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.

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