Escape by eating

Evening is when I eat the most.

I’ve gone for a few years skipping breakfast and lunch nearly every day. But dinner time is more of a challenge for me.

Last night I had a beer, a couple of plums, a small portion of risotto, an ice cream in a cone, and a large serve of watermelon.

I knew I was eating more than I needed when I had the risotto and the ice cream. Cravings hit later in the evening when the kids were in bed.

Again, the context of cravings is important. It’s late at night but there’s nothing much to do. I want to relax and losing myself in the sensations of eating is a good distraction.

But it doesn’t leave me feeling good in the longer term. If I don’t need the food to keep going, then I’m overeating. Since I’m overweight according to my BMI, this overeating is going to contribute to being overweight.

I’m not going to beat myself up for overeating. This process is not about losing weight as quickly as possible, it’s about having a healthy and mindful relationship with eating.

So even if I choose to eat for the pleasure of it, I’m now more aware than before of the dynamic taking place within me. I’m aware that cravings aren’t real hunger, and that they point to the presence of negative emotions, and to a lack of alternative sources of pleasure and fulfilment.

Although I overate, it’s not a loss, because I further tuned myself to my underlying motivations and physical signals.

Tonight when the cravings come again I will be more aware and preemptive of them. I might look for something more productive and engaging to do. And I might even gain some more insight into the negative emotions I’m trying to escape by eating.

Do what works for you

I want to quickly clarify that it’s never been my intention to skip breakfast and lunch. I’ve just never liked eating breakfast, and when I started my diet years ago I discovered that if I eat lunch I don’t need dinner.

If I was more active this would definitely change. Move more, you need more. My approach is just what has evolved to suit me, my circumstances and my physical needs. I’m sharing it as an indicator of where I’m at, not as a guideline to follow.

Eating is about context

I wasn’t planning on blogging my latest round of my diet, but it’s actually nice to share all the little reminders and ideas that come to me in this process.

Back in late 2016 I worked out an approach to weight-loss that worked for me. After years of struggling with weight and diet it was a big relief to finally gain clarity on this important subject.

I wrote a book about my discoveries in 2017, and since then I’ve been happy with my weight, enjoying the benefits of my process, with occasional tune-ups along the way.

That’s where I am now: I originally lost 20kg and dropped from an overweight BMI down to the normal range. But with enough time in the normal range (a couple of years) and some changing circumstances I’ve crept back into the overweight range.

Which is not a big deal. I have my process, and I know it works. Whether I gain weight or lose too much weight, my approach to diet has given me the lifelong tools to stop, reassess, and put my focus where it’s needed to restore balance.

So with that in mind I actually just came online to post another observation:

I’m constantly surprised how long I can keep going without needing to eat anything. And when I do need to eat something, it takes very little to get me going again.

But I’m also conscious that my BMI has been in the overweight category, and it makes sense that with so much stored energy available as fat, I really don’t need much food to keep me going.

As always, the words “keep going” remind me that life is meant to be about the many different things that bring fulfilment, meaning, and pleasure to our lives. Eating was never meant to be our dominant occupation in life; we simply don’t need that much.

That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy and appreciate good food when we do eat. It’s just a matter of context: how much we eat and how often, and what else is going on in our lives.

Hungry, tired, or just lacking stimulation?

It’s 1:54pm and so far today I’ve had two cups of coffee with milk and three cherry tomatoes.

I’ve taken one child to school (walking) and driven with another child to a few shops for some research.

In about an hour I’ll drive to do some grocery shopping, do the school pick up, come home and start preparing dinner.

I’m feeling tired, but I don’t actually feel hungry.

I’m in a really good place for observing how I feel. Can I keep going without eating right now? Easily.

I need to drink more water, but apart from that, I’m noticing that the tiredness is not actually about hunger but interest.

It’s a mindset issue that would have previously been buried under the distraction of eating more. The pleasure of eating provides a time-out and relief from other concerns.

I could instead have a black coffee for stimulation and enjoyment, or take the opportunity to wonder what other sources of pleasure and enjoyment are available to me right now.

