The Weight Escape

I started reading a book called The Weight Escape earlier this year. It’s based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which I found helpful working through depression so I wanted to see how it applies to food. I started working through the book enthusiastically, but haven’t been back to it for a couple of months – so much resistance!

ACT is based on taking actions that bring you closer to the things that you truly care about – the things that you value. I value my health – physical, psychological and emotional – so I considered how a healthier relationship with food would improve my health:

  • It would free up time for other more satisfying things, like socialising, art, reading, exercise – it would generally make me more available. Even this weekend I’ve declined plans with friends in favour of going home to binge.
  • It’s good for my mental health – if my relationship with food is under control, I feel more in control in other areas of my life and more motivated to do other things like looking after myself and my home, cooking, exercising. What I eat effects my mood.
  • I feel better about myself – both how I feel in my body and how I look.
  • I care about my physical health. I want nice skin, to feel energised, to sleep well and know I’m eating a healthy diet with all the nutrients my body needs.
  • Eating the right foods and being lighter makes exercise feel easier. I enjoy running with a group.
  • Freedom from the guilt – food never satisfies me, yet I binge again and again. I want to be free of that.
  • It’s better for me financially – the money I waste on unhealthy food could be spent on food that is more nourishing.
  • If I can get on top of my relationship with food, I’ll feel less dependent on external support.
  • I’ve struggled with this for 15 years. I don’t want my whole life to be like this.

The book also encourages you to reflect on your values. Whilst we have lots of different values that are likely to change over time, I’ve focused on three that feel important right now and motivate me to improve my relationship with food:

  1. BEING FIT AND ACTIVE
    • It feels good
    • Looks after my body
    • Sense of achievement
    • Feeling part of something – running group and gym classes
    • The willpower it takes to exercise has a positive impact on other areas of my life
    • Connection to others
    • It’s good for my mental health
    • Taking care of myself
    • Helps me sleep
    • Makes me more likely to eat well, or at the very least off-sets it a little bit
  2. EATING FOOD THAT GIVES ME SUSTAINED ENERGY AND HEALTH
    • So I don’t have to spend so much time feeling guilty, craving and desiring
    • Feeling sustained and satisfied
    • It’s good for my body – giving it what it needs
    • Gives me the energy for other things that are important in my life
  3. LOOKING AFTER MY MENTAL HEALTH
    • I read somewhere that there are some lessons that we can’t afford to learn again. That really resonated with me, as I worked so hard to get where I am, I don’t want to have to do it all again.
    • I’ve had some of the best help and support available – don’t let that go to waste
    • So I can enjoy life and achieve the things I long for

I’ll try to post some more as I work through the book and hopefully I can remember to look at what I’ve just written when I feel tempted.

Healing addiction – de-conditioning the hungry ghosts

Capture

I listened to a podcast by one of my favourite Buddhist teachers, Tara Brach, called ‘Healing additions – de-conditioning the hungry ghosts.’ She talks a lot about food so I decided to take notes!

In Buddhism, there’s an image of ‘hungry ghosts’ – creatures with thin necks and large bellies – symbolising desire that can never be satisfied, the feeling of never having enough or being content. That’s something I can relate to.

Tara explains that when basic needs aren’t met, e.g. safety, love, security, desire gets riveted to something else that is available – in my case food. Whilst meditation won’t get rid of desire it can help us to see it as a habit. It can help us to de-laminate from the desire and meet ourselves with kindness and compassion.

She talks about the three layers of suffering from addiction:

  1. The first is that the fix is temporary and never cures the real, deep need. I get caught in a cycle of craving, reaching for sugar to satisfy the craving, getting a temporary feeling of pleasure which then feeds the cue to binge again and get the reward again.
  2. The second level of suffering is SHAME and SELF-AVERSION which feeds the cycle. This addiction turns me against myself. I hate that it goes against my healthy values and is so visual. It’s obvious when I put weight on. I see myself as fat, lazy and weak-willed and think that everyone else can see that too.
  3. The third layer is not being present and missing out on so much of life being preoccupied with the addiction. It makes me sad when I think of how many moments I waste obsessing about food and thinking that I need it to feel better. All the moments spent feeling like something is missing.

