Mindful Eating #14: Replacing Unwanted Thoughts

Replacing unwanted thoughts (about anything in your life) is a simple and rewarding practice.

Begin with the commitment to notice and observe your thoughts.  Simply notice and observe.  You are only gathering information about yourself right now, you aren’t condemning or teaching yourself any lessons.  It might be helpful to write your thoughts down on paper so you can see them or reread them aloud but you do not have to either of these things if you do not prefer.

When you are comfortable noticing and observing your thoughts, start to pinpoint those that are untrue and negative.  Untrue thoughts might be hard to identify at first so give yourself time to explore what you think.  You can explore by asking yourself questions about specific thoughts.  You can ask, “Is this something that can be proved or is it something I was told to believe?” or “Is this always the case or have I simply always told myself this?” or “What evidence is there that this a hard fact?“.  You can spot negative thoughts easier than untrue thoughts because they will be followed by negative feelings such as judgment, criticism or a general lack of compassion.

After you have pinpointed untrue and negative thoughts, immediately replace them with thoughts that are true and positive.  You might do this by thinking, “Even though I have thought this for a very long time, I know it has never helped me and I will choose to think on something that will be of benefit (your new true and positive thought) instead.

Follow this process up by reminding yourself that every time you replace an unwanted thought with one that is true and positive, you are strengthening your ability to think rationally and positively.  Do not neglect this part!  It serves as a rewarding reinforcement keeping you motivated at replacing unwanted thoughts.  Even if it feels funny or forced, do it.

Here is an example of replacing untrue and negative thoughts you might have when you “fail” or “break” your dietary goals with thoughts that are true, helpful and positive:

Thoughts: “I cannot believe I just ate that.  And so much!  I’m such an idiot.  I’ll never be able to eat right, I’m too weak.  I will just have a bit (but who am I kidding, alot!) more and then start again tomorrow.

Now apply observation, questioning, replacing and celebrating:

Oops, there I go again with untrue and negative thoughts about food and eating.  Let me stop and think about this for a moment.  Why can’t I believe that I ate this?  It is a delicious food and I’ve always enjoyed it and it’s available right here for me to eat.  Most people would surely eat it if they had the chance and they liked it as much as me.  Given this, it might be more strange if I did not eat it at all so it’s actually quite believable that I chose it, but I am not an idiot for it.  The truth is, even though I did not make the best choice right now, I am always capable of eating in a way that supports my dietary goals.  One snack or meal off coarse does not make me a failure, it just means I chose to eat foods or in a way that is not the best for my body.  Thankfully, my body does a very good job at healing itself and this act will not destroy me.  Even if I ate ten more servings of this right now I am not a failure because my food choices have no bearing on who I really am, they only contribute to the health and size of my body.  I have already proven that I can eat correctly (ways that I have decided keep me feeling great) so I know without a doubt that I can eat correctly again.  The reality is, I am a fallible human being, just like everyone else, and at times I will eat when I am not hungry or have foods that do not support my health goals, but right now I will choose to stop eating and do the kindest thing I can think of in this moment, which I know is to not overeat anymore.   I want to feel good when I wake up and I know that continuing to eat will only make me more full, more bloated and more likely to eat poorly again tomorrow.  I am pretty certain that the best choice for me is to end my eating now instead of waiting until tomorrow.  There, now, that was not so bad!  I am learning to replace my thoughts and I am getting better at it!  I think I will clean up and get on with my day.  There are still more things I would like to do.”

This is only one example of replacing unwanted thoughts with truth and positivity.  You can use this practice for any untrue or negative thought and with time it will become more natural and easier to do.

Try it out and leave a comment with your own experiences!

Image from Flickr.

Mindful Eating #13 – Reasons You Have Been Told You Overeat or Binge

Overeaters, similar to bingers, turn to food when overwhelmed before they turn to other activities such as talking to a friend, spouse or therapist, writing in a journal, taking a walk, a bath, a break, painting their nails or playing with a pet, doing some stretching, focusing on their breath, watching a movie or reading an inspiring article.

This is what makes someone an overeater or binge eater.

If you have a habit of overeating or binge eating, think back to a time when you chose to express yourself by eating an abundance of food.  Did you have any other activity options you could have engaged in as you were inhaling a meal that was too big for your appetite?

Chances are you did since you are an adult and it has been many years since another human being spoon-fed you, even if it meant sitting cross-legged and twiddling your thumbs, but you chose to eat instead of another form of relaxation and relief.

Below is a list, not exhaustive, but enough to describe times when someone might feel the urge to overeat or binge.

