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Binge-Eating and the Curse of Shoulds

 

I am cursed.

I am haunted. Every day thousands of Shoulds attack me and mess up with my life.

Fight with Shoulds sucks lifeblood out of me and leaves me apathetic and exhausted at the end of the day.

Back in my binging days the Curse of shoulds was the cement which held bricks of my binge-eating prison together.

At some point I questioned its bonding force and escaped.

I learned to detect and neutralize them. I became a “Shoulds slayer”.

Here’s my recent victory over Shoulds.

The other day the boss sent me to the meeting with one of our major clients to report the progress of the project I am in charge of. It was challenging. If I screwed up — the bee would be on me. And, mind you, this bee’s sting hurts very badly.

And I didn’t worry. I had occasional butterflies in my stomach, and, of course, I wasn’t that relaxed as I would be on the eve of a regular “non-event” day at work.

But I didn’t freak out. I wasn’t terrified by “big event psychological burden”. I wasn’t nervous to the point when I was emotional mess.

And here’s where a “Should Curse” came into play.

“It’s strange. Why don’t I worry? I should worry under such circumstances. If I don’t worry — it means I don’t care enough? Does it mean that I don’t take it seriously? Maybe, I should skip my boxing workout and read through the materials on the project one more time?”

Toxicity of Shoulds started leaking into my thinking pattern. I had to take counter measures ASAP; otherwise the poison would debilitate me and throw my mind into a full-blown destructive panic.

But let’s get closer to binge-eating.

The most dangerous thing about Shoulds here was that it used to push me on the binging route even when my body didn’t want any kind of junk food in the first place. It lured me to take the bait. Fooled me into “just one” trap again.

And the moment “just one” gets into the system, the neurobiology of the addiction mechanism takes over and the train wreck is well on its way to disaster.

Shoulds…

I should feel a certain way under certain circumstances. I should react according to a “supposed” pattern to particular events. I should…I should…

And if I don’t feel or behave the way I “should” — then something is wrong with me? And if something wrong with me — I have to “fix” myself. How? To “make” myself feel in a “should” way.

And how I am going to make myself feel in a “supposed” way?

The mind flips through “ready-to-go”’ solutions. And it picks the easiest one.

Problem solved — go get comforting food and it will put you in the “right” mood.

I used food to “adjust” my emotions so that they fit into the Shoulds mold and correlated with Should-be-like-this reality.

There were numerous Shoulds which manipulated me into binge-eating. Here are some of them:

– “It’s Friday. I should reward myself. Otherwise it’s not Friday”;


“It’s Saturday. I should enjoy my lazy morning and treat myself with something delicious”

– “It’s Sunday. It’s still weekend — my “allowed” time to indulge in my favorite treats. I should hurry up and “pack away” as much treats as I can”

– It’s Monday. I’ve survived it.

– It’s Thursday — too far till Friday.

– It’s Wednesday — Hump day.

– It’s Thursday — almost Friday!

– It’s Friday…

– It’s a new season of my favorite TV show

– It’s tough time

– It’s good time

– It’s always “shoulds time”.

Along with Shoulds themselves there was overthinking and overanalyzing. Why my attempts to “should myself up” didn’t work this time (i.e. why I failed to create an “ideal” emotional state for the given situation).

The way I should feel, should get satisfying amount of pleasure, provide certain kind of productivity — it always mismatched the actual result.

I hoped that Should will work if I threw more “fixing substances”. And I upped the “dosage” of cookies, cakes, ice-cream, and eventually anything that looked like food.

When higher dosage didn’t work either, I started beating myself up for not being able to “digest and enjoy Shoulds in a proper way”.

And so I planned for “better Should” next time so that “proper Should” would do the trick. I will persist. I will find my magic recipe for the exactly right amount of “normal, approved, legit Should” which will keep me happy and content for the required period of time and won’t get me into trouble.

Shoulds form expectations and predictions with regard to upcoming rewardsThey “zombified” me into a conditioned response. And, in the long run, threatened to kill ability of my emotions to make independent evaluation of my experiences.

Shame it took me so long to finally stop and ask myself: “Wait. Maybe there is nothing wrong with me. Maybe Should is wrong?”.

This kind of question was scary because at some moment I felt like I was losing my ground. It felt like my entire reality was made of Shoulds. And if I detached from them, I would find myself in vacuum.

Logic told me that there would be no vacuum. I won’t die, won’t go crazy. It’s unlikely that I will be sent to some land for hopelessly weird people.

Logic. But my emotions sent that ice-cold feeling down the pit of my stomach and threw a paralyzing net over me. So, for some time I kept doing what I was doing. I watched myself going insane, and not being able to do anything about it.

Questioning Shoulds and pushing the Stop button when reacting to conditioned expectations was my first step to freedom — from binge-eating and beyond.

