It’s such a common thing, when you’re feeling powerless over food to say ‘I can’t help it!’ – it really does seem like that, doesn’t it?
That’s what compulsions are like – strong, irresistible impulses to do something – usually something you don’t actually want to do (in your rational mind) – like continuing to eat, even though you’re full; finishing the packet of biscuits, even though you stopped enjoying them a while ago; like opening (and eating) the box of chocolates you bought for your dinner host; or stealing other people’s food… Or for some, it’s not eating – that too is a compulsion.
And it really does ‘feel’ like you can’t help it. It doesn’t feel like your legs are carrying you to the cupboard. It doesn’t feel like your hand is opening it, or breaking open the seal of the carefully selected gift. It’s like you’re detached from your body. You ‘know’ what’s going to happen next. You can see it all, as though you’re watching a movie. You know how this story will end.
And it seems like you have no choice in the matter – you ‘can’t help it’.
How you CAN help it
I’d like to share with you how you can help it. I don’t mean it in the tone that a harsh authority figure may say it: ‘Yes! You CAN help it,’ with a wagging, pointing finger, pushing and shoving you in the direction they want you to move. I mean it in a gentle way – how you can help your compulsion to loosen up a little, and give you some space, so that you can have at least a sense of choice about your actions.
When you have that ‘I know this movie’ feeling, try this:
Get right back into your body
Even if you’re having that out of body experience, where you feel completely detached, and it doesn’t feel like your legs are walking you towards the Haagen Daz stand, stop, take a breath. And another.
Feel your feet. Really feel them. What do your feet feel like? Are they cold or warm? Notice how it feels in your feet, to walk, putting one foot in front of the other. What do your ankles feel like as you’re walking? Become absorbed in and fascinated by how you feel, in your body.
Notice how it feels to breathe. All the way in, air cooler as it flows in, chest and belly rising, and all the way out; air warmer now, and chest and belly falling.
You see, what frequently happens when we overeat (or binge, or indeed undereat) is we ‘leave’ our bodies, so to speak. So getting back into your body is a crucial step.
Say: ‘Oh! I know this movie!’
This means, become the Witness of your experience. Describe to yourself what’s happening. It could sound something like this, ‘I’m walking towards the ice cream stand. I’m noticing that it doesn’t feel like my body. It’s like I know how this will all end – in a binge.’
Witnessing your experience is an extremely powerful skill to learn. It helps you to separate yourself from your thoughts and feelings – so you can recognise them as just thoughts and feelings. So you might notice: ‘I’m thinking that I can’t help what’s about to happen. I’m feeling a contraction in my stomach. My chest feels tight. Now I’m thinking that the salted caramel will taste totally divine. I can feel my legs walking me closer and closer to the counter. I’m feeling excited. I’m thinking that it doesn’t matter, I’ll be good tomorrow…’ etc etc.
Get the idea?
What this does is help you to slow down. It’s like watching the movie frame by frame.
There’s no have to, no should do. But if you have some sense of real choice, you may choose differently.
‘Actually, I’m noticing that I’m not at all hungry. And when I think about the feeling I get after a pint of salted caramel ice cream, I feel nauseous and light-headed for hours.’
You may still choose to have what you thought you’d have. And that is perfectly fine!
You may choose to have a smaller portion.
You may choose not to have it at all, this time, knowing you can have it when you next want it.
The point is, you have a sense of choice. And when you have a sense of choice, you take back your power, and you take responsibility for your actions.
And that helps it!
So, will you practice being in your body and witnessing yourself? Start when it’s easy – like you’re driving your car, or sitting on a bus – just practice describing your experience to yourself – your thoughts, your feelings, your sensations in your body – become fascinated by what goes on inside you!
Need help from an expert?
If you’ve had enough of being on and off a diet, feeling ashamed of your body and how you eat, binge eating or emotional overeating — you’ve come to the right place.
I’ll help you discover how to let go of all the food rules, trust your own body and reclaim your innate worthiness — so you can live your life unapologetically and focus on what really matters to you.