I don’t actually need to eat. But I’m also not rigidly trying to meet an arbitrary diet goal. I’m free to do what I want, but with enough self-awareness and experience to know that food isn’t going to provide what I want right now.

Fasting mindfully

Following my diet may inadvertently lead to fasting.

But to my mind there’s a big difference between fasting as a means to an end, and fasting as a by-product of following your body’s natural guidance.

It’s the difference between forcing yourself to fast because you believe there are health and weight-loss benefits, and finding that you need very little food to keep going at your current levels of activity and BMI.

If you wake up in the morning and find you don’t need breakfast to keep going, then you haven’t “broken fast” and therefore you are fasting.

I find with my current lifestyle I can keep going without eating till early evening. I just don’t need that much energy. So with the exception of a coffee or two, I’m technically fasting until dinner.

We could say this is mindful fasting because the fasting is a result of being mindful of your body’s actual energy needs rather than psychological cravings or arbitrary eating habits.

And with a mindful approach we can enjoy the clarity of really knowing why we are eating or not eating, rather than blindly putting our trust in fads and studies.

The power of refusing food

The most powerful moment in my diet is when I refuse food that I would normally have eaten, because I’ve checked in with my body and observed that I can keep going without it.

These moments are exciting because they show that the recalibration is happening. They are empowering because they demonstrate real change in behaviour, in accordance with my new understanding of how my body works and what food is for.

It feels really good to not eat food I would previously have eaten without a second thought, and there’s even a sense of curiosity about when I will need more food to keep me going, and how much or how little that will take.

Saying no in these moments also makes it easier to see through cravings when they hit. It gets clearer and clearer that cravings are not about hunger, because I’ve been listening to my body’s signals and I know I can keep going without more food right now.

Dealing with cravings

It’s daunting to imagine eating for sustenance rather than entertainment or escape.

And even when you’re committed to this approach, it’s another story when cravings hit.

Cravings can feel like a visceral need to eat something. They can be hard to resist. So let’s look at them from a different angle.

First, if you’re feeling a craving to eat, congratulate yourself because this means the diet is working. You’re able to distinguish between genuine hunger and craving for food.

Second, don’t beat yourself up for feeling cravings. Even if you succumb to them, don’t beat yourself up. Because you’ve spent months or years or even decades using food to entertain yourself or escape. Accept that it will take time to change your behaviour.

Third, recognise that the unpleasant feeling of craving is an emotion you’ve been escaping by eating. It’s not just a craving for food after all, it’s a highly contextual impulse to distract yourself from what you are feeling.

So look at the context. For me it used to be after work. Sitting down to eat with a glass of wine, tasty food I could eat a lot of in large servings.

What happened when I tried to stop eating so much in this context? I was immediately struck by unpleasant feelings that came from hating my work and feeling like it was pointless.

I used food to help me forget about the work day, but also to distract me from feelings of emptiness at home.

After all, if I wasn’t eating then what else was I going to do? What was there to look forward to apart from the pleasure and distraction of eating?

What I interpreted as a craving that was satisfied by food was actually negative thoughts and feelings about my life that were easily buried by the immersive experience of food.

This is why many people snack when they are bored. They are trying to block out the negative feelings of: not enough sources of happiness and pleasure in life, not enough to look forward to, negative beliefs about life’s meaning and purpose, loneliness, lack of stimulation and so on.

So don’t beat yourself up. Appreciate how the cravings confirm the work you are doing to better understand your own relationship with food. And give some thought to the broader context of the craving, and to the breadth and richness of experience that might be lacking in your life.

Revisiting my approach to diet

I’ve gained weight in the past few months, and to me this is a visible indicator that my relationship with food has changed.

My environment has changed, and my inner world has changed too. I’m happier than ever, but I’ve also let go of some hobbies and interests that used to bring me pleasure.

So my overall balance of happiness needs some recalibrating.

This time around it’s immediately clear that my diet changes my perception of eating from “entertainment” to a source of energy for my body.

I can eat whatever I want; but if I’m eating more than I need to keep going in all my other activities, I’m over-eating by definition. That will be reflected in my physical condition.

And of course there’s the question: why am I eating more than I need to keep going?

