Why is it that when we want to treat ourselves or binge or find solace in food it's always the same old friends we turn to? Chocolate, biscuits, crisps, ice cream, cheese, pastry, bread and butter, peanuts, pizza... Our lists of forbidden, naughty, fattening, unhealthy foods are endless. We see it every time we run a workshop. We believe that in large part the irresistability of these foods is fuelled by deprivation. The more we tell ourselves that we can't or shouldn't have them, that we have to cut them out of our diet, whatever the reason (whether it's because we think they are fattening or unhealthy or addictive or too expensive...) the more we want them. And even when we can go weeks or even months without them, the moment they are around again, we just can't resist and we find ourselves polishing them off in those overheating moments. So, does stocking up on them undo the years, often decades, of deprivation and all or nothing thinking about these foods? And if so, exactly how does that work? And what about the notion that it's the sugar or the carbs in these foods that keeps us hooked, not the deprivation? What about the idea that they are addictive? These are the questions I'll explore in this post (and that we've written more fully about in our new book Beyond Temptation).
Starting with the last question first; do I believe that sugar is addictive and harmful? I wish I could answer that question with a simple yes or no. I can't. I've been doing lots of research, reading, exploring and experimenting (on myself) on this subject and so far my results and conclusions are inconclusive. But here is what I can say. Let's say that in the spirit of being my own Guru I decide, after all my explorations and experiments, that I do indeed find it impossible to eat sugar in moderation, what would that mean and what would I do? I could choose to treat it as a harmful substance, a drug, and cut it out of my diet completely. Would I also choose to cut out refined flour products and fruit sugar? Mmmm... More research and experimentation necessary. And let's say I decide that all these are harmful and addictive, I could decide to stop eating them, completely. The question is not weather this is right or wrong - it may be right for some and not for others, it may be true for some and not for others. The question for me is can I make this a choice and one that I can stand by and feel comfortable with? One that I can sustain and find ways of managing when I slip up? Sucrose, fructose, carbs, they are everywhere. If I choose to cut them out of my diet, it may well help considerably, if I really believe in what I'm doing, not just dabbling in another fad because I think it might help me lose weight. It's one thing to cut these foods out because I genuinely believe they are bad for my health and well being (including perhaps my weight) and quite another to cut them out in the hope that this strategy with help me get into my bikini this summer or will be the answer to my life-long weight problem.
The key here, I believe, is to be my own Guru. To take the time and give these questions the serious consideration and exploration they deserve. Then I can make a choice based on my own experience and beliefs. Otherwise I know I'll just be jumping on the next bandwagon that comes tearing around the corner when I struggle to say not to an ice-cream this summer. I'll be convincing myself that it's not sugar I need to avoid it's fat or artificial additives or bread or whatever. Don't stop eating sugar because someone tells you it's addictive or because you read it in a book! Read 100 books if necessary, do as much research as you can but most importantly experiment, on yourself. That may well take time, months, even years, and the answer will be one you trust. Indisputable. If you find that cutting sugar or carbs or whatever out of your diet really helps, does whatever it is you want it to do, and you are willing and able to sustain it, why would you not? If you really do find that cutting out these foods puts a stop to your overeating 100%, then you will have solved the problem and that's fantastic.
But what if that's not how it goes. The way I see it is this. Let's say I do discover that my desire for my forbidden foods is fuelled by their chemical composition and I decide to cut them out, will that be the solution? Problem solved once and for all? In my experience that's not always how it goes. Wanting to cut them out is one thing, being able to (sustainably) is another. And partly, for me, that's because of the emotional tie I have to these foods and what they represent, along with the fact that they are everywhere and are not universally recognised as a drug (unlike alcohol for example). The fact that eating chocolate is part of how I say "fuck this" to the world when everything gets too much, the way crunching crisps helps me manage my anger and frustration, the fact that time alone doesn't feel the same without a latte and a pastry or the cinema is just not the cinema without a bowl of popcorn are an important part of the picture. The way these foods a universally regarded are treats, fit for special occasions, that we are urged, encouraged and cajoled to 'just have one, just a little bit' means that resistance is pretty much futile. Would anyone goad an alcoholic to "just have little drink, one won't hurt surely?" Even if I know that these foods are not good for me (whatever that might mean for me) that is not always enough to stop me. My willpower, my commitment to taking care of myself, my determination to look after my body are simply not enough and in those moments I crumble and give in! However fervently I believe that cutting out any particular food group is the answer, doing it is another matter entirely. And how we do it, how we approach changing the way we eat and the foods we choose is what makes all the difference. That's where stocking up and learning to manage my overeating come in. Because I am not a machine, I am not made of iron and much as I'd love to, saying that I am cutting a food out of my diet is just never enough to make it work for the long term.
