There is much popular advice on how to thwart our ancient brain and use just our reasoning powers to eat normally. This advice refers us to experts who tell us how much and what to eat and how much to move our bodies. We think we must force ourselves to do the right thing, i.e., exercise and eat right, (and spend lots of money doing it!) or else we will stay on the couch forever eating chocolate cake and cookies.
But our existence is much more than just our prefrontal cortex. We can’t ‘reason’ our body into functioning normally. But we can pay attention to the cues our body gives us and make decisions about what to do based on those cues.
The body and brain work together to ensure our survival. So why not make a choice with our brain to listen to our body? When we listen to our body it listens to us. This is mutual respect in the highest form.
So when we feel the urge to eat and try to ignore the hunger, or eat a low calorie meal, or eat something we don’t want, the body gets a signal that something is wrong. It then gives us a craving. If we overeat, the guilt and disgust we feel about it then signals that something is still wrong. This keeps us in hunger mode and the cycle perpetuates.
Even when we don’t overeat, the mental energy used to fight off eating donuts or push the plate away when we want more takes a toll and signals some part of our psyche that something is not right. So we are still in the cycle whether we overeat or not.
Stress and cravings are not usually signs that our body or brain is malfunctioning. Its just the opposite. Stress and cravings are signs that our body is working well but that we are ignoring its needs. And the more we ignore messages from our body, the harder it tries to communicate with us. We get cravings to eat when we are not really hungry. We get feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings of excessive anger/guilt or tiredness. In a way, its like a crying child. When its ignored, the body simply cries louder!
Its not just with food; we disregard messages from our body all the time.
-When our body says its time to go to bed, we watch another show or finish the project we are working on. Or we get up too early in the morning.
-When our body says we need to relax, we ‘push through’ or drink alcohol or take a pill.
-We make lists of things that need to be accomplished and then stress when we fall behind.
Pushing yourself to do something worthwhile is not bad. But when we don’t make up for the toll this stress imposes on our body and mind, we get further and further out of sync. It becomes harder to hear the cues our body gives us on how to remain in balance.
One key to knowing when to stop and listen to your body is when you feel like something in your life is a constant struggle. Failed diets, never-used gym memberships, smaller sized clothes with the tags still on hanging in your closet, half empty containers of dietary supplements, eating when you are not hungry, and bingeing on a regular basis all fall into this category. These are what you perceive as failures from your struggle.
Failure is not just about overeating and hating the size of your body. You can be thin and eat normally and still feel like a failure because you have to struggle so hard to maintain that status. The main thing to remember is when you recognize the failure, -don’t beat yourself up about it.
Failure does not mean you need punishment, it means you need nurturing.
When I finally decided to bust out of the bingeeating cycle, I began by giving myself permission to eat with no guilt. I started to ask myself what I really wanted, and learned how to eat what satisfied me. I no longer paid as much attention to what I was ‘supposed’ to eat according to the experts or how I ‘should’ look in the mirror. To my surprise, I stopped bingeing almost immediately. I began to trust the connection between my body and brain and didn’t feel the need to control or override it.
It does takes some effort to pay attention to my real wants and needs, and some days I do better than others. But it is still much easier than fighting unending cravings or forcing myself to run when I really want to read a book.
I recognize my needs and wants more easily and quickly than ever before and make adjustments as needed without fear of failure. If I overeat, I know something is amiss and I attend to it instead of wallowing in guilt and pity. Its kind of like putting on a coat when it gets cold…You don’t feel guilty about being cold, you just do whatever it takes to get warmer, like turning up the heat or putting on a jacket.
If I can do this, you can do it too!
Stay tuned for next next article: Some Ways To Get In Sync