Last week we talked about how to stop overeating (find it here).
The process has to do with feeling the urge, allowing it to pass through you (60-90 seconds if you don’t resist) and not acting on it.
Do that enough times and the urge goes away (It’s classical conditioning—ala Pavlovian dogs from psychology class)
I mentioned one trick that helps the process: a compelling reason (see the video at the end of the blog for more on that).
Well today I want to talk about the secret sauce that super charges the whole experience—makes it easier, faster and a lot more pleasant.
In fact, it makes any change you want to make easier, faster and more pleasant.
That secret is self-compassion.
Here’s how it works:
If it’s say 8pm and you finished a nice well-rounded meal at 7pm chances are you are not physically hungry.
But you really want some cookies.
You're just watching Netflix, minding your own business when the urge hit. Usually you just get up, make your way over to the pantry and grab the packet, but this time you’re going to ride it out.
What happens first?
First we notice the discomfort of not obeying the urge.
If we breathe through it (remember, 60-90 seconds) without resisting the discomfort, it will subside.
Next, we try to figure out what caused the urge in the first place. This is advanced stuff, here.
You could just do the classical conditioning work and extinguish the urge/habit by feeling it through and not rewarding it. Over and over. That will work.
But if you’d like to get a handle on how the habit got started in the first place and therefore make it unlikely you'll set up another overeating food habit in the future, then here’s what you do.
Figure out what you were feeling right before the urge hit.
In the scenario above, if you're watching TV at night, it could very easily be boredom or restlessness. But depending on what you were thinking—like if your mind got triggered by something you saw—then it could be sadness or jealousy or loneliness or fear.
Identifying what you were feeling means you can address it more directly rather than tranquilize it with food.
Now here’s where the compassion comes in—we may not get this right every time.
Meaning, we may try to ride out the urge, but it’s just too big this time so we eat. Or we feel bored and before we realize it we’re eating ice cream.
Often what we do to ourselves when we’re trying something new, especially when it comes to changing overeating behaviors, is beat ourselves up for each imperfect attempt.
“How could you do this AGAIN?!”
“You’re going to be fat forever!”
“You’re too old to change.”
“You don’t deserve to lose weight.”
When we layer shame or embarrassment or disappointment or punishment on top of the fear or boredom or restlessness or loneliness, that’s when it gets unbearable.
Ice cream it is.
Compassion for the original feeling and for any attempt to change a behavior makes it bearable—literally. You can bear boredom or sadness, it’s the shame that gets you.
How would you treat a 4-year-old who’s afraid or disappointed?
A hug or kind word. Understanding.
You deserve nothing less.
It’s usually quite understandable how someone could be feeling what they're feeling: boredom, isolation, loneliness during months of home-stay, fear about a pandemic, anxiety over an uncertain future.
Sounds normal to me.
That’s why being aware of the feelings matters.
When we can identify them, we can dose them with understanding and compassion rather than cake.
Your heart and your waistline will be so grateful.