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 #12: Eating for Right Now

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of asking, “how can I be kind to myself right now?” when you are choosing something to eat.

This question is different than, “What should I eat?” or “What am I supposed to eat?”.  There are enough diets in the world to answer these questions.  All you need to do is look any of them up and you can find rules and menus to last a lifetime, you might never need to think for yourself again!

Asking yourself how you can be kind when choosing what you will eat right now is different because it requires you to be in tune with your body’s needs in this very moment.  Not yesterday or tomorrow or last week or next week, but now.

Now might reveal that your body would do well with protein.  Now might inspire you to choose vegetables as part of or even your whole meal or maybe none at all.  It might lead you to more carbohydrates or more fat or maybe less of everything, because right now, you are not that hungry.

Now will unlikely lead to to eat in a manner that is poor for your health.  It’s unlikely that it will tell you to binge or starve or choose foods that make you feel sick.  Now has your best interest in mind and can be used as a compassionate tool to guide your eating.

Staying present and honest in this very moment will help you make the best choices for your body right now.

Your choices might look different than a diet menu or what the next person is choosing, but that is OK because those things never need to be of your concern, anyway.

Let others also choose their “right now” and everyone wins.

If you find that you have a difficult time deciding on how or what to eat, try offering yourself a bit of kindness and ask what would be best for you right now.

Image from Super College Chef.

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 #10: Choose to ENJOY Taking Care of Yourself

Remember that it is always your choice to take care of yourself.  There might be people in your life that suggest or hope you make healthy choices such as eating real and whole foods and getting enough sleep, but they can only suggest and hope these things.  They cannot make you do anything that you don’t already want to do (on a separate but related note, it is interesting to observe that when we desire to take good care of ourselves, pro-healthy suggestions from others feel like encouragement and kindness and when we do not desire to take good care of ourselves it feels threatening and forceful.  Even when we have asked others to remind us of our goals!  In either perception, the suggestions remain the same but our beliefs about them determine how we receive their advice–merited or unmerited).

Along with the choice to treat your body any which way you desire, it is also your choice to have whatever attitude about maintaining your health goals that you desire.

If you choose to believe that it is relatively easy to pass up servings of food that are much too big for you and that it is pretty simple to shop for nutritious foods at the market each week, your experience doing these things will follow suit and eating less and shopping for healthy foods will be just that–relatively easy and pretty simple.

On the other hand, if you choose to believe that every time you have to say “no” to a second helping of food that it is terribly saddening and that going to the market has become a battle between your new healthy self and former careless self, your experience doing these things will also be just that–terribly saddening (likely unbearable!) and an annoying battle.

The things you chose to do in the above example did not change but your perception of them had, causing your healthy eating and living experience to be either attainable and enjoyable or difficult and disappointing.

It is good to remember that you have the choice to make decisions that contribute to a healthier life.  You are in control of each decision and not only each decision, but of the perception you have while making them.  The next time you find yourself frustrated about any of the goals you have decided to pursue, remember the frustration felt is purely optional and that you can choose to feel enjoyment over your experience as soon as you’re ready.  You might even begin to truly like and prefer all of those things that seemed like such a big, difficult deal.

Of course, this is only a suggestion and a hope.  You always have the final say.

Image from The Nifty Fifties Tumblr.

Mindful Eating #6: If You Think Being Fat is Bad

You would not say it out loud, but you might think that being fat makes you bad.  Worthy of mockery.  Deserving of shame.  The worst thing in the world.

It’s not.

Being fat is a situation you might find yourself in if you have been in the habit of overeating or bingeing.  It might be a physical revelation of inflammation or hormonal imbalance or lingering weight from past pregnancies.

But being fat, having excess body mass, weighing more than other people or more than you did at another point in time, does not make you bad.

If you have ever thought that you are a bad person for being overweight, it is because you believe that fat is wrong.

You might believe this because you think the way to to get fat is to overeat, and overeating is wrong, so fat is wrong.

You might believe this because you think fat is ugly, or that it requires laziness, or dirtiness, and all of those things are disgusting which makes fat disgusting which makes you disgusting.