When someone is feeling:

  • Sad
  • Happy
  • Tired
  • Angry
  • Excited
  • Afraid
  • Bored
  • Anxious
  • Worried
  • Sore
  • Celebratory
  • Lonely
  • Crowded
  • Annoyed
  • Hopeful
  • Resentful
  • Trapped
  • Powerful
  • Weak
  • Apathetic
  • Antsy
  • Exhausted
  • Starving
  • Stuffed
  • Sick
  • Neutral

Notice the wide range of feelings and how some are positive, some are negative and some are pretty dull.  It is often taught that these feelings cause you to overeat or binge.

Think of a time when you have overeaten or binged when you felt one of these things.

Now think of another time you have felt the same way but did not overeat or binge.  This memory is proof that the feeling you recalled does not cause or require you to overeat or binge.  If it did, every time you felt it you would be physically forced to stuff yourself with food, but since this does not happen it is clear that emotions do not demand actions.  This is very good news because on any given day you can feel any (and likely, many) of these feelings and you would constantly find yourself eating past the point of hunger and dealing not only with the overwhelming sensations of the original emotion but also the negative consequences of eating way too much.  You might not have time to accomplish anything if your emotions caused you to eat.

Next, ask yourself that if you never felt the urge to overeat or binge, even when you felt any of the above emotions, would you still do it?

This is a good question to ask because it places the real reason for eating too much on the simple desire or urge for eating too much and not on any emotion that is often blamed for overeating or binging.

For example, physical pain might cause you to cry (authentic moments when you cry from pain occur spontaneously and not from a decision to shed tears) but it will never cause you to overeat.  You may have felt physical pain and cried but if you also overate it is important to remember overeating was not caused by pain and offered nothing to improve your pain.  At best it may have distracted you from your original pain by creating new feelings of high insulin and an overly full stomach.  While you may have certainly had the desire to overeat when feeling pain, the two are only connected when you physically eat too much every time you feel pain and establish a habit-based activity.  If you did not experience the urge to eat too much food when you felt pain you would probably not obey it and, thus, not have a subservient relationship to food.  If the desire or urge was removed and you only felt any of the wide arrange of feelings listed above, you might find yourself overwhelmed or uncomfortable for awhile, but not overwhelmed or uncomfortable and eating too much food.

Thinking through this might be helpful to you as you dig deeper into why you overeat or binge.  Even if you have lived your whole life thinking that you eat emotionally, you can recall times in your life that you didn’t and this can provide you with assurance that you do not have to eat emotionally in the future.

Remember that if you do have urges to eat too much food, it is your right to obey them.  You are in control of what you put into your body (albeit it too much, or too little), and  you are not a worse or better person for what or how much you eat.  If you choose to make a habit out of eating too much, that is your choice.

Realizing you always have the choice no matter how you have chosen in the past will help you practice responsibility with every next bite.

Image from Retro Cleaning.

Mindful Eating #11: Why I Binged on Food for 10 Years

Not unlike many people, I decided I wanted to lose weight when I was in college.  I had gained the average 15 pounds (maybe more, OK, it was 30) and felt defeated that none of my clothes were fitting anymore.  I purchased a fitness magazine and starting tracking my calories online.

I followed a calorie-restricted diet and lost alot of weight.  I lost too much, but that is a topic for another post. While losing weight, I had extreme urges to binge on food, and I would binge.

During a binge I felt uncontrollable, not like myself, and powerless to resist my intense desires for huge amounts of food.  This was frustrating, to say the least.

I didn’t realize that I was not eating enough for my body to feel satiated.  I was starving.  Refusing to live (an extreme way to interpret it but true nonetheless).  Consequently, I would experience urges to eat uncontrollably at random times.  I always gave in, felt relief to finally eat and then, of course regretted it.  But I always obeyed the urge and repeated the cycle.

I did this for ten years.

My bingeing was followed by fasting.  I have never purged in the form of self-induced vomiting and I’m too lazy to work out for hours on end to burn off the extra calories.  I would rather just skip a meal (or two, or three).

I thought that once I started eating normal portions of food again and weighed a healthy amount,  the binge urges would go away and no longer disrupt my sanity. But they didn’t. The urges continued after I resumed eating more food.  This was confusing.

It made no sense that I would desire to binge eat when I was already eating enough.

So I read alot on the topic.  I became obsessed at learning everything about this weird and embarrassing way to eat.  The best books I have read explaining binge urges are Brain Over Binge by Kathryn Hansen, and Taming the Feast Beast by Jack and Lois Trimpey.  If you binge eat, read these books.  If you have any habit you feel you cannot kick, read these books.  There are many other wonderful books about binge eating, and how to end the diet-binge cycle, and many of them are very helpful, but these two explain binge urges in particular.

