Recovering After an Eating "Mess Up"

Binge eating. Over eating, “What was I thinking?” eating. And, “I can’t believe I did that (again?)” eating. You’ll most likely deal with one or more of these eating "mess ups" along your journey toward sustained good health.

What do most people do when this happens? Slide right down the rabbit hole of negative self-talk, only to land in an all-too-familiar pit of despair. In an attempt to evade the resulting despair following a binge, one then turns to the habitual substance in an effort to “feel good” (if only for a moment)… more food.

It does not have to be that way! Here is a way to use what I refer to as the “4 ACES” to help you get through a “setback” with food in a way that sets you up for engaging in healthier behaviors without going down the rabbit hole!

I’m certainly not a gambler, but I know enough about poker to say that having 4 ACES in your hand is a good thing. A really good thing that leads you toward winning. Any time you utilize these 4 ACES you are setting yourself up to win in your journey toward sustaining a healthy weight and living a healthier life. Here’s how this works:

Four A’s:

A: Awareness

A: Acceptance

A: Accountability

A: Attitude

            C: Commitment

            E: Effort

            S: SELF (self-worth, self-efficacy, self-esteem)

Awareness: As soon as you are aware of what you are doing when it comes to unhealthy eating, you are able to start the process of healthy change. Even if you are AWARE of what you are doing, you may feel helpless to stop in that moment. That’s all right. Awareness is the first step of change. At some point after the unhealthy eating event is over, think about what was going on that led up to the event. Become aware of what you were thinking or how you were feeling or what people or situation may have triggered you before you turned to unhealthy eating. That way, you can learn tools to deal with similar triggers in healthy ways in the future, thereby avoiding unhealthy eating.

Acceptance: Accept that there may be times when you resort to “old habits” and give in to unhealthy foods and eating behaviors. Accept that there are emotional, biological and environmental triggers all around you every day that will tempt you, maybe for the rest of your life. Accept that you are responsible for getting the help you need to learn to resist returning to those “old habits” and instead, learning healthy coping skills so you can resist triggers and temptations.

Accountability: This is a tough one. We want to blame other people, circumstances, stress and “life” for the fact that sometimes we choose not to do what we know is best for us. If you binge eat, take responsibility for not reaching out for help when you needed it. There’s no blaming the job, the kids, the spouse, the sibling or the traffic for unhealthy choices you make. Take responsibility NOW for making a plan to avoid a binge in the future. It’s your health. It’s also your responsibility to take positive action toward good health.

Attitude: If you have a food “mishap,” you can choose to beat yourself up and have a pity party filled with negative self-talk. Keep in mind, this will likely lead to even more unhealthy eating. OR you can tell yourself, “Shake it off” and “Get back on with healthy behavior RIGHT NOW.” Attitude makes a huge difference in how you feel. How you feel has a lot of impact on how you behave… toward yourself, toward others, and in relation to food. A poor attitude, or stinkin’ thinkin’ will lead you away from good health. A positive attitude will lead you toward positive behavior. It IS that simple.

Commitment: Remember sitting in my office before your surgery, and do you remember talking to the doctor, and to Trish? I remember talking to you! Pretty much everyone makes a commitment to the health care team (AND to themselves) before they have surgery that they WILL follow through with healthy eating and consistent exercise. Find a way to remind yourself of that commitment if you mess up and make healthy choices beginning immediately. You no longer need to wait until “next Monday” to start over. Make a commitment as soon as you wake up EVERY morning to stay true to your healthy living plan! Feel free to remind yourself of that commitment several times a day!