While some people do become fatter for eating too much or not moving their bodies much, they do not become worse people, and they do not deserve public shaming.

Being fat may complicate your life (as may being thin) for a variety of reasons, but remember that fat is only extra weight your body is maintaining.

It is not your soul, your spirit, your mind.  It isn’t your sense of humor, or your generosity, your intelligence, kindness, love, or wonder for the world.

It is a physical condition, and that is all.

You can lose weight.  You can gain weight.  And in the end, you choose what you believe about it.  You choose what you do about it.

I am not suggesting that it does not matter if you are fat.  Being fat may make you suspect to disease, early death, or a difficult life (physically, at the very least, emotionally, because other people, including yourself, may view your fatness as a problem needing to be shamed).

What I am suggesting is that it matters how you view fat.

If you are fat, how do you view yourself?

Safe?  Hidden?  Protected?

Powerful?  Disabled to feel pain or sadness?  Above vanity and superficiality?

Lazy?  Glutton?  Unfortunate?  Ugly?  Victim?  Bad?

You have not become a worse person for weighing more than you did at another point in your life, or more than people around you.

You can believe that or not, but try to keep perspective in the matter.

Hatred is bad.  Injustice is bad.  Bitterness is bad.

But extra weight is just extra weight.  Decide if you want to do anything about it, accept the situation you are in, and move forward how you like.

Reserve disdain for those tragedies that deserves such negative feelings.

Your body isn’t one of them.

Image from Pinterest.

Mindful Eating #4: Eating Your Troubles Away

Some people improve their diets in an attempt to improve the troubles in their life.  This is referred to as eating your troubles away.

But the truth is, you cannot eat your troubles away.

You can eat. And eat. And eat.

But if you have troubles, and they extend beyond the trouble of physically starving, eating will cause you to feel physically satisfied, full, or very full, with the latter adding a set of new troubles to your pre-existing list of woes–these being poor digestion, stomach aches, bloating, night sweats, weight gain, and probably more.

The hope is that a better diet will solve your problems, that improving the foods you consume will improve your body, and help you think more clearly, and then its positive rewards will spill over onto the rest of your life.

Make your job easier to handle, make your relationships better, just make things better.

And we want better.  So badly.

This is the hope.  Sometimes conscious.  Often subconscious.

While it is true that eating good foods will improve your health, (maybe) improve your body composition, and help you think more clearly, it will not solve all of your problems.

You will still have troubles.

Dieting (whether simply cleaning up the foods you eat or deliberately restricting/limiting the foods you eat) can serve to distract you from your troubles, whether it is loneliness, insecurity, feeling without purpose, or feeling a loss of control in general, but if these issues are not dealt with, as fiercely as you focus on dieting, improving your eating only means that you eat better while maintaining troubles.

You will still experience loneliness, and insecurity, still feel confused about what your purpose is, and still feel anxious about not being able to control situations if you only address your diet, and not the actual troubles that are an inevitable part of being a human being.

Contrasting a tight grip on your diet, some people like to link overeating to their daily troubles. They say they eat too much because of their troubles. Because they are lonely (or sad, or happy, or bored, or overwhelmed).

I think people overeat because they like overeating. I think they may use it as an escape from their troubles, but only because it is their escape of choice. If they didn’t like overeating, the way they didn’t like drinking too much (assuming they do not abuse alcohol), they wouldn’t keep choosing to overeat.

The idea of eating your troubles away is fantastical. It’s clever, and alot of people keep trying to do it in order to improve the rest of their lives (and perhaps it is their best option until they learn coping mechanisms that actually serve them), but it should be kept in perspective.

Improving what you eat only improves what you eat.

If you want to start here, on your quest to tackle your troubles, with a better diet, absolutely go for it. But remember, you will still need to address the other areas of your life that may be going neglected now that you are so focused on food.

Your purpose, your career, your lover, your family, friends, spiritual beliefs–they are all waiting for you.

If you work to improve your diet, good, good, good!

Just don’t forget about the rest of your life.

Image from Flickr.