It turns out that bingeing is habitual.  It starts out as a survival mechanism the body uses to get enough food but then it seems to just be a learned behavior.  A habit.  A normal way to eat.

People often think bingeing is associated with a traumatic past or feeling insecure, or an inability to cope with stress.  I thought these things, too, and there is plenty of merit in the ideas. But I examined my past and I could not find trauma that required harming my body with absurd amounts of food (and cannot think of any trauma that demands eating too much food).  I took a look at my confidence level and didn’t find it low enough to demand binge eating (nor found that binge eating improved my confidence, it only weakened it), and I could think of alot of other coping mechanisms for my stress that did not involve eating food.

It perplexed me that I was bingeing. I would binge in many different emotional states.  It was not limited to stress.  It could be when I was happy or tired or apathetic or excited or afraid.  There was really no dominant pattern.

It became obvious to me that I was not bingeing to improve my life, I was doing it because I was doing it.  I did not like that I did it, but it was easy to do and became my normal.

And it was the normal that I chose.  I could have chosen drinking, taking other substances, shopping, playing video games, spending time on social media, or any activity that provided immediate pleasure and relief from an urge, but I note I chose eating because I typically find a lot of pleasure in food the way that someone who finds a lot pleasure in alcohol would choose excessive drinking.

And it did not matter that I was at a healthy weight and that I ate enough to support my body.  I had learned to binge and my brain would signal to do it and I would.  Every time this happened, I strengthened the habit making it more likely that I would do it again.

After I learned that my bingeing was a result of habit, I was able to separate my morality and sense of self from the urges I continued to feel.  This took time because I linked binge eating with my self worth for years, but it was a huge relief when I stopped this association.  The urges, while they did not immediately disappear, did become less threatening and I learned that they were tolerable, resistible and even meaningless.

I did not resist my binge urges right away.  It took experimenting with resisting a binge urge, actually resisting it, and giving in to them for me to really grasp how they were influencing me.  I started to change my beliefs about binge urges.  I decided I no longer had to obey them and that I would be physically fine, and better off, if I didn’t.

Other people have had different experiences with this.  This is just my own.

It was exciting to resist urges to binge.  I didn’t die.  I didn’t feel very much discomfort, to my surprise.  I actually felt happy that I could decide to take better care of my body.  It was rewarding. I noticed that my binge urges were the strongest if I had not eaten enough throughout any given week.  They were stronger if I had overeaten at any one meal and they were strong when I would have foods high in sugar.  They were less when I ate more protein and fat.

Today I use my experiences with resisting urges to binge to my advantage.  I aim to eat protein, fat, and vegetables.  I avoid sugar (mostly) and processed foods.  I know these things help minimize and even remove binge urges so it’s worth it to me to be mindful of what I eat.

I realize that if I don’t eat foods that minimize binge urges, and I indeed experience the desire to binge, that I do not have to.  I never have to.  No one has to.

Knowing this, and because I believe it, my life has changed.  My thoughts have changed, too.  Bingeing no longer gets the best of me and I’m able to see it for what it is–a habit that can be changed.  My binge urges have lessoned tremendously and I’m able to enjoy life so much more.

When I do have an urge to binge, I notice it and allow it to pass.  It always passes.

What do you think about binge eating being a habit?  Have you had an experience with binge urges?  Do you tend to obey them or resist them?  Do you think binge eating is more complicated than being a habit?

Share your experiences by leaving a comment!

You can also email me at sarahsteffenspersonalchef@gmail.com.

Image from Under the Root.

Mindful Eating #9: Do You Accept Yourself?

I have been interested in eating healthy for most of my life, but it wasn’t to treat my body well or to feel good.  It was to lose weight.

I can remember being in elementary school, portioning out crackers to pack in my school lunch, wanting to know how many calories I was eating, hoping that I would become a slimmer version of myself by restricting my food.

Just one size smaller, just a few pounds thinner.  Then I would be comfortable and my life would be better.

Then I could focus on others things like hobbies and a career.

Then I would accept myself.

As I got older, I educated myself on nutrition, and was convicted to eat the purest and healthiest foods possible.  I counted calories for a few years, was a vegetarian for a few, got rid of all processed foods, and later adapted a diet of real foods.

I wish I could say that my goal was for health, but it wasn’t.  It was always to lose weight.

I finally did lose weight after college through very restricting dieting (too much which had very negative effects on my body and mind), and when I couldn’t afford to lose any more and I still wasn’t happy or accepting of myself, I became confused about why I tried to eat healthy at all.