The answer is always either for the pleasure of it, or to escape unpleasant emotions.

The solution is to find more alternative sources of enjoyment and pleasure in life, and to allow myself to feel the unpleasant emotions rather than escaping into food.

That latter path may require professional support from a psychologist or counsellor.

I sometimes go jogging and I often practice a martial art. Both count as exercise, but they are also sources of pleasure that give me options other than eating to boost my happiness.

I can’t eat while I’m training, and training keeps me occupied and happy. But I haven’t been able to train for a month, and I’ve also let go of the pleasurable problem-solving aspect of training that had kept me mentally stimulated for years.

For me, at this stage in life, pleasure will come from moving towards my goals. That sense of purpose and direction (even if it’s just “enjoy life more”) puts eating into its rightful place as a support and enhancement of more important and pleasurable things in life.

Abraham Hicks and Aristotle

I haven’t posted in a while but I’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes, both with psychology, and my favourite New Thought teacher, Abraham/Esther Hicks.

A lot of things that used to matter to me don’t matter anymore. As I clear away negative beliefs about reality I’m discovering that what I thought were important issues and questions were really just my attempt to shore up unstable and burdensome beliefs.

The Abraham Hicks teachings have helped me a lot with their insistence that life is supposed to feel good, and that our reality is a reflection of our beliefs and expectations; what we are willing to allow into our lives.

But at the same time aspects of the teaching didn’t gel for me. And this is not a great surprise, given how far I’ve delved into different philosophies and interpretations of life.

A message that is tailored to a mainstream audience needs adjustment for people on the fringes. And to her credit, Esther is more than capable of adjusting her explanations to adapt to people’s preferred terminology.

What does “good” mean?

Years ago I learned that the original philosophical meaning of “good” was not some kind of arbitrary stamp of approval from the heavens, but short-hand for “good for me” in the same basic, visceral way that sunlight and water are good for plants.

The mainstream concept of good and bad is warped by moralism. People think good and bad is about approval and disapproval; and this is usually coloured by our temperament and our upbringing.

Religion exacerbates for many the ingrained belief that God is a big parent in the sky, just waiting for you to f*** up big-time like you always do; or distant and remote and coldly aloof regardless of your striving and struggling.

So it makes sense for Esther to avoid talking about God, using other labels instead.

And it also makes sense to focus on feeling good rather than what is good.

Aristotle’s happiness

The Abraham Hicks teachings are all about heeding our emotional guidance. Our feelings are a direct indicator of how aligned our thoughts are with the perspective of our inner being.

Like Aristotle, Esther states that the only reason anyone ever desires anything is because they think they will feel better in the having of it.

From the perspective of what motivates us to act, Aristotle observed that the ultimate end of our actions is well-being or happiness, comprised of a number of things that contribute to our happiness – things like friendship and knowledge and basic needs and appreciation of beauty.

Aristotle observed that friendship fulfils a capacity in us and contributes to our fulfilment in a unique way. To put it in Abraham Hicks terms: friendship feels good.

For Aristotle friendship is good for us because there is something in human nature that is fulfilled by it. If humans were by nature solitary and unmoved by friendship, friendship would not contribute to our fulfilment and therefore would not be good for us.

For Abraham Hicks the emphasis is on the individual’s desire for friendship, and the goodness of friendship is glossed over. Instead we are told that friendship feels good because it is desired by the individual. If friendship were not desired, it would not feel good.

Reconciling the two

Both theories are important to me in different ways, and it’s also important to me that I feel comfortable and sure in my beliefs.

I don’t hesitate to abridge and adapt Aristotle, and I also note that Esther is always answering people’s questions….I’m yet to hear anyone ask my question of her.

So I’m both excited and forward in asserting my belief that the Abraham teachings are intentionally avoiding the terminology of good and bad because of how much resistance people have around it.

But for me, those terms don’t hold resistance anymore. Good means good for me. I desire things because they are good for me, and they feel good because they are good for me.

This shouldn’t impinge on other aspects of the teachings – such as where our desires come from. I’m not an Aristotelian after all, I just take whatever helps me from wherever I find it.