Tara gives the following advice for working with the three layers of suffering:

  • What is the message the shame most needs?
  • How can you work with the shame?
  • Watch the looping and identify the cues. For me it’s loneliness, not feeling seen, not feeling valued or good enough and finding it hard to tolerate difficult feelings at times.
  • When you are wanting a fix, what is it you are really wanting? For me it’s intimacy, closeness, someone to hug, hold my hand or stroke my hair. It’s relief and soothing.
  • Plan ahead -what activity might turn me towards what I really desire? For example before eating the food, read something, send a loving message or email, eat some fresh fruit and yoghurt. If this strategy was to work 50% of the time it would be a big improvement. I think I have the idea in my head that I will just stop one day and that will be it. However if it was that simple, I think I would have done it by now. Instead I think I need to see each day that I don’t binge as an accomplishment.
  • Believing that it’s possible to change and overcome the habit makes it more possible. That belief comes from others – knowing others have walked this path and taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I’ve been really touched recently by a dharma friend who has opened up so honestly to me about her battle with food. She’s been reminding me that it is possible to overcome on the days that I haven’t been able to hold that belief myself.
  • Whatever we practice is strengthened. Notice the craving, choose to pause and bring tenderness to the parts that are feeling shamed and make fresh choices.

I’ll end with a quote from the Buddha that gives me hope it’s possible to change:

“whatever we frequently think of and ponder, that will become the inclination of our minds.”

HOW HAS IT BEEN OVER THREE MONTHS?

Wow! How has it been over three months since I last posted. It’s been something there in the back of my mind that I wanted to do, but have been feeling very resistant to this and generally engaging in anything that’s good for me.

I’ve been caught in a binge cycle for a few weeks now and the weight is piling back on so decided that I need to take some advice that I’ve been given many times before:

Don’t wait for the motivation to come for healthy behaviours. Take action and the motivation will follow.

It’s so true, yet I’ve found it easier to follow out of desperation rather then when things aren’t so bad, yet could do with improvement if I don’t want to go down the same path again.

I prove to myself time and time again that I can’t have any binge foods in the house. I tell myself that it will be ok this time, I’ll eat in moderation and just have one, yet that has never happened and each time I feel like a failure. So I need to not put myself in that situation in the first place – I wonder if I can frame that as something I can do out of kindness towards myself rather than deprivation. To plan my food shopping and meals so I don’t even need to carry my purse with me and face the temptation to buy food at work or on the way home.

I have at least starting running again. I’ve been feeling lonely and needed to be around others, and runners are such nice encouraging people – even when I’m at the back of the group regretting whatever I binged on half an hour before.

I’m probably going to end up posting a few things at the same time now,  but like I’ve said, I primarily write this blog for me, to remind myself of things I need to remember and if it helps someone else along the way, then that’s great too.

So, reminders for the next two weeks until I speak to my therapist again – it would be good to have something positive to report. I’m also having surgery in two weeks time which will mean no exercise for at least a couple of weeks so I need to break some of my unhealthy habits so they don’t become worse when running isn’t an option.

  • Wake-up at the same time everyday and get out of bed so I don’t feel like a failure before the day has even started.
  • Plan when I will exercise. As soon as I don’t exercise I draw conclusions about what it means and my other habits start to unravel.
  • Focus on one thing at a time – e.g. focus on breaking the binge cycle, not on loosing weight. That will follow naturally.
  • Put my phone away at least an hour before bed and only check the news and social media a couple of times a day.
  • Remember to ask myself if there is anything constructive I can do. If so, do it, and if not park the worry.
  • Get back to my routine asap if I slip – don’t write the whole day off.
  • Refuse to believe that it will be like this for ever. I’m in control and have the resources and support to manage it. I am and will be ok.
  • Make a plan for each week – food, exercise, admin, housework etc and stick to it.

Binge eating

A couple of run-ins at work this week triggered some binges. Although being honest with myself, I was in that mindset already. It’s been like this since the spring so I want to remind myself of some of the advice I’ve been given.