It is not surprising that I cycled through periods of binge eating during my years of very restrictive dieting,  It was very difficult to maintain a weight that was too low for me, and very uncomfortable to starve my body of the nutrients it needed.

It often bewildered me that I would cycle through periods of very healthy eating, then periods of self-sabotaging eating that left me feeling sick and gross.  This opposing pattern proved to me that I wasn’t interested in health for actual health.  I was interested in it to get thin.  When getting thin was too hard, I wasn’t interested in it at all.

During this season, I had done quite a bit of reading on accepting myself, and eating to treat my body well, and quitting the diet/binge habit.  It sounded really nice–accepting myself, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t believe I was acceptable unless I was losing weight.

It was only a few years ago that I really gave some serious thought to accepting myself no matter what I weighed or looked like, and eating healthy to be kind to my body.

What if I only ate healthy because I cared about how nutritious foods made me feel?  What if I chose to be happy and comfortable with myself no matter what I looked like or what I weighed?

I attempted to take this approach, but it did not come very easily.  I did not decide to accept myself, and then became a natural at it overnight.

It required daily determination to stop letting my weight determine my value.  When a thought entered my mind that tied my personal success with my weight, it had to be replaced with truth immediately.  When disappointment surfaced after looking in the mirror, I had to remind myself that the self-hatred I was cultivating had gotten me nowhere, it felt unfortunate, was distracting me from more important issues, and was not helping me in any way.

It dawned on me one day that I might look the way I look today for the rest of my life.  Sure, I will look older, get wrinkles, and age spots, and gray hair, but I might weigh what I do now until the day I die.

Would this be OK?

Would I choose to stress about something that may never change for the rest of my life?  Would I let this obsession determine my happiness, comfortability, and confidence until I die?  Would I fret about this more than important issues that are happening all around me?  More than caring about other people?  More than connecting with family and friends?  More than making a positive contribution in the world?

We all have one life.  We get to choose what we value and how we spend our time, and what we believe.  We get to think what we want to think.  We get to feel what we want to feel.

I chose self acceptance because the path of self-hatred was exhausting.  It robbed me of happiness.  It kept me from being present.  It made my life small, and it didn’t even allow me to do what I wanted it to in the very beginning–eat healthy to lose weight.

Self acceptance is about so much more than being OK with what you weigh or what you look like, but for those who can’t even claim these things, it’s certainly a start in a positive direction.

What about you?

Do you consider yourself someone who accepts yourself?  Who accepts your body how it is right now?  If not, when will your body be good enough for you to accept it?  When will you choose to be happy, comfortable, and confident?  Do you really believe that a number on the scale or a size of clothing can provide you with the feeling you are looking for?

Image from Johanna Ost.

Mindful Eating #8: Should You Weigh Yourself?

With Mindful Eating comes a variety of other areas relating to our lives, that are to be explored.  Many times I write about the simple act of eating, but I often ponder the countless links between our beliefs of food, our bodies and spirituality.

Today I bring up a question we all are confronted with, often, or rarely, but surely.

Should you weigh yourself?

There are a few popular approaches when it comes to stepping onto the scale to check how much you weigh.

Some people say it is a good source of accountability for maintaining their weight.  These people likely weigh themselves daily, or every week, or so.  They tend to know their weight at most, if not all, times.

Others say that the scale is meaningless and to throw it out.  They say they rely on how their clothing fits instead of their weight.  These people might know roughly how much they weigh, but they don’t make a habit out of reminding themselves based on a conviction that their weight really doesn’t really.

And, there are others, who haven’t decided one way or the other what to do with their scale (or if they should get a scale). They get anxious just thinking about stepping on it, and they get anxious just thinking about throwing it out.  Mostly, these people are just anxious.

It’s interesting to note how people approach their scale and how much power they give it.

A generalization is that those people who weigh themselves daily care alot, or more likely, too much, about how much they weigh.  They are known to be happy when they see lower numbers on the scale and upset when they see higher numbers (assuming they are maintaining or trying to lose weight).  Their whole day might very well be a reflection of the number they saw on the scale earlier that morning.  They might eat more or less based on their weight.  They might think they are a better or worse person depending on the number they see.

But this is only a generalization.  There exists many people who are in the habit of weighing themselves regularly who are not in the bit least tempted to base their success, happiness, or morality on what the scale reads.  They may make adjustments in what they eat based on how much they weigh, but it only goes as far as that.  They don’t view themselves differently or expect others to view them differently if their weight goes up or down.

