As an emotional or binge eater, you always wish you could distract yourself for long enough to not eat the cake or cookie, don’t you? But nothing seems to work. The most common complaint is that “It’s too hard to make tea or distract myself, I’d rather just eat the cake – at least I know for sure that it will help me feel better.”
You’re absolutely right of course!
Willpower, unlike what we are led to believe is not a muscle that gets better with exercise. If it was, we’d all be pros at stopping ourselves from eating compulsively.
Willpower is not just used for self-control but to make decisions throughout the day, starting from tiny things like what to wear to work all the way up to preparing for the big office presentation. It comes from the same pot of energy that we use for all other physical, mental and emotional activities like going to the gym, teaching your kids math or having dinner with in-laws. By the end of the day then, it’s no wonder we don’t have any more of these energy stores left over.
Relying on willpower is a recipe for failure. Thinking that you SHOULD have willpower left over is even more silly – you’re only human and doing SO many other things in the day that take up your energy and focus. It doesn’t matter if you love what you do – it still takes mental, physical and emotional space to get it done.
What you need is not more willpower but just a PAUSE.,
Willpower means controlling yourself or stopping yourself. With a pause, we are not doing anything of that sort. We are just stopping for a minute and breathing. It’s about delaying that split second between wanting the food and grabbing it mindlessly. This is what you do:
- Try to pause for a minute before you eat.
- Take a deep breath and slowly exhale it out – this will stop the mental gears turning quite so fast.
- While doing this, don’t think about NOT eating the cake – this is not about what you feel like doing or want to do in the next five minutes. At this moment, this is just about staying with yourself and breathing.
Once you are done with this, go ahead and give yourself permission to eat. If you feel okay to hold off for a little while longer, try this next step.
Recall the last overeating episode and how that made you feel. Don’t just think of it, try to bring back the physical negative side effects associated with it. Were you sick and bloated? Did you have a tummy ache the day after? Did your stomach burn and did you feel nauseous even thinking about how much you ate?
Try to vividly imagine it happening to you. With practice, your brain will automatically default to not wanting the cake anymore. If you still want it (which is very common initially!), remind yourself that the cake = this horrible feeling many hours later.
The more you can think of the stomach ache, bloat and sick feeling, the easier it is to avoid the food.
What we are doing here is using our mind’s pleasure and pain principle against itself. We’ve evolved to seek pleasure and avoid pain. When we think of the cake in front of us, we can see only good things. But when we start associating the cake with the stomach ache, our minds actively try to avoid the pain.
As you practice this more and more, binge eating urges will start getting associated with pain and your binge habit will automatically stop.
At the end of this exercise, go ahead and eat the cake if you still want it J
P.S.: If you try to think about NOT eating the cake while you’re doing this, it won’t work. The moment we forbid ourselves from having something, the desire to want it gets even stronger. Just think of this as a self-care ritual that you practice whenever you feel like stuffing food. You ALWAYS give yourself permission to eat through the process and after you’re done.