I tried to make this blog relevant to a recent news topic, but for the life of me, I cannot find a connection. So instead I'm going to discuss one of the most common and unhealthy beliefs among my Heyday clients. That's the notion that nothing makes a person more productive than the last 5 minutes.
Today a 34-year-old mother-of-two, Michelle, told me that first thing in the morning her mind is consumed with thoughts of food and she picks at leftover cake from the previous evening, "sometimes I wake up in the morning and I feel swamped by everything that has to be done today- calls, emails, school runs...it's not that they're huge tasks but I feel overwhelmed, and so I procrastinate by eating". Then everything is a last minute rush, brushing away the crumbs, and rushing to meet each task. Cue feelings of guilt, anxiety and generally feeling incapable, usually followed by further grazing and picking.
I'm pondering anxiously about all the little tasks I have to do this afternoon- send emails, make a few phone calls that I've been putting on the long finger, write this blog! I'm already feeling smothered. I'm staring at my to-do list but I don't want to do anything on it. I mindlessly walk from my office to the living room and grab a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. In an instant, I snap the packet open and gaze with glee at the pale golden crisps. I've created a momentary escape from reality. Sinking my teeth into the crisps and grinding them between my teeth brings instant relief.
I consciously decided to stop eating mid-way through the packet of crisps. Instead of escaping through food, I've learned to stay with myself, "this (food) is not what I really need right now. It's not helping me, and I'll only feel like crap afterwards", "So, what do you want to do Bernadette. It's your choice". I pushed the packet of crisps aside. I wasn't even tasting them anyway.
"Yes, you DO have a choice"
Michelle had accepted that she had no choice but to mindlessly eat, which left her feeling helpless and out of control around food. I get where she is coming from. For years I told myself that I have no choice but to eat. Eating was my thing, my hobby, my full-time preoccupation, my shameful secret. Sneaking bowls of cornflakes with milk when I knew no-one was in the house, looking for excuses to be alone so I could eat. All that planning required a lot of effort and energy.
Now I routinely remind Heyday clients that you DO have a choice. I encourage them to pause before reaching for food and make a clear and defined choice, "No. I don't need that toast right now. Maybe later", or "Yes. I'll have a slice of cake" but definitely not "Ah sure, I might as well eat it. What's the point in not having it? Anyway, I'll start being good on Monday". Consciously pausing and slowing down before you reach for the packet of biscuits and asking yourself, "Is this the best way to care for myself right now" means that you are putting yourself in charge and instead of mindlessly rushing to food and eating to escape.
Hit your pause button
Now when Michelle pauses and ask, "Am I really hungry?" the answer is usually, "I feel overwhelmed by work" or "I'm afraid things won't work out". Focusing on food cannot fix this these concerns and anxieties. By pausing before eating you are giving yourself the opportunity to make an informed decision and are becoming aware of your needs. This means that you are taking the reins back and taking charge of your needs. It's a world apart from feeling out of control around food.
While food was my way of disconnecting from reality, of checking out when I was bored, anxious, now I am awake. I try to remain mindful of what and when I am eating. Otherwise I can fall back into habits of unconscious eating, such as eating when you're finished with your meal and you continue to pick at it, slowly eating the remaining portion that you intended to leave behind. Staying with myself takes effort, but it's a hell of a lot better than abandoning myself by diving into the biscuit tin and it's a world apart from mindless, guilty eating.