Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How to End Binge Eating? Stay Connected.

Do you struggle with emotional or binge-eating? Do you find yourself eating because you're lonely, sad, bored? We've spoken in previous blogs about how to begin to tell the difference between those feelings and hunger in your body. But what if you can tell the difference and you still can't stop? Knowing that we're overeating can be humbling and humiliating, and--like other self-destructive patterns--leads to feelings of shame followed by a stalwart promise to never do it again. Over and over, we set ourselves up for failure.

Using the relationship that you have with your body, I propose a different way. It came out of working with a client who had struggled with binge-eating for years. Despite her relatively normal weight, she found that she continued to act out with food and then beat herself up afterwards: 'Why did I do that? I have to stop. I won't do it again...'

Because she had begun to understand that her body was something she was in a relationship with and not just a mute object to be controlled, we started to get curious about what was happening in her relationship to her body every time she binged. The pattern that emerged was similar to what can happen in any of our relationships when tough issues came up, or when we do something we aren't proud of, let someone down. Reflexively, we can move to denial or shut down. We don't want to share, talk about what we did wrong. Or we feel so guilty that even if we do share, we can't forgive ourselves. She was doing this with her body every time she binged.

But this client had a different experience in her own personal relationships. She found that the best solution when she messed up with her partner was to just fess up, be honest and stay connected. She also found that if she could bring a little humor to the honesty, that helped too, "Boy, I did it again didn't I? I'm sorry, I don't even know how that happens sometimes. Thanks for hanging in there with me..." Her partner was often far more sympathetic to this approach and they often got through the situation and came up with a situation that worked for both of them, rather than staying mired in animosity.

We came to realize that there was a similar and important tactic to use with her own body after a binge. Rather than beating herself up, feeling guilty and separating from her body's sensations, we got curious about what would happen if she treated her body much like she did her partner: staying honest, owning what just happened and wondering how they might get through it differently the next time.

She could feel in her body the difference between the guilty rigidity and judgment she usually slipped into after a binge and the possibility of this feeling of connection and humor instead. She was literally redoing her relationship with her body and herself. And guess what happens when we do that? We break the cycle of 'having to be better' the next time and then failing. We choose the love and forgiveness right now, and cop to what's happened. And the healing connection with our own body eventually becomes more powerful than whatever it was we were seeking in the drama of guilt and purgatory we created with the food.

I urge you to try this the next time you emotionally eat, at any point that you notice--whether it's before, during or after. Instead of shutting down, stay connected. Ask your body how it feels about what you're doing, admit that sometimes it's hard for you to stop. But stay honest, loving and real about what's going on. Notice if your body responds differently, with less fear and stiffness. And notice if you break your own cycle of shame.

Once we own our bodies as something we're in relationship with, an entirely different relationship to our behaviors is possible. We might find that we actually want and need to be accountable, and that feeling connected feels better and kinder than perceiving ourselves or our bodies as 'right' or 'wrong.' We begin to choose love over judgment or loathing. And love has a tremendous capacity to heal, even those things we thought we'd be stuck in forever.

Watch yourself grab for those cookies, let yourself pick up that carton of ice-cream. But stay in relationship. Ask your body how it's doing. Admit that this is hard for you. Over time, the realization that you're in this together and that you're doing the best you can will start to work surprising miracles. Your behavior will start to change not because it's good or bad but because love and acceptance are easier and more present, because they feel better. And so will taking care of yourself when the hundreds of options other than food begin to present themselves to you, like weeds growing out of fertile ground.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is Eating the Same as Taking a Break?

Each month I'm an emotional wellness expert on 'Your Caregiving Journey,' an online radio show devoted to caregivers. This month: the link between taking care of others and NOT taking care of ourselves. So often, we use food to give us the 'break' we really need, because eating makes us feel like we're 'doing' something. Really, though, our souls may be yearning for lots of other outlets--including the ability to sit and do absolutely nothing, stare into space, take a bath.

So how do we stay in touch with those possibilities? One of the ways we explored on the show is to make a list of 20 or 30 things you'd love to do to relax or nurture yourself--include staring into space, calling a friend, putting on music, reading, drawing, going for a walk--and put it on the refrigerator or on your cupboard. The next time you reach for food and this list stares you in the face, ask yourself whether or not one of the other things on your list would meet your deepest need more kindly.

