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, or exercising more than your body needs or is happy with – that too is a compulsion.

It  has a quality of not being able to help it, or not being in control of your actions. 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.

It seems like you have no choice in the matter.

Interrupting the compulsion

A really important piece to success is compassion, gentleness, kindness and patience. It’s hard to change!  Pushing and shoving and criticising yourself isn’t a route to sustainable change. I suggest instead that you make friends with your compulsion, that you ‘lean into it’, soften it gently.

Here are some steps to try when you have that sense of being on automatic pilot, when your compulsion is driving your actions…

1. Get right back into your body

Even if you’re having that out of body experience, where you feel detached, and it doesn’t feel like you are walking towards the fridge, it’s more like your legs are walking themselves without your consent,

take a breath.

And another.

Feel your feet. Really feel them. What do your feet feel like? Are they cold or warm? Notice how your feet feel, 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 feet.

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. Again and again.

What frequently happens right before we overeat (or binge, or indeed undereat) is that we ‘leave’ our bodies, so to speak. So getting back into your body is a crucial step.

2. Become the Witness

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 fridge. 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 simply 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. 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.

Slowing down, creates space. Space in which you can take back some power – if you want to.

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! Be kind to yourself as you eat it and enjoy the experience!

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.

So, will you practise being in your body and witnessing yourself? Start when it’s easy – like you’re driving your car, or sitting on a bus – simply practise describing your experience to yourself – your thoughts, your feelings, your sensations in your body – become fascinated by what goes on inside you!

Health Warning

I strongly suggest that you DO NOT USE THIS TO RESTRICT YOURSELF from eating enough food. Do not use it to try to lose weight! Do not use this to stop yourself eating TYPES of food (eg sugar/ carbs). My strong recommendation is that you only use a tool like this when you have made peace with food (you don’t have black and white thinking about food), when you know for sure that you eat enough for your needs (you don’t go hungry, you don’t feel overly tired from moving too much and not eating enough). Using a tool like this to try to control your intake will almost certainly backfire on you.

Be gentle on yourself.

With love,