Stocking up, really giving myself the message that I am allowed to eat whatever I want, is the only way to give myself back the power to CHOOSE. Only when I am allowed to say YES do I also have the freedom to say NO. No without feeling deprived and hard done by. A no that I mean and feel comfortable with. And the thing about stocking up is that it takes time. A long time in most cases. Years, not even months. I used to find chocolate, bread and butter, all my forbidden foods irresistible. Today they sit in my cupboards and I hardly notice them. And when I do, I know it has nothing to do with the foods and everything to do with my desire to overeat. To eat anything as long as I have something to shove in my mouth and stop myself from being present. Stocking up takes commitment and patience and courage. You don't have to stock up on tons of the food in your home if that's too scary, you can just remind yourself every time you want chocolate or crisps or whatever that it's your choice. You can allow the yes as well as the no. And for a while you may eat and eat and eat them more than you feel comfortable with. Often we feel that we fail at stocking up because we end up eating it all. That's how it goes. That's part of how it works We eat it all once and then again and again. Keep going and keep working on your desire to overeat at the same time and the day will come when you know that the irresistability of the biscuit tin has less to do with the biscuits than with the urge to eat. Because if we don't deal with our overeating and we just cut out the so called offenders, we are very likely to find ourselves overeating whatever we are allowed to eat or turning to other behaviors to zone out, treat ourselves, comfort, soothe etc.
Ultimately I wonder if the thing that really keeps us stuck is the desire to find a solution. Our desperate need for an answer. If only we knew what to do, what would work, then we could do it and everything would be ok. What I am discovering is that the more I do this work the more I realise that there are no answers or definitive solutions, that managing my desire to overeat means being willing to accept the reality that there are no solutions or answers. As the years go by I am increasingly willing to accept that I will always know far less than I don't know. The more years I spend researching and exploring, the fewer answers I have. And that leaves me with the only thing I can work with: me. Myself. And that's what all the addictions and compulsions are about for me, keeping myself from really paying attention to and responding to myself. Because most of the time I'd rather distract myself from the discomfort of being me.
So whether we choose to stock up or cut out, the key is to do it with compassion, curiosity and gentleness knowing that nothing will be fixed or sorted, knowing that every choice, whatever it is, takes commitment and effort and willingness to pay attention to me. Day after day. One tiny step at a time. And with support.
Thursday, 31 May 2012
Does stocking up really work?
Posted by Sophie Boss at 09:23
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Yes yes yes yes yes!ReplyDelete
In other words, eating mindfully?ReplyDelete
Yes, eating mindfully and LIVING mindfully.
Thank you...very well said.ReplyDelete
Ive been following this blog for a good few years and just wanted to say the writing and subject matter have evolved immensely in recent months. Credit where credit is true: i really look forward to the next post as i know it will be relevant and thought provoking. Thanks to the boss(y) sisters!ReplyDelete
I think that it's really important to remember that food is something that means a lot with celebrations and friends and family, so having no sugar at all means never having a slice of a loved ones wedding cake, or birthday cake. Or being abroad and not trying an amazing pastry at a cafe with your coffee. I tend to feel the whole concept of depriving yourself, or dieting, just sets you apart. I'm always cross with the whole thing when women are going to some slimming club and then getting quite upset and feeling left out when someone makes a birthday cake, for example. It's just a ludicrous way to live, and it's a logic fail because those around you are enjoying said cake, now a couple may be overweight, a couple may be unhealthy, but most of them are just normal.ReplyDelete
Yes they may be normal due to genetics and luck (and there is a lot of evidence for that) but they may also be normal because they eat when hungry and stop when they don't fancy any more food. Revolutionary concept that it is .
