Teaching my clients how to be kind and compassionate with themselves is at the core of all of my confidence coaching. The reason why self-compassion and kindness is so important is because when we treat ourselves with love and respect, we create a safe environment for ourselves. That helps us recognize that we are worthy. And when we can think of ourselves as worthy we are willing to do the work to create a life we love. We do that by questioning some of the clutter in our minds so we can make space for ourselves and put other people’s hurtful and negative opinions into perspective.
Question your inner critic
You may have grown up with a sarcastic inner critic voice in your head that makes you feel ashamed when you overeat. You may harbor thoughts believing that overeating is proof of you having no self-control, or an insatiable appetite.
That’s not true. That’s more than likely a harsh judgment that was passed down to you from someone in authority in your life who had their own hang ups around food and body image. Hurt people, hurt people.
Overeating is nothing more than a learned habit of coping with stress. And we are certainly living in stressful times.
The holidays are packed with emotion. But now with Covid and so much more craziness going on, there’s more emotional overload than ever. And that’s what I want to urge you to remember as you go through the day. You will experience a lot of different emotions. As a result of being on this rollercoaster of feelings, you may find that you want to eat more and just lose yourself in food. It’s easier. There’s no judgment for doing that. It’s okay. You have to do what gives you a sense of peace and safety. If that’s eating, then eat.
Please don’t beat up on yourself for doing that. I want to share something with you that I learned that has helped me so much and given me a real sense of peace around food. I started questioning my inner critic and I replaced that angry, judgmental voice with compassion for myself.
If you want to break free of feeling shameful and anxious about everything you eat, you have to start seeing food for what it is. Food and overeating has been your life raft and it’s given you a false sense of security. But as we age our bodies absorb the consequences of our behaviors. Obesity carries with it many risk factors that increase your mortality rate.
That means you need to make some changes so that you can get healthier and have a more balanced relationship with food. It’s likely that up until now, you’ve gone the diet route and felt pressured to give up all your favorite foods thinking that was the only way to control your impulses to eat them all until they are gone.
But it’s more effective to understand the reasons why you are overeating. When you have a compassionate perspective and you understand why you are overeating, the behavior of eating past the point of fullness becomes a choice not a necessity.
The best way for you to absolve yourself of the extraordinary guilt you may feel about overeating is to realize that there are really good reasons why you overeat.
What Are You Really Hungry For?
Your real hunger isn’t for the food. It’s a craving and a yearning for sweet memories of times past.
When you find yourself overeating, especially moving into the area of pain, it’s your body’s way of begging food to do a bigger job.
As we deal with so much fear, stress and uncertainty, think about what you’re asking your holiday meal to do for you.
Think about that. Ask yourself, “What food do I love? What memories do I have that make me love this food so much?”
I love stuffing. From the time I was a little girl I would always help my Nana make stuffing. And eating her stuffing was always my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. To me, stuffing represents my Nana’s unconditional love.
If you feel starved for love and you have memories of food connected to precious departed or estranged loved ones, you will more than likely tend to overeat when you are reminded of their absence. Don’t blame yourself for doing that, just understand why you are doing it. Know that it just feels so good to be enmeshed in the memories of that love for that person.
Science teaches us that our brain can’t tell the difference between an imagined thought and reality. So to your survival brain, a part of you thinks that you will die if you don’t get to eat the food you want to eat.
To your broken heart yearning for some connection and stability, that food you’re overeating is as close to love as you think you can get. The feeling of being loved is what you really want. And the reason why you can’t seem to eat a moderate portion of that food and feel satisfied is because it’s not the food you’re craving. It’s the connection with your loved one.
That’s why it will never be satisfying enough until you learn how to give the love you crave to yourself.
Are you heartbroken and starving for love?
For years I didn’t realize that my overeating was a desperate attempt to reconnect with my precious Nana. So I ended up eating to the point of nausea every holiday. It made me feel shameful and guilty and out of control.
I grew up adoring my father. And I never acknowledged his flaws until I was an adult. Now I know he was basically a very emotionally-detached but kind person who didn’t have the capacity to show love.
In good times he would laugh and smile and we would talk for hours. During my teen years, I felt such a deep connection with him. I felt safe and cared for. To me, he was perfect and I’ll always think of him with love and affection. But he was verbally abusive. He used to make such mean comments about my weight and what I ate.
I took it all in stride and overlooked it because I didn’t think it meant my father loved me less. Coming from living with my step father who was a very physically and sexually abusive man, my dad’s emotional detachment and hands off ways was a welcome relief that made me feel safe.
I guess in some odd way I learned to think of my dad’s tough talk about my weight as his way of showing love and concern for me.