Effort: It’s all in vain without EFFORT. If you tell me you’re “trying” I’m gonna remind you that you either DO something or you don’t. “Trying is dying,” they say in many recovery programs. Trying is not doing. Wishing is not doing. Hoping is not doing. DOING is DOING. Get whatever help you need to assist you in staying committed to your goals, in learning how to keep your motivation high, and in asking for help from others. You can have the best plan in the world for sticking to your goals, but without effort to implement the plan, the plan is worthless. Make a plan for what to do if you fall off the rails and binge eat (things like call a support person, meet with a therapist, think about what was happening prior to the eating mishap, etc.) and then use the plan. Put forth the EFFORT! Same with exercising, meal prepping, participating in support groups, and attending therapy. It all takes EFFORT. Bottom line: staying healthy takes effort. Period.

Self: Every time you put forth positive effort, you increase your self-efficacy (the belief that you can follow through), your self-esteem and your attitude. Positive SELF anything leads to more positive self-everything!

Bottom line. You can recover in short order and learn to prevent future binges. You have 4 ACES in your hand. Use them to your advantage. “Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.” You choose! Anyone throwing away a hand with 4 ACES in it… definitely needs therapy (says the therapist)! 

You, Me and the Dalai Lama. Part 1

One of my besties recently told me she was reading two books written by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D., an American psychiatrist. As I usually do when I read non-fiction books, I will read a paragraph, a page, or a few pages, and then pause, thinking about how what I’m reading applies to my life and my work… I stop and think about how what I am reading applies to YOU!

This book, called The Art of Happiness, is no exception. I enjoy Dr. Cutler’s discussion about our Western philosophies and the Dalai Lama’s Eastern traditions, noting the many similarities as well as differences in the ways the two groups traditionally approach happiness.

Even more interesting to me is how so much of what you and I do in our work together aligns with what his holiness, the Dalai Lama, espouses.

Think about what you have heard me talk about over the years in terms of changing your life for the better… away from unhealthy living, unhealthy thinking, and moving TOWARD living a fuller, happier life.

Let’s start with this example: STINKIN’ THINKIN’!

Now, of course the Dalai Lama doesn’t utter the words, “stinkin’ thinkin’,” but he may as well! He talks about the impact our thinking has on our happiness. He also talks about the fact that changing our thinking patterns is the result of many influences and takes a LONG TIME to change.

Hmmm… let’s see. We talk often about how our thoughts affect our feelings and our behavior. If we regularly engage in stinkin’ thinkin’ then our negative thoughts result in our feeling … YUK… and we behave in ways that reflect that. We overeat, we drink too much alcohol, we spend too much money, etc.

If we want to be happier and live in a way that moves us closer to the goal of being happier, then we have to change the way we think. This takes EFFORT and isn’t going to be easy. Further, it is going to take a long time before healthier, positive thoughts come more naturally to you than do the “automatic negative thoughts.”

Have you heard me talk about the cow path? I refer to the cow path when I talk about how long it takes to make lasting changes. You see, I am from Iowa, a very rural state with many cattle. At the university I attended, we would frequently give directions to various buildings on campus like this, “You go to the Student Union, then take the cow path that heads east. You’ll pass the Science building on your left. Then take the cow path just to the right and the next building is what you’re looking for.”

The “cow paths” were literal paths through the beautifully manicured grounds of the University. There were perfectly good concrete sidewalks the students could walk on to get from one building to another. But… students being students… loved to put their knowledge into action (ha!). They know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And they’re too lazy to walk the distance to where two sidewalks meet at a 90-degree angle. Yep – they cut diagonally through the grass to get where they were going sooner.

It was not the first student who cut across the lawn that left a foot-wide path where grass no longer grew. Nor was it the one hundredth. It was hundreds and hundreds and thousands of students who trampled over the grass to cut across the lawn that resulted in a permanent foot-wide path where no grass will ever grow again. Because more and more feet continue to trod upon the same dirt.

Changing from habitual stinkin’ thinkin’ to consistent healthy, positive thinking that leads to greater happiness takes time. A lot of time. Many hundreds and thousands of repetitions.

That means if you want to develop healthier, happier thoughts, feelings and actions, it’s gonna take creating a brand new cow path in your brain and quit sliding back onto the one upon which you have been trotting for years.

