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.