This post is part of a series about Complete Recovery on our blog. If you’d like to read all of the blog posts in the series, see The Three Steps to Complete Recovery – 1, 2, 3.
All-or-Nothing Thinking 101
After exploring Step 1 and Step 2 as outlined in the last 2 articles from me it is highly likely that you are more tuned in than ever before to:
If you haven’t got a sense of trust that that is the pattern; if you don’t yet know in your gut that this is the mechanism by which your food stress gets triggered and remains in your life, you must, for your own healing and freedom, read Step 1 and Step 2 and explore those exercises for a few days at least.
This process doesn’t work if you just listen to me – you have to prove to yourself, to that very doubtful, critical voice within, that the problem isn’t you, it’s your training in how to respond to (or not) your appropriately occurring feelings and needs.
Without your own confidence, through experience, in this process you won’t bother to do the next steps of homework and you’ll just come away from this process believing you tried and it didn’t work – which is the farthest thing from the truth.
This process works 100% every single time. It can’t not work. We are helping you to learn to apply rational adult thought to all areas of your life and when you do that, you naturally feel more adult, less fraudulent, more relaxed and peaceful in your own skin and genuinely capable and desiring of taking great care of yourself. Once you begin to really “get” the process, the speed of your recovery is up to you in terms of how often you use your tools and therefore, how long it takes for them to become second nature in the way the old “if I feel anxious, let’s numb out” mentality is currently second nature to you.
Where my team and I come in is to help speed you on your journey with support that is specific to you and your unique life experience; we provide examples and tools that are just right for where you are and what step you’re on. But the basic mechanism is the same for all people and I’m sharing it with you these past two weeks and for the next two or so because I want you to understand completely what’s going on when you reach for food and you’re not hungry or don’t allow yourself to eat when your body needs nourishment. If this article resonates with you, then it’s time to allow yourself to get a little support and to finally step completely free of food and body stress.
I have found, through my own longstanding and complete recovery from binge eating/exercise bulimia and the underlying triggers that led me to that coping strategy in the first place, that it is much easier to change a behaviour when you truly believe you can. That means, if you don’t understand why it is you do what you do, you are likely to blame yourself and see yourself as faulty and feel stuck and keep trying the same old thing.
I remember the feelings of despair that used to overtake me after a binge. That sense of waking to reality to discover that I’d just done, yet again, the very thing I promised myself all day that I wouldn’t do. Every single day my trust with myself was compromised in this way and every single night I felt that familiar sense of urgent need for numbing and shortly after, the despair and depression of failure.
I also remember that the only thing that brought me any sense of light, however momentarily was falling asleep to the story that tomorrow I would be different, tomorrow I would stick to my diet, tomorrow I would not over eat, not a bite more than I needed, maybe I’d even undereat and exercise to make up for tonight and in a few days the damage would be undone…….zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
And then waking up to the anxiety in the pit of my stomach that signaled memories surfacing from last night, the bloating, the ‘fatness’ and feeling gross in my body, the self-loathing as I got dressed in one of the very few outfits that fit me at all – something resembling a red potato sack if I recall correctly. The self-beratement and shame followed me through my morning preparations and on the skytrain to work and as I sat down at my desk, I was already so unhappy (yet externally smiling widely earning me the nickname of “sunshine” from my co-workers…if they only knew!), and, at that point, nothing had even really happened that day.
I had no room for anything to transpire between me and the world as I was already maxed out from my own past pain and present self-loathing and ineffective solutions, yes, I remember that sense of stuckness, hopelessness and despair very, very well.
By coffee break I was across the street getting a giant cinnamon bun and consuming it so quickly, so as not to be observed. Who did I think they thought I was buying it for? And why did I think anyone ever cared about what I ate?….because my family had been extremely preoccupied with what I ate and what I looked like, my weight and acceptability appearance-wise, it never occurred to me that my family had distorted priorities and confused ways of being. I assumed everyone was like them, just perhaps a little quieter about their judgement.
For the record, my years of recovery and 17 years as a specialist in this field have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only people who care what you eat and what you weigh are people who are as confused and preoccupied with food as you are – and believe me, you do not want to try to live your life to make them happy – that’s their job. Your job is making you happy! And it’s much, much easier to do than you can imagine. You just have to try something that works rather than variations on a theme that never will.
Where was I, oh yes, coffee break. Well, you get the point. The day did not go well as long as I was focusing on food and what I weighed and looked like rather than on why I felt so bloody shitty all the time. I just assumed I felt crappy because I was crap and would always feel that way. I believed, because of my familial training, that if I looked a certain way I could at least fake it and perhaps lead some semblance of a decent life.