We also talked about continuing to pay attention to the body's signals and language as a way of understanding what you need, similar to the blog of a few weeks ago on Body Language. Do you know the difference in your body between sadness and hunger? How would you describe each physically in your body? Paying attention to these differences can make you more aware of why you're eating and the difference between emotional and truly physical hunger.

I could go on, but it might be more fun to just listen to the interview yourself! So here's the link:

And for those of you who don't know, 'Anna Stookey's Befriend Your Body' page is newly up on Facebook. I'll be posting thoughts a few times a week on the bodymind relationship and include inspirations from other friends and followers... Check it out!

My warmest thoughts for a healing end of the summer--
Taking time to take care of yourself even as you care for others...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Limboland of Illness

I'm back from a whirlwind tour of my hometown in Maine.
All the way from the coast of California, my husband and I got ourselves to a little town in the middle of the state and--with my sisters, their husbands, my three nephews and my parents--squeezed in a day at Acadia National Park, a lobster dinner, a cocktail party and a million other things. I came back to a full schedule of clients, including all day at a women's retreat.

This morning I woke up with a headache that hasn't gone away.

It's not completely debilitating--I've seen clients, shuffled some papers around. But I find myself walking in circles, not completing thoughts or tasks. I am not quite tired enough to sleep and not quite with-it enough to be operating at my usual frenetic pace. As a result, I have spent most of the day, literally, staring into space, flipping through a magazine, listening to the sound of birds. I have no idea where the day has gone, in fact. But I wonder if this isn't the point.

My body is up to something. Its pain calls me into the wilds of Limboland, a place that is neither here nor there, where I respond differently to everything around me. I can't even make to-do lists in my mind if I want to. I have surrendered, succumbed. I have to give in.

I remember how strange this feeling was in childhood--when a perfectly fine day would suddenly yield itself to a woozy feeling, chicken soup in bed and constant sleep. It surprised me, and it felt like an altered state, something bewildering and powerful, to which I gave myself completely. A day or two later I was back in action.

It's more of a battle as an adult. I like neat lines, agendas, moving forward. The limboland of illness is something I fight, want to get out of. As I sat with my head pounding today I realized how little I ever just stare into space, doing nothing. I realized how rarely my time is vast and open with no activity in it but just being. I'm talking about sitting, like a blob on the bed, watching the world around me through the slow-motion filter of non-doing.

Almost never. Which must be the function now of illness for us. Our body calls us into an altered state, a place of other-soul work, a moment removed from the functioning of life. It's a kind of initiation, though we could never fully put it into words, when we fall into it. And things feel strange and dizzying until they don't anymore. And that state can last a moment or years, depending on our symptoms and our health.

I often ask clients with chronic pain or illness to go more fully into what they're experiencing, become curious about it, dialogue with it rather than resisting. But the resistance is ingrained in us, the desire to move forward heroically without slowing down. We learn surrender from illness and the sense it ultimately gives us of something greater than ourselves running the show.

So I am in slow motion today, but--let's be honest--I probably deeply need to be. My whole being is integrating a week full of experiences and travel that went by at lightening speed. Stop, my body says. Please don't do anymore. Let's just be, like a cat in the sun or an open boat on the flat water. Let's just be and soak in all that is.

If this is what my headache has to teach me, I'm trying to listen.
Illness is like a funny guru, coming to call us into deeper places in ourselves.
Sometimes we forget how to get to that stillness, that netherland, on our own.
Our bodies remember. Our bodies, whether we like it or not, take us there until we find it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stepping Back Into the Body


"I don't want to go in there..."
is how he said it tearfully when I suggested Adam take a moment and feel what was actually going on in his body. Middle-aged and overweight, he was now struggling with a flood of negative thoughts about his body that kept him from his life. Like many of us, he'd developed a habit of judging and criticizing his body that kept him locked out of it. He was genuinely afraid of what he'd find.

Sometimes that first step back into the body is a tearful one, full of thoughts and feelings held in reserve like Sleeping Beauty, waiting for our consciousness to wake them.
We can all think of moments when we slowed down enough to let ourselves catch up with the vastness of our lives, step out of the reign of the mind or of logic, to feel what's happening right now in this moment. We may be aware of things we thought we'd left far behind.

