Many people who experience binge eating and emotional eating want to get control. The problem is, paradoxically, we need to relinquish control to get it.
There are two different types of control:
Strict control: When we control ourselves without flexibility with strict diets, endless rules and by avoiding forbidden foods. It can feel like food controls us. This leaves us vulnerable to giving up completely and spiralling into a binge.
Conscious control (agency): The type of control that we really need is agency. Agency is a conscious choice; it is control that we choose. This is when we can choose what we eat with conscious thoughtful control.
Although the voices trying to control our food intake may fluctuate between controlling us like a dictator and giving up and letting us eat everything we want, they are probably trying to do the same thing, that is to protect us. They are doing this in the only way that they know how, even though it may seem like sabotage.
Read more about how we can practice relinquishing strict control by clicking here.
We all have inner conflict whether we realise it or not. This inner conflict can be like a constant fight going on in our minds. Eating can be used to quiet this and get a moment of peace, to reset.
It can be difficult to find these parts of ourselves as we have often ignored them for a long time. They lurk out of our awareness, in our unconscious mind. There, these repressed selves can make us do things without us knowing why, like eating too much. By bringing them into our conscious mind, we become aware and only then can we choose to stop them.
There are different ideas about how these conflicts start. Many people suggest that we believe that we were only loved in our childhoods when we behaved a certain way. This means we only show the ‘approved’ parts of ourselves to others. We ‘repress’ or bury the parts of ourselves which our childhood carers disapproved of. These parts never go away but keep trying to escape. It is paradoxical that hiding this part of yourself is meant to stop you from feeling pain but causes a lot of discomfort.
Christmas can be an emotional time when our issues with food can be amplified. It is a time when stress, proximity to family, or distance from family, can lead us to eat more than usual. We also might feel that we have an excuse to eat more ‘as it is Christmas’.
We all deserve treats throughout the year, including at Christmas and it is possible to enjoy Christmas food without eating too much of it. One way to do this is to consciously choose what treats we have. Remembering this can be especially helpful when we start feeling swept away by the ‘Christmas spirit’, or should I say ‘Christmas stress’?
Here are a few simple tips to help keep Christmas eating under control and a food inspired adaptation of “’Twas the night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. I hope it makes you smile.
“Thoughts could leave deeper scars than almost anything else” – J.K. Rowling, Author: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Rumination fuels weight gain and emotional eating by stoking the fires of negativity within us. This causes many of us to automatically reach for food to distract us from the negative thoughts. More than that, rumination, or over-thinking, stops us from being able to think clearly – we can be our own worst enemy.
Rumination does not just cause emotional eating, it can influence many areas of your life as these thoughts often end up popping back up at annoying times, like when you are trying to sleep. Dwelling on thoughts takes so much energy that you are unlikely to have the energy to get the perspective needed to solve your current problems in many areas of your life. We can reduce rumination by becoming more aware of the underlying issues below our thoughts, by making space to look at these thoughts objectively and choosing a more positive viewpoint.
If you want healthy changes to last you need to find a way to like the new and dislike the old. In this post, we share some strategies to help with that.
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing” - Dale Carnegie, Motivational writer. We can always learn to like something. Few people like their first alcoholic drink, but many quickly learn to like it. You can also learn to like healthy food and a healthy lifestyle.
Humans evolved to automatically prefer the easiest and quickest option. This saved precious energy when there was not so much food around. It is therefore not surprising that we find taking the ‘easy’ options comes naturally. Unfortunately, nowadays we live in a society of next day delivery and ubiquitous easy but unhealthy food options. It can make it very difficult to choose the healthy option, especially when we are busy.
“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” - Henry Ford. The mind is powerful and although our mind controls us, we can also control our mind. If you keep telling yourself you are fat, then that is what your mind thinks, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. To lose weight, you need to realise that you can do it. It sounds simple but often it is not.
“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude” - Oprah Winfrey. The thing that helps people lose weight naturally, without even trying is simply realizing that they have the power to do it. Only you can do it, and only you can sabotage yourself. You are solely responsible for what food you put in your mouth. Why is it so hard to realise you have control? Partly, with choice comes responsibility. Responsibility can be stressful. Without realising we are in control of our eating; we do not need to take responsibility for it. When we acknowledge that we have responsibility for our eating, it is a lot easier to successfully change.