  • Plan a meals for the week. Write a shopping list and stick to it.
  • Include some lighter things like soup, smoothies, poached eggs.
  • Give up sugar and carbs for a few days and know that the cravings for those things will pass.
  • Don’t eat in my car.
  • Don’t carry money so I can’t stop and buy food on the way home.
  • Don’t have sweet things in the house.
  • Remember that the urge to binge is like a wave and will pass.
  • Remember how much better I felt a couple of weeks ago after talking to a friend and my mum about how I was feeling. I came home and no longer had the desire to eat the all food I’d already bought.
  • Taking action can change feelings.
  • Find something else to get engrossed in. I am drawn to creative things and just have to find the right thing.
  • Exercise four or five times a week.
  • Get outside – don’t hibernate after work – it’s not healthy to do it everyday, even if it feels nourishing – it’s a trap!
  • Eat protein with every meal so I’m not physically hungry.
  • Weigh myself once a week on the same day.
  • Keep a food diary – just keeping track of what I’m eating rather than tracking calories as well.
  • Remember the days when I make myself feel sick – nothing has been satisfied. The food doesn’t keep it’s promise and often wasn’t even that nice or as good as I’d imagined it would be.
  • Once I slip, get back on my routine ASAP – don’t write-off the whole day or week.
  • Clean my teeth after meals or when I get home.
  • Don’t cut anything out – balance.
  • Remind myself I can always have it later.Delay the binge by 5, 10, 20 minutes. Interrupt the process.
  • Ditch the all-or-nothing, black or white thinking. Practice psychological flexibility.
  • Ask myself, does this behaviour lead me closer to where I want to be?

Falling off the wagon

Again, it’s been a few weeks since I written. I really want to start writing more regularly again though as I find it really helpful – both to get things out and also knowing that others people have seen or heard me.

It’s not been the easiest few weeks. I’ve landed back from the summer holidays with a bit of a bump. All the routines I worked so hard to create seem to have gone out the window – food, exercise and self care.

My eating habits are the thing that I give myself the hardest time about which is why I’m writing this list to remind me what I need to do.

  • Plan my food for the week – what meals I will make, when I will shop, when I will cook and prepare. I’m much more successful if I’ve planned in advance. I’m loving  the Deliciously Ella Everyday cookbook as all the recipes in there are really healthy and easy to make. I’ve also started batch cooking and freezing things for winter so I have healthy options on hand.
  • Shop at my local small supermarket once a week. If I shop at the larger one or stop to top-up throughout the week, I end up with things I really don’t need in my basket.
  • Make the decision in advance not to indulge in treats at work – it requires less willpower to say no if I’ve already made the decision.
  • Don’t set such big goals for myself. Don’t focus on numbers on the scales, distance for exercise or the number of days that I am doing things. I just need to move forward in the right direction – it doesn’t matter how big the step is.
  • Leave my bank card at home and only carry enough cash for what I actually need. My therapist has been telling me this for ages – but I think it’s finally sunk in this week. It’s too tempting to stop on the way home from work and buy unhealthy food when I have money on hand. Once I’m home I’m unlikely to make the effort to go back out especially.
  • Save shopping for new winter clothes as a reward for when I feel better about myself or have lost a few pounds, rather than when I’m beating myself up and constantly giving myself a hard time about my body.
  • Make plans for the future – things I’d like to do in a years time. It feels good to plan and I don’t feel so stuck which makes me unhappy and leads to more comfort eating.

Dealing with cravings

I’ve been struggling with eating too many of the wrong things and feeling bad about gaining weight. I found this list of advice that my therapist give me for dealing with cravings:

  1. Read mantas or quotes
  2. Think about how good it feels not to binge.
  3. Get outside and get some fresh air.
  4. Talk about it.
  5. Move around, change the scene.
  6. Read articles as a distraction.
  7. Do some art, make a collage.

I really need to practice distracting myself. I haven’t even remembered to try, let alone giving any of the things above a chance this week. So that’s my challenge for the next week or so.

I’d love to hear about anything that help anyone reading this post.