To me it just feels more solid and meaningful to accept that the things I desire are good, and feeling good is my natural response to the very thought of good things.

I prefer not to focus too much on feelings, because my focus is intense and feelings are a response to stimuli, and not meant to be the object of sustained focus in their own right.

My worldview has its own integrity, and it is good for me to find clarity and unity across all my beliefs.

All the work I have done in philosophy and psychology have changed and developed my understanding of concepts like God, truth, and good and evil, precisely where most people have a lot of baggage. Having done that work and attained that clarity, it is good to integrate it with the new insights I have obtained from the Abraham Hicks material.

The resistance is in me and you

There’s no resistance in reality, just resistance in me and in you.

Everything in reality is drawn to us by law of attraction.

It couldn’t persist in my reality unless I was attracting it to me.

That goes for everything from physical aches and pains to the tone of relationships, economic conditions, and even the ideas that come to me.

When we blame reality for how we feel we disempower ourselves. Resistance can’t survive in our reality unless it is alive in us.

If we start paying attention to the vibration of everything in our experience, we tune into how the law of attraction is operating.

What are the vibrational frequencies of the objects, people, circumstances and interactions around you? Can you feel them? They are nuanced, multifaceted, and constantly changing; but what you are feeling is a direct indicator of your own vibration.

If you can start tuning into the vibrations of things, asking “what is the vibration of this?” “What vibration am I attracting to me?” then you are no longer activating your own resistance.

Dynamic

As you start feeling the vibration of things in your reality, you are already changing your own vibration, which in turn changes your reality.

Relationships are a great example of this. I might be frustrated by my toddler’s behaviour, and if I try to feel the vibration of her behaviour I see that it matches the frustration and impatience in me.

But the moment I tune into her like that, I’m no longer activating my own vibration of impatience and frustration, and almost immediately I feel a different vibration from her. My openness to vibrational reality and my willingness to take responsibility for what is coming to me releases my resistance and I can suddenly appreciate her in a different light.

What’s actually happened is that my vibration has changed and law of attraction is bringing me an aspect of her that is a match to my new vibration.

Becoming aware of the vibrational feedback law of attraction is bringing to me tunes me into the whole dynamic and simultaneously improves my vibration, thereby allowing me to witness law of attraction in action.

It’s good to understand that we create our reality, but we also need to practice it somehow. Tuning into the vibration of what we are already attracting is a powerful way to release resistance and begin mindfully creating.

It’s a game…23!

Learning to have fun

When we are fixated on solving our problems or getting what we want out of life, things can seem pretty heavy and serious.

But as our emotional set-point improves, that heavy seriousness doesn’t belong anymore.

I’m discovering as I find myself more and more frequently feeling contentment that the path forward is completely different.

It’s like spending months in painful rehab and recovery and you finally have the strength to stand and walk, and now what? Painful rehab is not the purpose of life. That was just what it felt like to regain movement and strength, but when you’ve regained them life should not continue to feel like painful rehab.

In the Abraham-Hicks teachings the way forward is enjoyment and fun. Enjoyment is an essential part of our reason for being here, and the enjoyment of life should feel like fun.

Resistance to fun?

In years of life defined by negative emotions “fun” was never a welcome answer to my problems.

People told me I should just have fun and enjoy life. But their lives didn’t look like fun to me, and my own experience of fun didn’t seem to offer any answers to my problems.

And I was right: fun was not the answer…relief was the answer.

But now I’m in this turning point where relief has to transform into something else.

It’s like working hard to get out of debt…and then what? You’ve eschewed all kinds of luxuries and enjoyments for the sake of paying off the debt; what do you do with the money now?

How can fun be the answer?

After years of fun not being the answer, now it is the answer. Because when you feel good rather than bad, you’re ready to enjoy things in life.

I guess my problem is that I’ve spent so long looking for the deep and meaningful answers to life that I’m not tuned in to the levity and lightness of real enjoyment. I even overtly rejected fun and enjoyment because meaning seemed more important.

I’m recalibrating, tuning in to fun and enjoyment as the most important aspects of my experience, looking for enjoyment with the knowledge that whatever I focus on becomes bigger in my experience.