There are only three things you need to successfully lose weight long term. First, you need to really want it. The second thing is to realise that you can do it. Lastly, you need to learn to like the new healthy changes. If those three things are in place, you will succeed. It is easier said than done, but I believe that it is possible for anyone. Wanting to lose weight is one thing, but it is important to make sure that you want it for the right reasons and that those reasons are deep enough. To be successful, it helps if that ‘want’ is deep and visceral and tapped into the right values. It is unlikely that just wanting to wear smaller jeans is enough. The real power lies in finding your deeper reason. That deeper reason is different for everyone. It could be finding peace within yourself, healing self-loathing, forgiving yourself for past trauma, finding your soul mate or pursuing long held but unrequited ambitions.
“So tell me what you want, what you really really want” – The Spice Girls. Many of us have gone through life doing what we think we should do. We have ended up doing things that were expected of us, without necessarily choosing to do them. Because we get used to travelling the expected path, it is difficult to step back and realise what we really want, or where we want to go.
Fears are educated into us, and can if we wish, be educated out.” – Karl Augustus Menninger. We are often trained from childhood to stifle our feelings when we are told not to cry. Being told not to get angry or sad, being told not to cry and even hearing ‘don’t be scared’ all adds up. By the time we get to adulthood, we have been taught that feelings are ‘bad’ and should be avoided. You could say that the emotional part of the brain giving us these feelings, our inner toddler, is regularly ignored. This means that you are not hearing the messages you are trying to give yourself. Your feelings are your mind and body’s way of trying to tell you something.
How does food fit in? As children we might be given food to cheer us up and this teaches us that food can be used to block out painful feelings. Blocking out feelings with food can easily become so normal that we do not know we are doing it. When we keep blocking out feelings with food, the feelings will keep getting stronger and stronger, and we need more and more food to block them out.
Your brain has two parts, often called the emotional and logical brain or the chimp and human brains, or the unconscious and conscious 1. I like to call one the toddler brain (ruled by emotions) and the other the Mum brain, or the logical brain.
Different parts of our brains are in charge at different times and they have different roles. The logical brain allows for long term planning. The emotional brain takes over when you face an intense situation – this is the part of the brain which would help you run away quickly if you were being chased by a dangerous animal 1.
Take an example of a toddler wanting ice cream and Mum saying no. Emotionally, the toddler wants ice cream. Mum is acting as the logical brain as she knows that too much ice cream is not healthy. Sometimes the Mum will say no immediately without really thinking about it. Traditional diets are a bit like this. Your Mum brain is constantly telling your inner toddler that they can’t eat what they want, without explaining why. When you say no to a toddler, without any explanation, what is that toddler likely to do? They are quite likely to scream and have a meltdown. This leads to inner distress, which could be viewed as that toddler screaming inside your head. That is why restrictive diets can be so hard, they add to inner conflict in your mind.
On average, women are harder on themselves than men are1 and I suspect that many Mums are even harder on themselves than they were before having children. Women more often define themselves based on their responsibility to others than men do 2, such as a daughter, a mother, or a friend. Comparison to others is therefore at the forefront of women’s minds. Boys are encouraged to take risks, to fail and bounce back, whereas girls are trained to please others and to be good and ‘perfect’ (perfection is impossible) 3. Western society usually favours individuality, certainly in many careers. The tendency of women to think of others first and to prioritise social relationships, is often viewed negatively. Even more so, this focus on others is often thought of less important than stereotypically masculine traits, of individual career achievements and status 2.
“I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether. There were so many different ways to be beautiful.” ― Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World. I say ‘stereotypically masculine or feminine traits’ when talking about traditional Western norms. I do not mean to generalise or to exclude anyone identifying with any gender. It is not the gender itself, or the social role (like being a Mum for example), which impacts our wellbeing.
97% of diets fail. Long-term weight loss is not really about diet or exercise because weight is part of a bigger issue, and that issue is in your mind. For most people, any diet can work for a while. If you eat less calories than you burn, then you will lose weight. But it is not that simple, as anyone who has ever been on a diet knows. By dieting we are trying to fix the symptom and not the cause. Weight is the symptom, your mind is the cause, and the solution. For many, weight gain is a symptom of an inner dissatisfaction, a marker of not living in alignment with your values in some way, whatever that may be. It isn’t anyone’s fault; it is a by-product of the society we live in and is relevant for most people in some way. The visible symptom is not always weight. Inner discomfort can show itself through compulsive shopping, alcohol use or lots of other ‘numbing’ behaviours.
For most of us, the solution involves viewing our whole selves with kindness, understanding what we truly want and deciding to take charge of our lives. Once you have done that work on your mind, healthy diet and exercise usually fall into place on their own.
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