“Decide that there’s a bottom line, that you have basic needs, and they are non-negotiable.”
Your Basic Needs
Many people with problematic eating behaviours are using food to meet needs that have nothing to do with physical hunger.
These needs may be physical, for example: feeling tired is actually a need for rest; feeling cold – the need is for physical warmth; or when ill, eating can distract from or comfort the discomfort. Or they may be emotional. For example, a need for safety/ security; a need for belonging; a need for love/acceptance, a need for play/pleasure etc. I’ve written quite extensively on my blog about the importance of understanding and meeting your needs. Here’s one.
As you become more aware of the needs you meet with food, you’ll find some show up more often than others. This points to something – it points to the needs that are requiring your attention.
In my experience, it’s likely you will continue to overeat until you begin to meet your needs appropriately and consistently – because food can only meet one deep need: the need for nutritional sustenance. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t also be used to celebrate, or to comfort emotional distress from time to time – but if you’re reading this, it’s likely food is being used as a stand in for aspects of your own self-care.
When I was seriously working on resolving my eating issues, I noticed that rest was a need I was often meeting with extra food.
I decided to be proactive about it. Instead of waiting for the next time I felt tired, I decided to rest on purpose, tired or not. Every afternoon for a period of time – can’t remember how long now – I lay down for 15 or 20 minutes. I’m not a day-time napper – but what I did was to lie down, without anything ‘to do.’ I set my alarm and closed my eyes. I never fell asleep, but I did deeply rest.
It changed things.
* I stopped eating because of tiredness.
* I was in a better mood for my family in the evening.
* I had energy for the rest of the day.
* I didn’t need to go to bed, grumpy at 8:30!
Mostly, it reinforced the message to my brain, that I am worthy of rest; that I have my own permission to rest and to take care of myself.
For a period of time, that practice of daily rest was non-negotiable.
Over the years since then, I’ve developed practices and routines that I know are the minimum baseline for my well-being. My well-being matters because I matter. When I believed I didn’t matter, or that my needs didn’t matter, I didn’t take good care of myself.
As Geneen Roth says – ‘decide that there’s a bottom line’ – in other words – what is your minimum baseline? What do you need, consistently, for your own well-being. Note I said well-being, not survival. If you’re reading this – you’re doing enough for that!
To give you an example, these are mine:
* daily meditation
* movement of some kind, depending on what my body is asking for
* making sure that I eat when I’m hungry, and eat what I want to eat
* removing myself from conversations that are not being conducted respectfully
* drinking adequate fluid
* getting enough sleep/rest
Non-Negotiables and Perfection
When you hear the word ‘non-negotiable’ it sounds very definite, doesn’t it – like it’s cast in stone. This lends itself to black and white thinking. Diet mentality is black and white – and we know where that leads – to rebellion.
Instead, see it as a line drawn in the sand. Sand is flexible and forgiving. Your intention is to have these non-negotiables in place because they support your well-being. Not because they’ll make you thin(ner) or a better [insert role] – but because your happiness, your well-being, your enjoyment of life matters!
That doesn’t mean that on some days you won’t make other choices (and accept the consequences of those decisions). You will. There’s room for that when the line is in the sand.
This isn’t about being perfect. It’s about self-care.
Evolution of Non-Negotiables
You may find over time that your non-negotiables change shape. I found that with rest. After a while of resting on purpose every afternoon, I didn’t need to do it anymore. But from time to time, when fatigue hits – that’s my cue to meet that need. A couple of years ago, I hit such a period and took the drastic action to make Fridays a rest day – until I felt rested enough to change it.
Over time, you may notice that a practice in some other form of self-care is essential to your well-being – so you practice that… until something changes… or, you recognise it’s one of those pieces that needs to stay. That’s how my list evolved.
My invitation to you is to think about your minimum baseline for self-care. What are the elements for you? There’s no need to come up with an exhaustive list. You can simply start with one thing. Commit to it. Practice. Show up for yourself. Then reassess periodically. Add something. Change something.
You’re a dynamic being with changing needs and priorities.