If you’re having trouble believing me, then go with the Dalai Lama, who says:

 “… transforming your mind takes time. There are a lot of negative mental traits, so you need to address and counteract each of these. That isn’t easy. It requires the repeated application of various techniques and taking the time to familiarize your with the practices. It’s a process of learning.”

Learning to talk kindly to yourself about yourself, learning to think with compassion about yourself, learning to say good things about yourself takes practice. A lot of practice. As the positive cow path in your brain solidifies, so do the odds of your living a healthier, happier life! Until you heal the relationship with yourself, it will be tough to improve your relationships with others and other things (food, alcohol, pornography, etc.).

The choice is yours! Choose wisely.

I’m an Addict. What a Relief!!

This week I started a weekly Wednesday night Facebook Live series called Food Addiction: FAIR and FIRM. During the program, I commented that when I was told, “Connie, you’re an addict,” after the initial shock wore off, I felt the most tremendous sense of relief. For the first time in my life, certain things made sense to me.

Let me speak to the shock part first. Yes, I drank - a lot – in college. So did everyone else I knew. So did everyone in my family. In fact, most of the people in my family drank a whole lot more than I ever did! After I got married, I quit drinking on a regular basis. When I did drink after that, I usually drank to get drunk – true. It’s also true that I drank less after I got married because I started taking codeine – very rarely, at first – for bad migraine headaches. Over time, however, I took it daily because codeine helped me to not feel. Anything. At most, I took maybe three in day. I thought addicts took lots and lots of pills!

So when I was given the alcohol and drug addiction screening, I was certain I wouldn’t meet any criteria for alcoholic, and most definitely not for drug addict. Well, I got one heck of a case of the “Yeah buts…” in a hurry when the therapist said, after scoring my test, “Connie – you’re an alcoholic and a drug addict.” As she talked to me about the items that indicated addiction on the test, every one of my responses to her started with, “Yeah, but…” For example, “Yeah, but I could have answered that question either way.” “Yeah, but I don’t drink nearly as much as most of the people I know, especially the people in my family.” “Yeah, but, drug addicts take a lot of pills throughout the day.” “Yeah, but I was able to take care of my kids and work and go to school.” “Yeah, but I’ve never been in trouble with the law.”

When I had exhausted all the “Yeah, buts” I could think of, imagine, or create, I got quiet and let it sink in. I am an addict. And then I felt it. Relief. It made sense.

What made sense to me about my being an addict is understanding, for the first time, the reasons I continued to do things that went against my own values. I started to understand the reasons I did things I said I would never do. It began to make sense that things I promised I would stop doing seemed impossible to stop doing.

 

I am an addict. I have a disease that “hijacks” the brain. When I am in active addiction of any kind:

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my brain doesn’t allow me to listen to reason but stays locked in denial mode

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my emotions keeps me in protective mode so I defend myself by blaming other people and things for my behavior

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my spiritual self says, “do what feels good in the moment” and hides the part of me that says, “what I value is good and decent”

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my social self brings out the loud, obnoxious, hurtful voice I am capable of using

·                   the disease of obesity that affects my physical being takes dangerous risks, eats            poorly, doesn’t exercise and doesn’t care

Accepting the truth that I am an addict was a relief. NOT AN EXCUSE. I understood my poor choices better. It made sense that it was so difficult for me to follow through with the convictions I made to myself and the promises I made to others. I began to understand why my behaviors went against the person I wanted to be. Addiction is a brain sickness and a soul sickness. And a protector. All at the same timFood, alcohol, shopping, pain medication, and other things I engaged in addictively, protected me from my feelings. That is what I wanted most of all. To not feel. I didn’t want to feel the reality of my sadness, my anger, my pain and my shame. The trade-off for not feeling was to use addictive substances/behaviors and betray myself by doing things I was embarrassed about, ashamed of, and seemingly unable to control.