Only problem of course was that I had some very confused perspectives on myself and on others that led me to feel anxious most of the time whether alone or in a giant group of people and the way I dealt with my anxiety was the same way you do: I ate, I restricted, I purged through excessive exercise (at times).
Now if I’m telling myself I need to lose weight and stop overeating in order to be peaceful and happy and finally “acceptable” but the thing that I do when I feel anxious about anything is eat, I’m stuck. It wasn’t the food that had me stuck either. Not at all actually. It was my all-or-nothing thinking. I was absolutely fixated on only one possible explanation (I was lazy, lacked willpower, flawed and faulty) and, in my mind, only one possible solution:
Keep trying the thing you’ve been trying for years that had never worked because it’s you that’s the problem and not the diet!
So you see. The underlying all-or-nothing story that I was the problem never allowed an opportunity for me to even open my mind to the possibility that something else was actually the problem. That perhaps there were actually things that were legitimately painful or stressful and that perhaps the calming and soothing and numbing of myself with food would naturally shift if I learned how to identify and attend to those other stressful things. Perhaps even my self-esteem would increase and I genuinely wouldn’t feel so faulty and bad after I got to see myself being successful in taking care of some of those stressful situations in ways that were dignified and respectful and led to a solid sense of closure. This would mean I would feel less and less anxious and insecure and therefore need food to cope less and less, naturally!
Well of course that’s exactly what was true and exactly what happened. And that’s what happens for all our clients. But I couldn’t make that shift myself because of the annoying dichotomy that the mind that actually needs to make the choice to try something new is absolutely imbedded in the story above: I’m flawed, it’s me, it always will be, I’ll never get it right, so why bother trying. I just couldn’t clearly see where I was going wrong and why I always ended up right back where I had promised myself I wouldn’t.
I needed someone outside of me to catch my thoughts for me and show me where I was taking that nasty wrong turn at Albuquerque again. Someone to help me step out of my old perspective of fear and self-doubt and into the present moment, into reality, where there truly are a multitude of possibilities to every single situation, regardless of what your old all-or-nothing mindset tells you. As Albert Einstein so wisely said: No one can solve a problem with the same mind that created it in the first place.
Back then, the cycle of anxiety – binging/restricting – feeling guilty and shameful and loathing of myself and feeling greater anxiety was at play in my brain 24/7. Of course I still believed that the solution lay in controlling my food and in me looking a certain way. I never once had any other notion put to me. There were no other solutions presented, and believe me I searched!
My psychiatrist (only went once); psychologist (likewise); 3 separate GPs; and countless diet centres; OA; etc., etc., ALL FOCUSED ON THE FOOD! ARGH! Even the “experts” were steeped in all-or-nothing thinking! I knew in my gut that what they offered wasn’t the answer but no one could tell me what was.
I was blessed to stumble upon a lady who had been a psychiatric nurse and seen many women and men on her ward with eating disorders who were drugged, given diets and sent home, only to return shortly thereafter. She realized something was missing in this treatment and began to explore other options. She helped me to understand some of the basic principles of natural eating and showed me how to notice when I was coping with food and gave me a few tools to begin to do things differently. It was such an eye opener.
In the 17 years since then, I have committed my life to making your complete recovery easier, speedier and most importantly, lasting. The last thing you need is another process that doesn’t work. You need something that works like a hot damn, right away. And that’s what our program does. I wrote an article a while back called: When I use my tools they work!
I wrote that article because that’s the feedback I get every single time from clients. This stuff works. The process I have created for you relies on you exploring step 1 and step 2 from the previous week’s articles (or reading my book, joining our web program, etc., to get the full tool kit) and then, when you have proved, beyond doubt to yourself, that there is something more going on that laziness and lack of willpower on your part, you’re ready to take the next step and begin to actively explore change where it needs to happen first: What is really making you anxious and what can you do about that, fast!
So, as always, email your questions and feedback and stay tuned for next week when we explore all-or-nothing thinking in greater detail and I’ll give you specific examples from many clients sharing how all-or-nothing impacted them and how it doesn’t anymore.
For now, be on the lookout for the desire to use food to cope, and the accompanying feelings of anxiety and when you notice them, just stop for a moment and ask yourself what it is you were just thinking. Continue to prove the connection between some stressor in your life and your current, automatic default to food focus.
Have a productive week!
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
- The signals that let you know that you’re feeling anxious;
- The fact that when you’re anxious it’s not a bad thing, it simply means you have needs that aren’t being met in that moment; and
- The absolute causal relationship between feeling anxious because your needs aren’t met and your immediate focus on food and body in a stressful, self-harming way.