Today's blog is about compulsive eating, or bingeing. Bingeing is such a complex and individualised issue that it is always difficult to do it justice when simply writing about it. However, there is a theme that runs through EVERYONE'S experiences with feeling out of control with eating, that is KEY to solving the issue for good.
Binge eating has nothing to do with food. Binge eating is to do with your EMOTIONS. Trying to have more willpower to resist the food WILL NOT work. To solve the problem you must understand the rule of cause and effect. This rule states that every effect must have a cause and every cause must have an effect. Anything that is a "cause" of something is actually the "effect" of something that came before it. When trying to solve bingeing, the food and your eating is actually the effect NOT the cause of the problem, but in turn becomes the cause of your weight worries. The trouble is that you are so consumed with your weight and how it feels, that your focus is on trying not to eat. So when the urge for a binge happens, you automatically try to stop eating, mostly by shouting at yourself and having an internal argument about how you shouldn't be eating and what an awful, out of control fat and greedy person you are. You must change your focus to the CAUSE in order to be successful in changing this behaviour for good.
I will try and explain it another way. If you are driving along and your car is going way too fast. So fast, you feel unsafe and out of control. It makes you feel very anxious and frightened. What do you do? Do you shout and scream at the car to slow down? (Remember YOU are driving, not your husband!) Do you call the car names and hope that it will have the desired effect? Of course you don't - you take your foot off the accelerator and put it on the brake. The CAUSE of the car going too fast was your foot pushing on the accelerator too much. The EFFECT was the increased speed of the car. You couldn't do anything about the speed until you realised what was causing it. Shouting was definitely not going to work.
Bingeing is CAUSED by your reaction to your emotions. Bingeing is CAUSED by situations that cause you to feel a certain way. There are so many emotions we experience it's difficult to isolate them all, but here I'm going to call it STRESS. Bingeing is CAUSED by your reaction to STRESS. Does that make more sense now? Your reaction to stress is most probably to RUN or BOLT as quickly as you can into the food. Avoid feeling uncomfortable at all costs or try to control the feeling at all costs - in other words, "I don't want to feel, so I am going to EAT, EAT, EAT." "I'm not in control of my situation so I need to EAT, EAT, EAT." Does this make sense now? If bingeing is CAUSED by your reaction to stress and the EFFECT is eating the food, is the solution going to come from focusing on the food?
The solution comes from solving the CAUSE, remember NOT the EFFECT. So the answer is no! The solution is not going to come from focusing on the food. It will come from focusing on the stress or more importantly - your reaction to the stress.
Emotions are everywhere. We can experience a multitude of them every day. Some of them are good and some not so good. From a very young age, when we experience the not so good ones we are taught to try and immediately feel better. If we fall or hurt ourselves, someone is there to pick us up, dust off our injury and gee us up to stop crying and be ok. When we cry someone is there is give us a cuddle and "make us feel better" and distract us with something nice. We learn to "snap out of it" quickly. We learn that when we feel something painful, negative or "stressful" we should try to feel better straight away.
The problem is, emotions need to be felt in order for them to pass. They need to run their course. Depending on the level of stress this could take a few hours, a few days or a few months. Eating your way through that time span isn't going to change the emotion's path and it isn't going to change how you feel. The stress is going to run its course regardless of what you do to try and stop it or make it go away. You are just adding to it, because you then feel crap about eating too much. You are so busy trying to fight it - both the uncomfortable emotion itself AND the food you make the feeling worse. You fight and fight and fight, eat and eat and eat and then all of a sudden the urge goes and it stops. Some clients describe it "like a switch" disappearing as quickly as it arrived. Now, this is not because your willpower has suddenly kicked in. This is because the emotion has run it's course and petered out. What is important to point out though, if there was less fighting it would have happened a lot sooner, with no need to eat!
Let me use a personal example. I am an Army wife and that comes with it a huge amount of stress that I have absolutely no control over. My husband can be gone, at very short notice, for long periods of time. I move around and have to make new friends and re-settle in both a new home and a new area every few years. I finally get settled, emotionally invest in people and places and then I have to move away. I make plans that are then ruined by something to do with the Army that has to come first. The list goes on! I cannot control these things, and believe me, they are very often upsetting and STRESSFUL!! However, I can control my REACTION to them. THAT is still my choice. So, this brings me back (finally!) to the title of this blog. To win the battle you must surrender.
I choose to surrender!
Surrendering doesn't mean you lay down, become a doormat and let people or situations walk all over you. Surrendering means I don't fight the stress. I accept how the situations make me feel. I don't like it but I acknowledge it, but that is as far as I let it go. I know that when my husband goes away, the first few days are awful. I feel sick, tearful and completely fed up - I acknowledge that and I allow it to happen. It's ok for me to feel like that. I also know that it if I just go with it, don't try to fight it, snap out of it, make myself feel better et.etc. it will pass and it does. I eventually get into my own routine and focus on getting through each day as best I can. I still miss him and I hate every minute of it, but I don't fight it. "It is what it is" (that is one of my favourite phrases and is usually said followed by a big sigh!), I don't like it, but I can't change it so why fight it? THAT is my choice.
Our greatest weapon against stress is to choose one thought over another. You cannot control the uncontrollable, you cannot change the inevitable. So choose more wisely how you are going to react to it. I choose what I will let effect me and what I won't. Here's a very simple example:
I was on my way to visit a client and I had left late as I had been talking to a neighbour longer than I should have. I had a 40 minute journey and knew I was going to be 10 minutes late. I really, really hate being late and my phone battery was dead. I had a choice. I could work myself up in the car on the way there, getting annoyed with the other cars on the road or the traffic lights for being red, shouting and screaming at everything in front of me to get a move on. I could have had a go at myself for stopping to say hello when I “should” have just got in the car. I could have spent the whole 40 minutes getting wound up about the whole thing and arrived stressed, flustered, hot and bothered.
I could have driven the way I normally do, knowing I was going to be late, knowing there wasn’t a lot I could do about it except apologise when I arrived. Either way I was still going to be 10 minutes late. And that is what I did. I just stayed calm, listened to the radio, got there when I did (which was only 10 minutes late) and apologised to my client – who was fine about it.
On that occasion it really wasn’t worth getting myself into a state, even though I hate being late. Although this is quite a simple example, life is far too short to get worked up over things or people that don’t need to get worked up over. At the end of the day, often, the only one that suffers is you. It is absolutely imperative that you look at the situation from a rational, calm standpoint. Take the situation for what it is. Surrender to petty stresses that are not worth getting worked up about and don't fight the ones bigger than that. If you can't control it, don't let it work you up to the point where you are sacrificing your own happiness over it. Work it through and let it pass. It does take practice and this is where you need help from a professional to give you techniques and strategies to help. However, when you feel that tenseness or twitching in your fingers, that urge to eat, recognise what has caused it. Something has happened to make you feel that way, work out what it is and don't let two things happen:
a) The situation to become all consuming emotionally b) Your reaction to it, lead you to food
YOUR BATTLE IS NOT WITH THE FOOD. Your battle is learning to surrender to your emotions. Feel them, don't fight them. If you can't do anything about a certain situation, let it go - there's absolutely no point in fighting. Surrendering is the only option, but you CAN do it on your own terms. Learn to allow emotions to follow their path, setting, not only the emotion free, but yourself free from a miserable and counterproductive habit.