I love this quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer, the great poet and writer who wrote The Invitation. She was going through a move--something she wanted to do efficiently, without slowing down, so she wouldn't have to feel it. But living in her were an array of feelings--grief and sadness around the change--that her body called her to be with:

"The minute I bring my full attention to this moment, letting go of mentally keeping track of what has happened or needs to happen next, I become aware of my body. I feel my breath and the stiffness in my back and remember that I have not done my yoga yet this morning. I let my shoulders drop. I am aware of my tiredness and fear that it won't all get done or I will get sick getting it done or I'll forget something critical. And if I stay present with these feelings, letting my hands pause as they pack a box or move over the keyboard and just take three deep breaths, I am aware of another feeling that I do not want to touch, a feeling of something welling up inside me that I have been keeping at bay for weeks.

"Herein lies the answer to my question Why is it so difficult for us to bring our full attention to the present moment, to be here now? Because there are aspects of reality we do not want to accept, that we cannot avoid being with if we are present." (Oriah Mountain Dreamer in The Call: Discovering Why You Are Here)

To be still with the body is to allow ourselves to be right where we are, and to say that we are willing to hear what is there. What we have to sit with may be years of abusing and ignoring our bodies. It may be old traumas or losses. Or it may simply be the quiet joy of being present, feeling the energy and aliveness that's there, waiting for us, like an eager and open child.

Today I invite you into the present moment with your body, just this moment. Take a moment to feel what's going on in there, to notice the sensations and feelings that emerge when you slow down and step back in. How far away have you felt from the immediacy of your body? As feelings emerge, stay present and compassionate and watch what happens. Like any uncharted road, the path becomes more comfortable with time, revisiting the tracks, marking what shows up with attention.

How long has it been? What happens if you just show up to explore the body's sensations and the feelings that emerge, without expectation or judgment? If the mind wanders, return to what is present now. What is the breathing like? Does your body feel heavy or light? Where is there feeling?

Sometimes the first step to befriending our bodies is simply being willing to step back in.
Will you take that step today, even for a moment? What will your body reveal if you do?

Are you afraid of, or open to, that truth?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Take Your Body On A Honeymoon

It's not every day, sadly, that we feel like we can really and truly listen to our bodies. Sure, we'd love to eat a lighter, healthier meal but instead we choose that thing we can microwave at work. And yeah, we'd love to get more sleep but we're burning the candle at both ends as it is and our kids, dog, or partner is going to wake us up before our body is really ready, long before eight hours of deep dreaming have soothed our senses.

I'm not letting anyone off the hook. But I know how it is. It doesn't do us much good to punish ourselves for this state of existence. The problem is when it becomes a permanent one. So permanent that before we realize it we have utterly, deeply forgotten how to check in with our bodies at all. How do we know when we're tired, hungry, ready for a breath of fresh air?

I want to suggest a kind of body get-away. Last week we wrote about the body relationship that's caught in a rut, that's gotten boring and stuck. This week I want you to consider what it would be like if you went on a bit of a body honeymoon. I mean it.

Maybe it's not possible every day, or even for one whole day. But I invite you to consider framing a chunk of time out of your weekend or taking a few hours away from the fray with one clear intention: to pay complete and undivided attention to your body and its needs. I'm talking total romance, the kind you get on a first date: gazing into your body's eyes and saying 'What do you need? I'm here. I want you.'

If you're tired, you let yourself sleep. Before you grab for whatever it is that's lying around the house, you ask yourself what your body actually wants to eat. And before you check out on the couch for the afternoon, maybe you ask your body if it feels like doing anything different.

For one day, one hour, one afternoon your body gets to rule your life. How often does it get this chance and how do you think it feels about being ignored day after day while you and your mind run the show? Can you give it one bit of time to be the center of your attention?

I'll tell you what happens when I do this. First, I realize how deeply, deeply tired I am. Most of us are running on fumes and if we stopped for half a second and asked our bodies what they wanted, really wanted, our eyes would probably roll back in our heads and we'd be out cold. So usually this kind of time means letting myself just plain get some sleep. Even if my mind thinks I'm being lazy or unproductive, if it has some other 'idea' of what I think I should be doing. My body rules. And boy does it choose sleep.

Then of course, after getting lots of sleep I start to realize how much of my random grabbing at food has been fueled by exhaustion or the need for distraction. When I'm getting enough rest and I'm actually being kind to my body, I'm a little less interested in potato chips. Seriously.

Your body feels different when it's being paid attention to, as do we all. If you romanced it for a day, let alone a weekend, and really listened to it moment-to-moment it might just surprise you. It might feel like more of a partner. It might hum in quiet bliss to the bottoms of your toes. You might be fighting it less and wanting to feel it more.

I dare you to try. Even for an hour or two. Where would your body guide you if you listened? And would you order room service or a bouquet of flowers?