Being an addict was in no way an excuse for the behaviors I engaged in. It’s very uncool to use being an addict as a way to avoid taking responsibility. “I danced with the boss’s husband at the holiday party. What can say – I was drunk.” NOT COOL. “I told her off but she had it coming and besides – I was drunk and couldn’t keep my mouth shut.” NOT COOL.

For food addicts, it is similarly bogus to make excuses for overeating because: the kids were acting up, you were late for work and got yelled at, your mother was sick, or your spouse ticked you off.

Each one of us is 100% responsible for our behavior – even if we have addictions. If we have an addiction, once we realize that truth, we are responsible for getting help and learning healthy ways to deal whatever life brings us. We are responsible for learning to deal with our feelings in appropriate ways. We are responsible for learning to work through losses, past abuse or neglect, present hardships, frustrations with family and friends, and all of life’s realities. Without the use of addictive chemicals or actions.

The addictive substance or behavior, whatever it is, isn’t the problem. Sure, alcohol is a problem for alcoholics. Certain foods are problems for food addicts. Shopping is a problem for shopaholics. But those are only the surface problems. Addictive substances and behaviors are symptoms of the real problems, which are almost always rooted in shame: “I’m not good enough.” That shame stems from many possible places.


To treat addictions, we must first remove the substance or behavior. No, one cannot eliminate food from their life. But they can eliminate the food(s) that cause them problems. Once we are free of chemicals or the addictive behaviors, we can work on the real problems and choose who we want to be. When we don’t “use,” our actions can reflect our values.

“Connie – you’re an addict.” WHAT A RELIEF! I understood why I couldn’t STOP doing things I didn’t really want to do. I finally knew there was hope. I knew I could learn to live life in healthy ways and according to my values. But I first had to be willing to live without the addictive chemicals and behaviors.


So I needed help. I couldn’t do it alone. And I didn’t have to. Together, we can support one another into a life of RECOVERY.
 

What a relief!

 

 

 

 

Value the Friend More than the Friendship

As many people know, I love to listen to podcasts and Ted Talks and talks by people I consider to be wise. One person in particular I often refer to is Andy Stanley. I was listening to one of his series tonight, in which several speakers participated, on my drive from Atlanta to Augusta.

I’ve heard Andy comment in a number of his talks about the importance of having mentors and wise people who will provide us with guidance, direction and insights along our journeys. Successful people in all arenas (and by success, I do not necessarily mean money), note having a number of such advisors to help guide them in their lives.

We all need people to help us navigate unchartered territory, to help us through difficult stages of life, and to steer us in a helpful direction when we veer off track.

How many of us actually have people in our lives who are willing to tell us the difficult things we might not want to hear, but need to hear?

 How many of us are willing to say difficult things to the people we love who might not want to hear, but might benefit from, hearing our concerns?

It seems easy to refrain from saying to a good friend or family member things like:

“When I hear you talk to your husband in a rude tone on such a regular basis, I feel upset and worried for you. It seems like he’s the only one you speak to so harshly. I worry about the effect that has on your relationship, not only with him, but in the way you feel about yourself.”

“I’ve noticed you talking more frequently about drinking an entire bottle of wine after the kids go to bed. I’m worried about your health, what would happen if one of the kids needed you in the night, and how your drinking might be affecting your work the next day.”

“I know this is a very sensitive thing to talk about and I’m going to do it because I love you enough to tell you. I’m scared because I’ve realized your weight is now resulting in your being out of breath walking up the stairs. You are also canceling our walking dates more often than you are keeping them. I want you to live as long and as healthy a life as possible and to see your grandkids grow up.”

“Since you had weight loss surgery, I’ve noticed that you are taking your prescription pain medication every few hours. You used to take them only a few times a week. I’m worried that you have found a different, yet equally unhealthy way to avoid your feelings. Let’s talk about this.”

