Light bulbs went off when I finally understood that I was using food to SELF-SOOTHE!
I had always thought (and been told by others) that if I were really serious about reducing my compulsive overeating I just needed to exert more willpower and hyper-vigilance. But that advice always left me feeling confused and very frustrated (even angry) because I was hyper-vigilant in other aspects of my life. I could actually be quite effective when I decided to be.
So, why couldn’t I apply my already developed self-determination skills to this issue and just stop overeating?
What was I missing?
I know now.
I was missing the ability to step out of my every day thoughts, and feelings, and responsibilities, big and small, and just see them without feeling I had to run from them. Unconsciously, I had developed this habit. Any time I wanted to avoid being present, I’d spontaneously have a food thought and begin to make a plan to get something to eat. Without realizing it, often, I was using food thoughts to go mindless, to distract, dissociate, avoid anything or everything I was having trouble tolerating in that moment in time.
If I didn’t want to start a difficult task or think about something that happened at work, I found myself heading for the bowl of M&Ms on my co-worker’s desk. When I didn’t feel like doing the laundry and/or returning a call to my mother, I’d head to the pantry for a little escape.
Wow! Without even realizing it, I had developed a deeply effective habit. I was turning to thoughts of food, and to mindless eating, anytime I wanted to protect myself from being mindful. This was my way to NOT feel. This had become my only way to self-soothe.
Back in my binge eating days, there was no space between an uncomfortable thought and me heading toward food.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
~Viktor E. Frankl, MD, Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor
I have learned how to create that “space”, how to step out of the chaos in my mind and to quiet the “food noise” (as one of my clients described it). I have become more aware, mindful of my thoughts and feelings, as well as of the body sensations that alert me to moments when I’m starting to feel anxious, or fearful, or lonely…or feel any feeling that habitually used to send me out for a milk shake.
Most importantly, I have learned I can recognize and tolerate feelings without having to numb out with food. I have grown confident and confident with my new emotional regulation tools. Therefore, I no longer fear allowing feelings to just happen. I now know feelings come and they pass. Today, I know feelings are just information I get to use to figure out what I want or need to do next. They do not have to overwhelm me or send me to food.
This is an exciting time! Neuroscience has given us a brand new understanding of what’s happening in the brain of an emotional eater, as well as tools to overcome emotional eating. We’re learning about how to reduce those “fight”, “flight” and “freeze” moments I used to fear. We now know how to clear old reactive programming from our non-conscious “bottom” brain, programming from past experiences that said, “It’s not safe“, “You must eat now“. Today, there are skills, even healthy daily routines a person can use to improves their sense of safety, in their body and in their environment. There are practices we can engage in every day that will make us more resilient when the emotional stuff in our lives hits the fan, as it is apt to do in everyone’s life.
If you want to learn more about these tools, skills, and daily practices, I’d love to tell you more. I talk about these breakthroughs in my latest Phone Seminar, “Food, You’re NOT the Boss of Me!”. It’s an opportunity to connect with me live…just listen and/or ask me anything you’d like. It’s FREE. Click here for the next dates and to register.