Holidays are approaching. Festive spirit is everywhere. Or, at least, its “should ghost”. During this season Shoulds hit their peak of destructive power. The magnitude of Shoulds is in its prime. There is nowhere to run. No place to hide. All the thoughts are captivated and imprisoned.

One step out of Shoulds’ matrix — and punishment is right here, around the corner, ready to hit with feeling of loneliness, deprivation, not belonging. The void.

I have so much more to say about the curse of Shoulds…

But it’s too big topic to cover within one post.

Stay tuned.

Stay free.

And enjoy a Shoulds-free day !

A Majorly Overlooked Step to Freedom from Binge Eating and Food Addiction

 

 

If you don’t make things worse today, you are already in a better place if compared to yesterday

 

Are you constantly beating yourself up for thinking too much about food, stopping binge-eating and getting nutrition over control? Does spending too much time on something as natural as food makes you feel guilty? Are you disappointed that after, say, two weeks without a binge, you didn’t become a super-productive badass?

 

I often hear from recovering binge-eaters that decision to get their eating behavior under control monopolized their thoughts. They want to focus their attention somewhere else and be more productive.

 

Been there, done that.

 

I am going to share a couple of thoughts which, I hope, would be helpful to those in early (or at any stage of) recovery. Believe me, I used to fall in this trap numerous times.

 

Feeling “unproductive” seems to be a common topic for people who experienced the first success in beating binge eating or emotional overeating.

 

So, you haven’t binged for a week, two weeks, even a month. Congratulations. It takes a lot to put an end to this. I do know this. But along with the first success a certain problem arises.

 

Now we have all this released energy and time on our hands. “Sugar hangovers” don’t disable us for an entire day. No dragging yourself around in a lethargic state. Euphoria of first victories over life-sucking addiction gets into our head. And we start throwing piles and piles of mega-unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

 

Slow down.

 

Let me introduce you to a golden rule which will save you a lot of grief and unnecessary pain. I borrowed this not-so-long-ago-discovered quote from Tim Grover. And I still have to repeat it every day in many areas of my life:

 

“Before you Start Doing Things Better, Stop Doing them Worse

 

This can be applied to any challenging issue.

 

I used to overlook this “stop making things worse” stage. I went to pains in my desperate attempts to jump right out from “I’ve screwed up royally” hole to “I am a super-productive super-hero” level.

 

I am not sure where this legend of being invincible- productive super-human comes from. I fathom from the same universal source of all modern-world delusions – media of all sorts. And there is also always some mythical “a friend of a friend” who runs 3 businesses, plays tennis like Venus Williams, looks better than Victoria Secret models, and wins a wife of the year title on top of it all”.

 

Often movies picture the main character who wakes up to some sort of epic revelation. Eyes are shining with determination and self-confidence. As if someone turned the switch on. And yesterday’s bum goes into a turbo-mode. He moves mountains, saves the world, cleans the entire apartment within a couple of hours (I think it’s on par with saving the world). He drinks raw eggs and starts jogging into dark gloomy morning like Rocky. And so on and so far.

 

But back to the real world.

 

“Stop making things worse” is one hell of productive activity!!!!

 

Once more: “If you don’t make things worse today, you are already in a better place if compared to yesterday”.

 

Let’s dive a little bit deeper in it.

 

Why do we tend to look down upon this stage?

 

I believe because it’s hard to see and feel and “palpate” all this invisible work behind “stop doing it worse”.

 

We don’t see the inner work our brain and entire nervous system do when re-adjusting to new realities. They get in the game, but are just learning to play by new rules.

 

We build a new life, new environment, a new reality. It takes time to adapt to it, react to it and exist in it. Brain needs to make new sense of what’s going on. It has to process new information. It has to build new connections. It’s a stress for the poor thing, after all. And it’s already overloaded with work because it’s on the job 24/7. Give it a break.

 

Binge eating messes up with our life. Big time. We need to invest lots of efforts to develop a new healthy lifestyle. And it means our focus goes there.

 

Besides, a lot of unsolicited nasty voices start a talk-show in our heads: “You should be at Point X already. According to “perfectly implemented plan” your weight should be Y. Your six-pack should be impeccable.

 

You didn’t overeat yesterday. For the first time in a decade. Checked. It’s time to conquer Everest and start preparing for a Fitness Bikini Competition.

 

Not so fast.

 

What is more, keep in mind that we are dealing with physical addiction too. Just like alcoholics suffer from withdrawals, “sugarholics” go through pretty much the same process.

 

Brain panics. It goes on strike. It throws tantrums. It demands insane levels of glucose it’s got used to. And you are going to be super-productive here? Are you kidding me?

 

Compare it with thin ice. You can’t just go and walk on its surface Let it grow and gain strength. Then you will skate and play hockey. Then you will test how thick it is. Then you will cross it and explore what’s on the other side of the lake.

 

There is time for everything.

 

If I keep testing the thin and fragile crust of ice over and over again, it will keep breaking. If I decide that somehow, again, by pure effing magic of “This time it will be different” I will pull it through, I will find myself in trouble again. And I will end up with my head under the water gasping for oxygen.