Maybe you’ve been told (or rationalized to yourself) that your brother’s drinking is none of your business so it’s not your place to “interfere.” Maybe you’re thinking that since your friend’s use of pain medication doesn’t directly affect your life, you have “no right” to say anything.

A very wise woman who has been a mentor in my life for many years taught me, “You always have a right to share your thoughts, your feelings and your observations” with others. I’ve learned that it’s important to share my thoughts, feelings and observations in appropriate ways AND that I cannot expect anything specific from the person after I have done so.

Translated:

Use “I” messages when sharing your thoughts, your feelings, your observations:

            “I worry that your drinking is harming your children…”

            “I am concerned that you are spending so much money because…”

            “It appears to me that…”

When you do share your thoughts, your feelings, or your observations, you have to accept that the person may: thank you for sharing; may tell you the issue is none of your business; my get angry and say things like, “How dare you…”; may turn things around and say, “Well, what about the way you…”; may follow up and get help for the issue; or may never speak to you again. In other words, share with them because you care for them, not because you expect them to do what you think is best for them.

One of the wisest things I have learned in life is, “You are only responsible for the effort you put into whatever you do.” The outcome is not yours to control. For example, if you eat healthy and exercise regularly, your body may remain at a weight you think is “too high.” You are responsible for the eating right and exercise. A healthy weight for your body may not be what you would like the scale to say, but you are only responsible for your effort.

Similarly, you are only responsible for kindly, lovingly sharing your thoughts, your feelings, and your observations with others. You are not responsible for what they do with what you have shared. You are responsible for realizing that you don’t get to control the outcome based on what you would like to see happen or what you believe is the “best” thing for that person.

Another reasons people don’t honestly share their concerns for loved ones is, “They might not like me.” I’d rather have someone not like me and potentially make some changes in their life, even if they never speak to me again than to have them “like” me while I watch them make unhealthy decisions for themselves and others.

Take it from someone who has done this sharing of her thoughts, feelings and observations a number of ways. In the past, I did so in some very inappropriate ways (yelling, blaming, shaming). I would let things bottle up and then explode. That did not work well and always made me feel horrible about myself in the process. I’ve also not said anything to people when, in retrospect, I wish I had.

As I’ve worked through many of my own issues over the years and have learned more about healthy communication, I have become less worried about whether someone will “like” me for sharing my truth. I’ve realized that I may lose some relationships if I do say something, which has happened. And I’ve learned that I cannot make anyone do what I think is best for them.

Most importantly, I have learned what that what Andy Stanley says is so very true, “Value the Friend MORE than the Friendship.” I am blessed to have three incredible friends with whom I can share my deepest concerns and they do the same with me. We don’t get angry with one another, realizing that if we share something the other may not want to hear, it is out of deep love. I have a husband and grown children with whom I am able to do the same. I share my concerns with them and I ask them to let me know when they see me behaving in ways that are contrary to my values. This is love, the verb.

Do you value yourself and do you love your friends and family enough to share your honest thoughts, feelings and observations with them, even if it means risking the relationship? And… are you open to hearing the truth from those that love you?

Good food for thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We CAN Get the Word Out! TOGETHER.

Frequently, I submit abstracts to speak at bariatric conferences. Educating people, whether said “people” are bariatric professionals or patients, about the psychological aspects of weight loss, about food addiction, and about maintaining a healthy weight is important to me.

It’s always more fun to work with patient groups because patients are eager to learn insights and new ways to address weight issues. It is essential, however, that more bariatric medical professionals listen to what patients and many in the allied health sectors know:

Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight after weight loss involves a lot of psychology. And for many patients, food is a substance that can be as addictive as heroine, cocaine and other illicit drugs.

 At most of the large bariatric conferences, the medical doctors’ meetings are held separately from the allied health professionals’ meetings. For this reason, physicians rarely hear the messages that I, and others on the same crusade, have to share.

