create safety and trust within and between;
- To realize that there is more than one way to see everything and that all perspectives have validity given that person’s life experience and self-awareness. We don’t have to have everyone agree, or even anyone agree, in order for us to be “right” about how we feel or what we need or our opinion on something. We can hear contrary ideas and opinions and still stay with ourselves and with the truth of how we feel and what we need.
I’d say that about covers it!
I hope this was helpful to you all, and as always, I really welcome your sharing and questions. It’s really so validating and affirming to hear how you’re exploring these tools and how this process is working for you.
Whether you prefer one-on-one counselling (in-person, by phone, or email), our intensive and transformative workshops, the self-help approach, with the book, or our Food is Not the Problem Online Membership Program, take action today to have a stress-free relationship with food. Sign up for our free newsletter today (see the left top side of your screen). Newsletter subscribers receive exclusive product discounts and are first in line to get on all the latest new at CEDRIC.
© Michelle Morand, 2010