So maybe you also had someone in your life who felt the need to police everything you ate as a way of helping you to get healthy.
Maybe you loved that person so much and wanted them to love you, but they just couldn’t give you the love you needed in the way you wanted it.
So you put them up on a pedestal and idolized them and fooled yourself into believing that they were perfect and could do no wrong. If they rejected or hurt you, it was your fault for not being lovable enough.
For years I just wanted to get my father’s approval. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to embody his strength, his wisdom. So I walked around with my Dad’s voice in my head. And it wasn’t the fun-loving laughter and light-hearted version of him. It was his disapproving tone that became my inner critic.
And I have a hunch if you’re reading this and you’ve been struggling with emotional eating, then you also have a sense of having a judgmental inner critic. It’s that judgment that goes on inside our heads that keeps the cycle of overeating continuing. If you didn’t have any issues around overeating, you’d just chalk it up to eating more and over the next few days your body would gradually balance out and you’d find yourself eating less. But it’s your inner critic that is driving you to feel anxious about everything you are eating. That’s why you are worried about overeating. So let me help you tame your inner critic so you can feel more relaxed and at peace with yourself.
You can transform your inner critic into a loving coach
If you had a relationship with someone in your life who made you feel judged for overeating, then you have probably internalized their disapproval and become your own harshest critic.
But you don’t have to live shackled to that hurtful inner dialog. Click the link here to read a blog post that I wrote years ago. It’s titled, “Master Your Mirror to Change Your Inner Critic.” I wrote it to give you specific tools to transform your inner critic into a loving coach. Those are the steps that I followed that led me to the realization that I could talk to myself more kindly and lovingly and that’s why I encourage you to do the same. Remember that by having a nurturing voice and presence in your head that gives you a sense of well-being and warmth, and that encourages you to act and behave in ways that support that good feeling of self-worth.
Now I know that no matter how much of my precious Nana’s stuffing I eat, I’ll never be able to compensate for the many years when I felt the absence of love and safety in my home.
Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe the uncertainty of these times has made you feel really fragile and vulnerable. Me too.
When you feel that sense of shakiness inside, you have to lower your expectations and do whatever you can to lift yourself back up. The solution is being kinder to yourself, not tougher.
Yesterday while at the supermarket I picked up some Swedish Fish and Raisinets candies. They were 2 of the sweet treats that I used to enjoy eating with my dad during our happier times together. When I saw them on the shelf I realized that I didn’t have them in the house anymore and I needed to re-stock them. Just having them in the pantry gives me an amazing sense of comfort knowing they are there if I want/need them.
Feel your feelings and let them be
Have you been feeling sad grieving the absence of happier times and past loved ones?
Whew! Me too. I’ve been feeling sad and a bit empty lately. With my mom unwell in Florida I’m reminded of the consequences of the many years of distance we have between us. In years past, I would have just tried to drown out those uncomfortable feelings with something else to eat. Lately I’ve just let myself be present in those feelings, because trying to push them away only makes them stronger.
I’m realizing that when I acknowledge my sadness and give it permission to come out in tears or solitude, it doesn’t consume me. It moves through me.
There were many years of being estranged from my parents and brother when my sadness was much more intense, but now it’s softer. It’s an acceptance of understanding that being separate from their mental instability has helped me to heal from my past and find my strength. It has helped me to love and accept myself. I now think of my grief as being like a wave as opposed to a wall separating me from the rest of the world.
I think that not feeling ashamed or judging myself for feeling the way I do has made it easier to let my uncomfortable emotions work themselves out of my system.
Nobody likes to feel the pain of sadness. But I’ve discovered that by cultivating daily kindness and making that a habit it has made the difference. I practice being kind to myself by making room and accepting all the parts of me, the weak and the strong. I’ve learned how to embody my Nana’s unconditional love and now I can give it to myself.
That’s the gift that I want to impress upon you. You can give yourself the love you crave. When you begin to care for yourself in the way that you wish others could care for you, then you will be happier. Freer. More joyful. You deserve that.
It’s a huge boost of pride when you know that you won’t have to rely on others to give you what you need. You can give it to yourself. Remember my friend, you’re heart is aching for love. The food is just a pale substitute. It’s love that you want. Love.
Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff: And Overeating Is ALWAYS Small Stuff
On big holidays like Thanksgiving everyone tends to overeat. That’s no big deal. The most important thing to remember is not to compound your upset of overeating by making yourself feel miserable for doing it. Forgive yourself for overdoing it and let go.
There’s really nothing to forgive, because by overeating, you haven’t done anything wrong. No crime has been committed. You’re not a bad person. Let’s put some perspective on this. Okay? If you want to change the way that you relate to food so that you won’t always see food and want it, you have to level the playing field.