In the same way, it would be a generalization to say that the people who rely on their clothing as the indicator of their weight, were of a balanced approach and to be used as worthy role models (as popularly taught).  They may not routinely weigh themselves, but they may be caught up in habitual self acceptance or self hatred based on their body size (how their clothing fits on it) on any given day.  They have the same mindset as the person who relies on a magic number on the scale only it is directed at a number on their wardrobe tag.

The truth is, no matter what you do with your scale, or if you have one at all, it really doesn’t matter.

There is alot of advice about the scale, these days.  People get very passionate about the topic. They may say to step on it daily to keep yourself motivated (to either maintain, lose or gain weight) or get it out of your house immediately because your weight is only your gravitational force to planet Earth (interesting point).

The important thing to remember about scales and using or not using them, is that it is your choice.

If you want to weigh yourself, you can.  If you don’t, you don’t have to.  If you want to remain anxious about the whole idea, so be it.

Know that no matter what the scale reads, it is your choice with how you will respond.  No matter how your clothes fit, you get to decide how you will feel about yourself and your day. And if you decide to remain undecided, you get to choose how you will deal with not knowing.

So, do what works for you.  Use your scale, or not, or never decide.  It is my opinion that your weight has nothing to do with anything noteworthy about today, but again, that is up for you to decide.

What do you think about this?  Do you think it matters how much you weigh?  How much others weigh?  Do you have a better day when you weigh a specific number or does it not mean very much to you?

Leave a comment to share your opinion!

Image from Smart Alex.

Mindful Eating #7: Does Eating Differently Than Others Bother You?

If you have modified your diet (for improved health or religion or self-discipline) for any length of time, you might feel like the woman in this illustration–sad and lonely, and left out of the lunch time fun that the other ladies seem to be sharing.

The above illustration exaggerates this idea, but it does bring up the interesting subject of feeling like your life will not be any fun if you eat differently than (or in the woman’s case, less than) other people.

If you have ever felt anxiety, or sadness, or tension prior to or while you are changing what you eat, it is worth exploring what you believe about the foods you are excluding.

It’s possible that you believe specific foods bring you happiness, comfort, joy, or peace, and that by not eating them, you risk being miserable.  It’s possible that you believe they provide you friendship and community, and without them you will be lonely.

It might sound silly, but it is a common approach if you are in the habit of relying on food to provide you happiness and a sense of belonging.

I would like to explore this idea further.

What causes us to rely on food for happiness or social connection?  Why might we feel the odd one out if we choose to eat differently than other people?  Is eating like other people necessary to genuinely connect with others?  Does any of this even matter?

I suspect that most people do not actually believe that a food makes them happy or one of the gang.  That is rather silly to suggest, as food is simply calories the body uses for immediate energy and long-term survival.

So what about not eating a food would cause a sense of lack?

Typically, changing what you eat (excluding specific foods) for health reasons is positive (as is for religious or self-disciplinary reasons).  If for health reasons, removing foods that leave you feeling blah, sick, or depressed will help you feel better physically and mentally.

So, what if you still have a sense of dread about not having them?

It is a good idea to ask yourself what you believe about a specific food that you exclude and how removing it impacts your sense of happiness and social connection.  Once you know what you believe about this, you can then decide if it’s a worthwhile pursuit to keep at your dietary changes.

This brings up another issue, which is when you decide to eat less of a specific food.  If you believe that you need to eat alot of something to enjoy it or to have a good time, you will likely experience negative feelings when you come to the moment of being done with your portion of it.  You might feel sadness to stop eating before others or before you are used to.

I’ve had to ask myself about these issues when it comes to foods high in sugar.  While they are tasty and fun to eat, they generally leave me feeling rather blah and down in the dumps.  When I am with people I enjoy and dessert is being passed out or ordered, I nearly always want to partake to share the experience with who I am with, but I also do not want to risk feeling blah after such a lovely time, so I usually pass (but not always).  I’ve had to get honest about what I think dessert will add to my overall experience and then decide if I will have it or not.

I have also had to get honest about thinking I need alot of dessert to have a good time.  This belief is not based on truth so when I start to feel sad that dessert time is over (and I have), I remind myself that I feel better with less (or none at all) and that I enjoy life, myself and other people  far greater when I don’t have more than a few bites of very sugary treats.

What do you think?  Does eating differently than other people have any impact on your experiences with them?  Do you feel more or less included in a group based on what you eat together?

What about eating less of a certain food?  Does the idea bother you or encourage you to keep at your goals?

Share your experiences by leaving a comment!

 

Image from Tumblr.