I'm very wary of people deciding carbs are bad, or sugar is poison, or whatever, I think it's just another excuse to "diet". Not that trying to eat in a healthy way isn't laudable, but cutting things out altogether unless you have a diagnosed medical reason to do so to the extent where you can't participate in life things really does teeter on the edge of being yet another form of slimming club.
Hi Heather Jean. Yes, I really get what you are saying and on the whole I agree with you. I think it's important not to diminish anyone's experience and for some women sugar in particular can feel like a drug. For some alcohol is a central part of celebrations - champagne at a wedding for example - an yet a recovering alcoholic can enjoy those occasions without it, women who really feel that they are better off without sugar, whatever the reason can learn to manage that for themselves without it becoming like a weight loss diet. The important thing is that we all have a choice and can do what feels good and right for each one of us. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject Heather Jean, it's so great to explore and think about these questions and to hear everyone's take on them.ReplyDelete
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
I posted a long reply, trying to justify myself, then realised that in fact my issue is clearly that this blog post was triggery for me. I think I have a bad habit of jumping on triggery things and commenting, when I'm sure most people think and don't have to write it down! So sorry for being so overthinky. Thought I better just explain the deleted post, otherwise people wonder. I know I always wonder a lot if I see a comment has been deleted...ReplyDelete
The topic of this post is exactly what I'm struggling with at the moment. I eat a balanced diet and I do not restrict anything I eat, I've done stocking up and no longer binge. I tend to eat what I need at meals but I still end up overeating between meals and am not sure how to stop it. I definitely feel like I eat/drink too much sugar as sometimes I get a headache from it and a fuzzy taste in my mouth. I would never consider giving up sugar but I would like to eat a bit less of it.ReplyDelete
Looking for a solution for once and for all is something that I have been guilty of but in the last few months I have started to question this tendency. Another terrific post, Sophie. xReplyDelete
This is a really excellent post (and I agree with the other commenter who thought the posts had become more insightful recently. In particular I like the phrase "Only when I am allowed to say YES do I also have the freedom to say NO. No without feeling deprived and hard done by. A no that I mean and feel comfortable with." This resonates with me very much.ReplyDelete
This post summarises exactly what I have been battling with. I really do feel that carbs trigger a massive addictive response in me and that they actively make me hungrier. I have read a lot on the science behind this. However, I am bored to death of dieting and not getting anyway and long to eat 'normally'. Balancing these two beliefs is a real challenge.ReplyDelete
Excellent blog - I am at Slimming World - oh no I hear you say!!But I apply the BC principles to my eating - I want to lose weight for my health and the extra support at SW helps me make healthier choices and their eating plan is exactly what I needed. I don't feel deprived and have a choice to say yes or know to all foods to suit me and how I feel at the time. Thank you BC for helping me but combining the two has suited me best.ReplyDelete
I'm beginning to hear more and more about sugar as a de-natured substance that some of our bodies cannot cope with. I've recently had to give up caffeine and alcohol for medical reasons, and gave up meat years ago for fluffy baa-lamb reasons, so this post chimes in exactly with what I'm now considering re sugar. It was just what I needed to read, especially the emphasis on a gentle, inquisitive approach. Thanks, Sophie, for reading my mind!ReplyDelete
Really good post, Sophie - a lot of stream of consciousness stuff that I'm sure many of us will strongly identify with. These are just the kinds of issues and internal discussions that we have, and which newbies on the intuitive eating forums that I'm a member of struggle with and need to talk about (I think I'll put up a link to this post on the forums. Hope that doesn't trouble you, being associated with intuitive eating ... LOL)ReplyDelete