I always come back to this prevalent theme amongst the human race. And unfortunately, I see it in my office all too often. Mostly in my weight loss patients. The years and years of dieting, losing weight only to gain it all back and then some. It is the hopeless, worthless, shameful, I don't give a sh*t cycle. But because these patients schedule the appointment and even more importantly, because they show up...there it is... a glimmer of hope, a moment of feeling worth it, a nudging thought of actually giving a sh*t. It is their time to break the cycle. And I'm there to help them. But the honest truth is this: it is going to take some work on their part. But the honest truth is also this: that it is absolutely going to be worth it.
Five steps to break the hopeless, worthless, shameful, I don't give a sh*t cycle:
Start eating food to nourish and heal your body.
Forget about eating or not eating to lose weight. Forget about calories and fat grams and intermittent fasting and "evil" carbs. Forget about your friend or sister that lost 30 pounds in 3 days by eating food out of tiny plastic containers. This is your path and yours alone. And until you realize that food can be part of your healing and that food was intended for our survival and nourishment, then you will stay in the cycle. If you want to break this cycle, work on changing your thinking about food. A great example of this type of healthy thinking is in the words of Hippocrates, known as the "Father of Medicine" from almost 3,000 years ago: "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food". Perfectly said.
Change your thinking patterns, and rewire your brain.
The cycle goes like this: Dieting/Restricting > Overeat > Shame/Guilt > Binge/Overeat > Shame/Guilt/What's the point thinking > Weight Gain > Dieting/Restricting. I will also refer to this cycle as the "destructive cycle" or "unhealthy cycle" throughout this article. The first step to changing the pattern here is to STOP dieting and restricting. This in turn, will naturally result in less of a physiological desire/impulsivity to overeat. However, because this has been a powerful piece of the unhealthy cycle, it will happen again. But this time, when it does happen, you will have to try something different. And this takes practice. You will have to practice letting go of any shame and/or guilt that you may experience after overeating. Carl Jung's quote says it how it is: "Shame is a soul-eating emotion". So instead, after overeating or eating something "not so healthy", stop for a moment and practice saying to yourself, "Okay, so I ate more than I needed" or "I ate something that probably wasn't the healthiest thing for my mind and body". Then pay attention to how you feel. You may feel great after just eating something, or you may feel tired, bloated and/or sick. Then practice saying, "I am not going to beat myself up. Instead I will use it for a lesson. And I will reset at the next meal or snack with something healthy and nourishing for my mind and body". The more you practice stopping yourself and redirecting your thought patterns, you will also start to rewire your brain. Keep practicing. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it creates change and pushes you further away from the destructive cycle. And anyways, you weren't meant to be perfect. You were meant to be human.
Practicing mindfulness is a big part of this process. If you aren't ready to sit with some uncomfortable emotions and/or don't have the energy to push through the negative thinking and practice a different type of thinking, that's okay. It doesn't mean that you can't break the cycle, but it may take longer and you may not fully get to the root of why you are in the cycle to begin with. But that doesn't mean you can't move forward in breaking the cycle. You most certainly can. But I will pretty much guarantee you that at some point you will have to start practicing some mindfulness if you don't want to continually fight the pull of the destructive cycle. Once you have started nourishing your body, and practiced letting go of the shame and guilt if you go off course, then you may have to face some uncomfortable emotions. Often, we use food to soothe our emotions. It can become a coping mechanism to handle stress in our lives, to deal with anxiety, depression, trauma, etc. It can be how we connect with our family members or friends, but maybe on an unhealthy level. It can be the shame and secrecy we feel with binge eating at night when everyone is asleep while presenting a different well-controlled persona on the outside. There are many different emotions that are underlying our patterns of eating. And when we are breaking an unhealthy cycle, these emotions will emerge and they will come full force and will have to be acknowledged and dealt with in order to break the cycle. Often, a therapist is needed to help process these emotions in a healthy way.
Bring in the troops.
Not all things were meant to be done alone. And breaking this destructive cycle is definitely one that I would recommend having support lined up for. This may mean friends, spouses/partners, family members, coworkers, doctors, etc. who are supportive of your well being. Maybe not the friend who says, "Aww cmon, lets go get ice cream and you will feel better!" (and you know who I am talking about). You may need a dietitian, therapist, life coach, personal trainer. Whatever and whomever you need to bring into your circle during this time of great change and transformation...bring them in and line them up. Let them in on your goals and how they can help you reach your goals. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You may have never asked for help in your entire life. But now you may need to practice that as well. Asking for help. And receiving it without guilt. Remember that there is a gift in giving and receiving. Everyone benefits.
Sometimes in our lives, it is important not to forget. The good and the bad. The little things. For example, the little changes along the way you have made. They may feel insignificant, but even if you practiced changing your thought patterns one time and practiced letting go of any guilt or shame and reset at the next meal...that is something!! Even if you asked one friend to support you in reaching your goals...that is also something! Write down what you have done so that you don't forget. It's also important not to forget how good or bad you feel. The human mind is created to have short-term memory when it comes to pain (ok maybe not long ago emotional pain from childhood), but the pain of feeling sick after overeating or a horrible hangover after drinking, even childbirth! Otherwise, we wouldn't continually repeat painful experiences (okay childbirth may be in a slightly different category). So write it down when you feel good or notice good things: ie. "I ate a piece of fruit with a handful of almonds today for a snack and had a lot more energy this afternoon. I wasn't starving when I sat down for dinner and I was able to control my portions". Also, consider writing down when you felt bad but using the healthier thought patterns: ie. "I was starving on my way home from work and went through the drive thru and ordered the #6 and now my stomach hurts and I feel sluggish. I was going to go workout but now I am dragging. So I am going to drink lots of water and have a healthy snack in a few hours and put on my tennis shoes and go for a walk anyways. Lesson learned". This way you are processing both the good and the bad so that you don't forget, and you are also practicing changing thought patterns. Which ultimately leads to breaking this destructive cycle.
So now you have the 5 steps to breaking the hopeless, worthless, shameful, I don't give a sh*t cycle. Start putting them into practice. It will take time. It will take practice. It will likely be uncomfortable, possibly painful and definitely annoying at times. And I will guarantee you, it won't be perfect. But that's one of the best things about breaking this unhealthy cycle...you are learning that it is okay to not be perfect. I like to call that being imperfectly perfect:) Annnd go!