 

And I have to focus on not screwing up. I have to fight some evil force which pushes me on that thin ice. Some Siren’ song which lures me there. If I succeed in not making things worse, tomorrow I will be still on solid ground and no damage done to myself.

 

But if I fail to shut this devious voice down…I will hit the bottom. I will struggle to get myself out on the surface. And I will be darn happy just to find myself warm and safe. So much for super-productive.

 

In terms of binge eating it means that I didn’t waste my time, money, mental and physical energy to attend to destructive and harmful activity which grossly undermines the quality of my life.

 

I don’t have hard times getting out of bed and getting ready for work. I don’t feel like death warm over. I don’t feel like throwing up.

 

I am not late for work.

 

I am not embarrassed to talk to people because I look like a walking dead. I don’t count minutes till the day is over and I can collapse on the bed. I don’t struggle through mental fog. I feel solid emotional ground under my feet.

 

And, what is of outmost importance, I don’t hate myself.

 

Not buying junk food is a productive action.

 

Not eating junk food is a productive action.

 

Stopping an overeating episode before it blasted into a binge is a productive action.

 

And don’t’ let “No” particle confuse you.

 

Remember that things we don’t do and actions we don’t take are as much important as things we do and actions we take.

 

Not making things worse feels like stagnation. No real progress. No breakthrough. No burning the bridges, or boats, or, at least, some old stuff which irritates you.

 

It’s not flashy. There is no excitement about it. No bragging on social media. What’s your status today? “Not making things worse”. Oh, is that all?

 

Yes, that’s all. And that is all it takes to turn my life around. Dramatically.

 

 “To keep yourself away from destructive behavior is mandatory and “no-skipping” stage to “superhero-kind productive” behavior.

 

Investing mental energy into shifting a binging mindset to ‘never again” pattern takes titanic efforts. And your brain works like never before. So, stop banging your head ahead the wall.

 

Don’t put unnecessary pressure on your finally binge-free shoulders. Timing is everything.

 

I remember in my first month after quitting sugar altogether I could just sit and stare at the wall for, like, half an hour. I needed my “sugar fix” to put me in a “functioning” state. But this “sweet cure” was out of question.

 

And I was mentally beating myself up ruthlessly. My, I wish I knew better back then. My body and mind needed time to self-heal. They needed that stillness and silence to find the lost balance and reach for the solid ground to build my new life on. They needed me to stop fussing around and seeking relief in maintaining superficial state of being “busy”.

 

Stop comparing yourself to “others” or bombarding yourself with expectations like “It’s a weekend and the sun is shining. I should feel awesome and run all day long like Energizer Rabbit.

 

“Should” should become anachronism, in my opinion. It is extremely judgmental and mind-junking.

 

And at this point you may ask: “All this sounds good. But I can’t be stuck in this “Not making things worse” phase forever. I need to grow. I need to evolve. Because if I don’t find something to fill this emotional gap with, eventually I will start sliding back to my addiction. Because I miss the excitement which puts my rear into gear. I have no power that pushes me up the hill. No goal to call me so hard that I just don’t notice obstacles on my way. This “Just don’t make things worse” stage is, honestly, no fun at all”.

 

“And how long this transitional stage is supposed to last?”

 

“Is there some limit or deadline?”

 

“And how do I know when it’s time to start doing things better? When it’s “safe” for me to go outside my comfort zone without overwhelming myself to the point when I turn to food and binge-eating? How do I know that the ice is thick enough and safe to walk, run, and jump around on?”

 

“What am I going to do with underlying psychological issues which drive me into a “screwing up mode?”

 

“I can’t neglect other areas of my life, how do I find a balance?”

 

These are great and legit questions. And I will cover them in the upcoming articles. Stay tuned.

 

And for now, focus on this transitional stage.

 

Ok, I am wrapping up my message: “Stop making things worse. Hold a long-term picture for next steps for improvements. Take actions according to your own pace – no need to compete with anyone. Relax.”

 

Here’s an assignment for you:

Choose one thing you don’t do today which you see as productive action. Do it. Consider your mission done for today.

 

And have a great binge-free day.

About

Profile_9

I am Jenn, a writer, researcher, analyst, gym-rat, and a former binge-eater.

Since my teen years I developed two obsessions – writing and binge-eating.

The first one is creative and self-fulfilling. Another one was destructive and life-sucking.

Writing required hard work and dedication to become a full-time occupation. Food addiction, on the other hand, occupied my thoughts on a full-time basis without neither invitation, nor permission from my side. It followed me like a shadow, always ready to attack and infuse its poison into my life. At some point I believed it was my second nature.

I stopped binge-eating about two years ago. For good. It wasn’t my second nature, as it turned out. Nothing of the kind.

Now I channeled all that energy, previously enslaved by binge-eating, into writing, so that my  “productive obsession” can helps others to gain freedom from binge-eating.