Trying to avoid and play games by not eating the foods you love is an exercise in pure futility and frustration. Eventually as long as you think of the food you crave as forbidden, when you can’t will yourself to avoid it any longer, you’ll give in and overeat it. And that will begin the cycle of shame and guilt. In order to break that cycle so food and overeating is not such a big deal, you have to get comfortable having it around your house.
That means that you have to stop focusing on trying to control what you eat, how much and instead start going within to make changes in your life. To give yourself the love you crave, you have to create the sweetness in your life you want. That means confronting the uncomfortable situations that make you feel like you have to eat. That’s the secret to learning how to feel safe around all the goodies.
I like to teach my clients how to get healthier without dieting by learning to trust themselves and listen to their bodies. One of the best ways of learning how to do that is to reconnect with your body as often as possible and gauge how hungry you are. As a person who does a lot of overeating you probably understand that there’s an enormous sense of relief that comes from feeling full. It makes you feel safe and grounded. It may also make you feel queasy and ill, but there’s that euphoric sense of being satisfied that you feel. It’s the same experience for a baby having a tantrum.
It clutches desperately for their pacifier for an instant sense of calm. That’s what you get when you put food in your mouth when you’re not hungry. You get that dopamine lift of chemicals rushing through your body that make you feel so good. It’s no wonder that when you’re under stress overeating is a natural response. Who wouldn’t want to feel good when they are feeling so bad?
So on days when you eat more than you planned, tell yourself, “It’s okay.” Know that the quicker that you can forgive yourself and move on, the better and the happier you’ll be. Think of your experience with overeating as a child taking a tumble in the course of learning how to walk. It’s more than likely that nobody actually taught you how to eat just enough to satisfy your body’s hunger. You probably learned how to eat and think about food by the experiences that you have had. The key to your success to having a more balanced and peaceful relationship with food and taking back your power is to give yourself permission to eat what you want. Your body will tell you in no uncertain terms how it feels about your choices and if you cultivate habits of kindness where you listen to your body, your eating will gradually change. Think progress, not perfection.
Here are a few ways to stay in touch with your natural hunger signals and honor your appetite so that you can enjoy Thanksgiving and every other day to the max:
1) Eat regular meals throughout the day prior to eating your big holiday meal – Eat whatever you love throughout the whole day. Beware of the trap of the old diet mentality of saving up calories for the big meal. It’s truly the kiss of death. Eat when you’re hungry.
2) If you are going to someone else’s house, bring a take home container so you can have some leftovers to enjoy later.
3) Wear clothes that are comfortable yet able to keep you aware of subtle changes of how your body feels
4) Wear something special that reminds you of how beautiful and empowered you are! – a special bracelet, necklace, shawl, a hair comb, or a scarf, whatever you love!
5) Listen to some inspiring music or do something you love to set the tone for the day
6) Tell yourself that you are going to have a wonderful day.
7) As you prepare to eat, take a few moments to look at the food – Remember to feast with all your senses
8) Choose to put small portions of the foods on your plate that really curl your toes – you can always go back for more!
9) Say a quiet prayer of thanks acknowledging all of the hands and all of the lives that have participated to bring this food to you
10) Midway between the meal, slow down and ask yourself, “How satisfied am I and if I’m still hungry, What do I Really Want?”
11) Pause in the middle of eating, to assess your level of hunger
12) Take a sip of water and tune into that hunger
13) Engage with others at the table – really enjoy the experience
15) Eat until you feel satisfied or feel a sigh coming on – notice the degree of satisfaction that you are getting from each bite.
16) Become aware of the well meaning and often loveable food pushers – Smile knowing that “you’ve got their number.”
17) Express yourself honestly, lovingly and firmly – Say, “No thank you, _____, it was all so delicious. I am satisfied, but I’ll take some home to enjoy later.”
18) When you’ve decided you’re satisfied, place your silverware on top of your plate, wipe your mouth with a napkin, place the napkin on top of the plate and move it to either your left or right side
19) Make sure to leave room for dessert, if it is important to you. I love dessert. But since I usually have dessert type goodies at home, I probably won’t even want dessert that day. We’ll see.
20) Acknowledge and thank yourself for having all this wonderful new awareness and committing to loving your body more and being gentle with yourself
Hey, if you’ve been feeling stressed out, I want to invite you to join me in my new Facebook group, “Baby Steps to Lovin’ the Skin You’re In.” I want to invite you to dig deeper with me and I’ll be doing several lives sharing some simple stress-relief tools that will make you feel so much more relaxed. Click on the link image below to join: