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.

Under the influence

We are always under the influence of something, whether it’s our inner being or something else and we can tell by the way we feel.

That’s one of Abraham-Hicks’ current themes in workshops. Under the influence.

What’s moving you?

In my diet book I argued that our desire to eat is either motivated by a genuine need for food or by something else.

The something else could be a positive thing like social interaction, but often it is a negative motivation like the desire to avoid focusing on negative emotions.

When we eat to escape from negative emotions not only are we likely overeating, but we also end up prolonging and giving further momentum to those negative emotions.

If I eat to avoid feeling bad about myself and my life, I typically end up feeling unwell because of the overeating, and I give power to unpleasant thoughts about weight gain and self-control.

Why my diet worked

Every now and then I see strong parallels between my diet process and the A-H materials. I think my diet was essentially a less refined version of those teachings.

This has always excited me because it means I’ve already successfully applied the principles in one area of my life, proving to myself how easy it can be to allow positive change.

Under the influence

So Abe’s metaphor of “under the influence” strikes me as an exact parallel to my “what moves you to eat?” question.

And that means when we are not under the influence of Source or inner being, we are doing the same thing as eating to distract ourselves from negative emotion – only to perpetuate it unwittingly.

Blaming others

Let’s take a common example: blaming others for life not being how we want it to be.

When we blame others it may feel good or not so good, but it always feels engaging. We are drawn into blame in the same way that we are drawn into compulsive eating, even though such eating habits rarely feel good.

What feels good is the temporary relief from negative emotion. If I blame someone I make it sound (to myself and others) like they are the cause of my problems. I’m perfect, it’s not my fault, they just need to move. At the same time it provides a sense of hopefulness that things may change for the better.

It’s complex, way more complex than this post has time for, but the key is that we use these unpleasant stories of blame to avoid facing the negative emotion in our immediate reality.

Blame relieves us of the burden of change, making it someone else’s problem and responsibility.

But disowning our own responsibility and attendant power never feels good. Blaming others doesn’t provide true satisfaction or true change, especially when it is a chronic pattern of avoiding our own negative emotions.

Facing how we feel

When I look back at my diet and wonder how it worked, obviously I could say it was a simple matter of eating much less.

But the inner battle belied that simple equation. In the inner battle it was choosing to sit with my negative emotions and not escape into compulsive eating that won the day.

It was confronting, and it felt bad. But just as compulsive eating doesn’t truly feel “good” despite the promise of sensory pleasures, so facing my negative emotions without escape didn’t feel completely bad. There was something truthful and honest and powerful in that moment, perhaps because I knew those feelings were always there whether I distracted myself or not.

Beyond negative emotion

And finally, I think what really worked for me is that I was tuning into how I felt; it wasn’t about feeling bad but feeling whatever was there.

I think that’s what is going on in the Abraham-Hicks teachings as well. Feel what you feel and don’t run off into distractions and escapes like blaming others or reiterating negative conclusions about life.

Just be with your feeling – pleasant or unpleasant – and let go of those resistant thoughts, those influences that just kick the can down the road but don’t truly serve you.

And in that release of resistant thought you make space to hear the call of your own inner being, an influence that serves you, knows your desires, and is ready to take you there.

Practicing happiness 21

“I create my reality” means my reality is a reflection of my thoughts/vibration.

I used this principle when I lost weight – deciding that my body weight was a reflection of my eating behaviour. But then it turned out that my eating behaviour was a reflection of my emotional state, and hence my thoughts/vibration too.

How?

I found that I was eating more than I needed because of the pleasure it brought, and when I stopped, I felt negative emotions that had been there the whole time.

In psychological terms I’d been using eating to regulate my emotional state. Many of us overeat for this reason, often unconsciously.

When I was overweight I’d wish I was leaner and better looking. That wish or yearning was painful, but it gave me a sense of control or rightness to my situation. To be unrepentantly overweight was frightening and shameful, so feeling bad about being overweight and yearning to be leaner brought a kind of balance.

Painful yearning

These lessons apply to my broader reality.

As with my weight, my whole reality is a reflection of my thoughts/vibration.

When I painfully yearn for life to change, it’s the same as wishing I could be lean.

But wishing did not accomplish anything and was in fact part of the problem!

My painful wish for relationships, money, housing, and other conditions to change is in fact a ruse designed to balance out my actual thoughts and feelings on these subjects.

When I was overweight I would feel bad for various reasons, and then eat to escape those bad feelings, and inevitably put on weight. Then I would feel bad about being overweight and wish I was leaner and make attempts at dieting and exercise that didn’t really address the cause.

Real change came when I allowed myself to feel bad without escaping into eating, knowing that if I stopped dysfunctional eating my body would inevitably return to a healthy weight.

It worked. So the same will work with the rest of reality.

I create my reality

On an issue like money, wishing for more money and feeling bad that I don’t have it is akin to wishing to be lean and feeling bad that I’m not.

That means it too is a self-deception.

If I don’t pay lip-service to being financially secure I would have to face the deeper fears and worries I’m escaping from.

Both the “i wish I had money!” cry and the feeling bad about not having enough money are parts of a bigger dynamic. They shouldn’t be taken at face value. Like wishing to be lean and feeling bad about being overweight, they appear solution-oriented but accomplish nothing. They are in fact problem-oriented.

Take them away, and what lies beneath them is a much more potent feeling of terror; and this terror is an emotional response to thoughts of insufficiency and insecurity. Thoughts of not enough power to survive amidst brutal and crushing external forces. Thoughts of being vulnerable in the face of harsh and uncaring others who will exploit and abuse you if given the chance.