I understand and respect that physicians are educated about physiology. Surgeons are trained, and are interested in, the biological aspects of weight loss. Physicians vary in terms of how interested they are in the “whole person” model of weight loss, to include the emotional and psychological variables that render “behavior modification” minimally useful for some patients. Particularly if food addiction is a factor.

Just as it is essential that all members of a patient’s care are aware of, and remained informed of the physiological realities of weight loss, physicians owe their patients the respect to take heed of the emotional aspects that can interfere with weight loss and maintaining that weight loss.

“Do no harm” is the ethical creed, I believe.

I maintain that not learning about, and not referring patients for whatever emotional support they need, is absolutely doing the patient harm. Not learning about food addiction is doing the patient harm.

I had an opportunity this past week to present a talk at an international bariatric conference for professionals in Italy. I was thrilled when I realized that all participants, regardless of background, were in one room! Finally! I had the opportunity to speak to the physicians. The bariatric surgeons, no less! The ones I want to educate the most!

I suspected they would be a tough crowd. It has been my experience over the past 15 years that bariatric surgeons are … less than interested in messages about emotions and food addiction.

Tough crowd does not begin to describe this group. No matter to me! I took the microphone, walked away from the podium, and gave ‘em all I had. On that particular day, all I had in terms of my voice wasn’t much. I had gotten run down and a little sick, so my voice had temporarily abandoned me, being replaced by a dry, throaty cough. But I croaked as loudly as I could into that microphone and called upon the passion that is within me.

My intention in speaking my truth was so we, all bariatric professionals, can better serve those who are struggling to lose weight and keep it off, those who are working hard to overcome the battle that is raging inside them in the form of food addiction.

 The less reaction I received from the audience, the more determined I became to have them hear me. “Are you with me?” I demanded. “I beseech you to hear what your patients know… .” I looked those I could see squarely in the eyes to command their attention. It didn’t matter that they did not smile or nod their head in acknowledgment of my words. I had a mission and now I had a platform. For fifteen whole minutes.

I believe I used my time wisely and stated what I needed to. I trust I spoke on behalf of my fellow professionals with whom I am privileged to work; those who are trudging up the mountain of partial peer resistance alongside me. And most importantly, I hope that I shared the truth that is a daily reality for those patients we serve: Food IS an addiction, for many.

Following the session, one physician attempted to engage me in a philosophical discussion, leaving me uncertain if he agreed or disagreed with what I shared. Fortunately, an enthusiastic young psychologist in the audience approached and I gracefully pardoned myself away from the philosopher to engage with her. She was beyond grateful for the message I had shared and was eager to make further contact with me.

The really GREAT news came from YOU, those who are working to spread the news that FOOD can be addictive. More people need to know this reality so that we can help treat the addiction! By addressing both the food addiction and utilizing bariatric surgery or any weight loss method, more people will be free to live FULLY in recovery from obesity and from food addiction. As you and I know, trying to treat just the obesity isn’t going to work if a person is addicted to food.

Nearly 3 thousand of you have viewed the talk I presented. I am beyond grateful to my bestie, Diane, who was at the conference with me. She recorded the entire talk on Facebook Live! Thanks to her, and thanks to you, we are reaching many. Please, share the video on your own pages. Others will benefit from the knowledge and we will reach individuals in need of this information for their personal success. We can reach bariatric surgeons, other bariatric professionals and many recovery addicts who may not realize that FOOD has replaced alcohol or marijuana or cocaine. The awareness that food addiction may be hindering one’s ability to follow through with the “behavior modification” tools to help them eat better and exercise regularly may be the key to seeking treatment for the addiction.

If you are a food addict, being in recovery from food addiction WILL make losing weight and keeping it off much easier. NO weight loss method, including bariatric surgery, will result in permanent weight loss if you are food addict and are not treating the addiction with as much determination as you are the obesity. Both addiction and obesity are diseases. They both need treatment. People may not know they have a food addiction. Use this video to help educate others.

Awareness is the first step to change!

Keep helping us spread the word. Thank you!