How to relinquish control to gain 'control'
Many people who experience binge eating and emotional eating want to get control over their eating. 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. With this type of control we feel in control, not as if we are controlled by food. This is when we can choose what we eat with conscious thoughtful control.
Constant thoughts about food are exhausting. A lot of these thoughts are about control. Wondering whether we should eat something or worrying whether we will be able to stop eating. Control is often about the future with our desire for control fuelled by past regret or future concern. We have little certainty over the future and can’t change the past, so this need for control can’t really be satisfied.
As we have discussed previously, we all have many parts of ourselves. Some of these parts argue about food, keeping thoughts of it going through our mind constantly. Suppression of this inner conflict is linked to lower wellbeing and anxiety. Contentment comes from a sense of inner harmony when the parts of our mind are not trying to forcefully control us.
There are two types of relationships, controlling and collaborative. This is the case with people and with parts of yourself. As soon as a person (or part of our mind) feels threatened, short-changed or overpowered, there is a risk of them turning controlling.
Controlling relationships are generally of these types:
· Wanting to win or be in charge, a dictator
· Being controlled or being powerless
· Avoiding relationships all together
Collaborative relationships generally:
· Involve giving freely without worrying about cost, due to trust in give and take
· Explore similarities and differences, playing to strengths and minimising limitations
· Acknowledge that there is always give and take
· Seek to proceed collaboratively, each using their talents and accepting help willingly
Are the voices in your head talking about food controlling or collaborative? When you restrict yourself and then overeat, can you identify the opposing controlling voices?
Although the voices trying to control our food intake may fluctuate between controlling-dictator and controlling-powerless, 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.
By reconciling these opposing voices, we can relinquish the control that parts of ourselves have over our eating behaviour and gain more conscious agency over our eating choices.
Practice: How to reconcile our conflicting selves
1) Acknowledge the opposing views
2) Discuss these views to find common ground
3) Reflect on, and prioritise, what these parts are both trying to achieve
Try having a conversation between the conflicting parts of yourself. If it helps you can sit on different chairs whilst doing this, switching chairs as you switch roles. Alternatively, you could write down or speak aloud the views from each perspective.
Here is an example showing how both voices can be wanting the same thing, to help you.
The voice saying you don’t need chocolate: This part knows that you want to be slim and is trying to help you get to your long-term goal. It knows that restricting has helped you lose weight before. It wants to help you.
The voice wanting chocolate: This part is worried about your weight, as it knows that you are. Eating is the only strategy it knows to self-soothe. It does not know how to soothe itself in another way. This part is trying to make you feel better.
Can you find a way that the two parts want the same thing? How can their two agendas be reconciled? Can you listen to these voices with more compassion when you realise they are both trying to help you in the best way they know how?
Other strategies for practicing relinquishing control of food:
Pass the responsibility. If you have overeaten, and feel bad about it, you could think of willingly passing control to your physical body to digest the food. This can pass the responsibility on to your body and away from your mind, to give your mind a break.
Check your attitude. Are you ‘controlling’ food that you think of as ‘bad’? If you forbid yourself something you only want it more. Is a food good or bad, or is it the stories we tell ourselves which make it so? Can it be just food without added judgement? Can you choose not to judge the food as good or bad?
“When you relinquish the desire to control your future, you can have more happiness” Nicole Kidman