Dealing with terror

These thoughts are a significant component of my vibrational set-point. To escape them I focus on less terrifying thoughts of being out of the way and detached from that terrifying reality.

In other words: I focus on whatever is left when those emotions are blocked out. I eke out an existence, and to complete the self-deception I lament my marginal existence and wish it could be otherwise.

I don’t know if you can follow this, maybe it’s too personal. But the reason I’m not rich is because wealth would contradict my thoughts of insufficiency and insecurity and vulnerability.

But to stop me exploring that fact and ending up facing the painful feelings of terror once more, I commit the self-deception of wishing I had more money and thinking of ways to obtain it.

If I just went out and got a job I would be placing myself in that situation of interdependence, submission, and vulnerability that I’ve worked hard to escape.

Yet I create my reality, and what I’m truly escaping is not external circumstances but my thoughts and feelings around those circumstances.

If the perfect job were offered me, I’d see it as a trap. If money were freely given me, or I won a lottery, I’d be challenged by the money itself to face the insecurities and fears I’ve described here.

Finding coherence

To be free of self-deception, to understand how my thoughts create my reality, is profound, meaningful, and brings relief from struggle and confusion.

Where I am makes perfect sense right now.

And the answer for me is to feel the terror I’ve been avoiding. But feel it in an atmosphere of knowing that it has always been there whether I feel it or not, and avoiding it merely kicks the can down the road.

The influence of that terror on the whole of my life is palpable. I wonder what life would look and feel like if I stopped trying to escape it?

I’m curious. What would happen if I allow myself to make peace with those terrifying thoughts of vulnerability and insufficiency?

How will my life change when I no longer think of myself and life in this terrifying way?

Because these thoughts are old. Really old. And while that means they have momentum, it also means they are out of date. I haven’t examined them for ages, maybe ever? And in the meantime I’ve been growing and learning and expanding so much.

Am I vulnerable? Am I insufficient? No. Those beliefs only formed within me in very specific circumstances many years ago. Given a chance to air them and examine them in the light of day? I think they are ripe for change.

Letting go 08: making the emotional connection

Before my diet I only felt bad about being overweight when I caught a glimpse of my reflection.

Then I would feel bad, but the rest of the time it wasn’t really on my mind.

And eating? Eating was one of my great pleasures in life. I never felt bad about that!

Joining the dots

It wasn’t until I embarked on my search for a final answer to losing weight that I realised this didn’t add up.

How could I be happy about the way I ate but unhappy about my physical appearance, which was a direct consequence of the way I ate?

This is what led me to see that my body was merely reflecting something about my behaviour. I just hadn’t joined the dots or made that connection before.

I mean the emotional connection: it’s obvious that people diet to lose weight, and over-eating causes weight gain. What I mean by joining the dots is seeing the connection between feeling so bad about my weight, but feeling so good about eating.

Either I shouldn’t feel so bad about my weight, or I shouldn’t feel so good about eating. Something had to give in this emotional dynamic.

The hidden connection

When I feel bad about my circumstances in life, there must be something prior – something I enjoy or feel good about – that sets me up for that suffering.

The painful part of these circumstances is their unwantedness. It’s painful to notice conditions that are not the way I want them to be.

What is it that sets me up for this fall? What is it that feels good at the time, but leads me into situations that feel bad? What is it that feels enjoyable but shouldn’t if I could see the bigger picture?

Assertion

I’m going to call it “assertion” for now. It’s an inner assertion of control, wanting, grasping, or conditionality within me.

It’s as though I’ve put forward a claim or a demand on reality to be a certain way, and this leaves me sensitive to every contrary circumstance and change.

This is the part that doesn’t feel bad, yet sets me up to feel bad.

It’s not about desire or inspiration. Desire is implicit in our very experience of life. Desire is preference. Desire informs our personality and shapes our existence and our whole sense of wanted and unwanted.

Assertion is different. Assertion feels important in the same way that having a stake in something feels important. Assertion is like getting involved because you don’t trust others to do it right.

But like anything we do, it stems from a thought. Here the thought is negative and resistant. It’s the thought that I need to speak up or I’ll be overlooked. It’s the thought that things don’t work out for me so I need to get involved. It’s the thought that I can’t trust or rely on life to go well.

It’s the thought that by sticking my oar in I can steer this whole thing in a better direction.

False premise

These thoughts hinge on a false premise that uninspired effort and action will improve my life and make me feel better.

It’s a change in mode from inspiration, enjoyment and ease, to worry, control, and struggle.

That’s why unwanted circumstances feel like failure or loss. They push against this invisible force I’ve set up within myself, this effort of trying to assert my will on the world.

The big picture

We would all prefer life to unfold with ease. Inner assertion is, like over-eating was, an attempt to feel better that only succeeds in temporary escape by kicking the can down the road a little.

The attitude of taking things into my own hands feels temporarily empowering. But it comes at a cost of trust and faith in the goodness of God and the universe.

If I could trust instead, I wouldn’t need this assertion and control; and since assertion and control don’t work anyway, all I’m giving up is an illusion.

After all, if everything is working toward my good, then what sense does it make to say that some circumstances are wanted and some are unwanted?

That’s why the Abraham-Hicks teachings say that everything has both a wanted and unwanted aspect, depending on where we focus.

Refusing this dynamic

I think the way forward for me is to become aware of whatever lack of trust or faith moves me to assertion and control in the first place; just as I learned to become aware of the negative feelings that used to motivate my escape into over-eating.

All it takes is to decline the false promise of escape, and the whole dynamic will start to lose momentum and wind down.

Let go of the urge to control, and the frustration of unwanted conditions will go too. Stop endorsing the underlying thought of negativity and dissatisfaction, and trust and faith will return.