Behavioral change

Eating has often been a strategy for me when being in a stressful situation. For several years I managed to choose other strategies for handling e.g. stress and then, again, for the last six months, I am back into the destructive habit of overeating.

Since one of my best friends is a runner, I have the opportunity to reflect upon our different choices. When she is in stress, she goes to the gym or for a long intensive run. When I am in stress, I eat.

The question that thrills me the most at the moment is:
What is the crucial fact(s) that make you choose one or the other of the strategies and turn it into a habit? Is it just coincidences? A friend asks you if you want to go for a run and then you get hooked? Eating your first chocolate bar craves the next one and the next one?

Reading the book The real happy pill by Anders Hansen has made me discover a whole world of new understanding of the brain and the benefits of physical exercise.

However, my question of why you make one choice or another, is yet to be answered.

Is it maybe also a question of how you look at yourself? Exercise is achievement, a way to show oneself and others what you can accomplish (e.g. a marathon).

Eating sweets is for me connected to hiding and hiding within a body that gets bigger and bigger. Nowadays I don’t feel that much shame anymore for my eating and can look at it with more curiosity, all in the aim of finding healthier habits and with the love and compassion for myself that I once did not have.

One story about a depressed woman in Anders Hansen’s book illustrates very well the connection between physical exercise and self-confidence. One of his previous patients cured her depression with physical exercise. Not only did she get in better shape and in a better mood. Her self-confidence grew stronger as her change became a result of her own achievement.

How long does it take to change an almost lifelong strategy? How long will I need to exercise until my body prefers 30 minutes on a bike to some comforting grams of sweets?

Is physical exercise or eating sweets just a question of habit or also of identification? If I start to see myself as someone that exercises, someone who loves to move, will that change how I see myself in a more general perspective as well?

Maybe habit and identification go hand in hand and by starting (already three days ago!) with physical exercise, identification will follow.

I will make the strategy of physical exercise my own…

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Eating with feelings

It is 1989 and ten past eight, one of many mornings. When I leave the sweat shop at Skanstull in Stockholm, there is slightly more than 200 grams of mixed sweets hidden in my backpack. That doesn’t stop me from letting my hand now and then find its way down in the backpack to pick up a marshmallow, even before entering the bus to work.

Sometimes I put in my mouth the piece that first touches my hand. Other times I systematically finish one sort at a time. In the beginning of the bag of sweets I experience feelings of exhilaration, freedom and pleasure. With the last pieces come instead the nausea, self-contempt and the sad feeling of emptiness and loneliness. I do choose to be alone with my eating and that is why, for instance, it is important to throw away the empty bag of sweets, by latest in the litterbin in the bus, before walking home.

At this time, I eat because it hurts to live and I therefore bury my feelings with sweets, cookies, ice-cream and pastry.

With the ”help” of sugar, I escape to the taste experience in my mouth and the brief kick of increased blood sugar level. Thus I close the door to myself, to my dreams and hopes, to what is authentic within me. And as long as I numb my soul and avoid listen to the inner me, I remain incapable of fulfilling what I, in my heart of hearts, am longing to do.

What I would have needed those mornings and many other days was to be heard, to tell someone else, or myself, of the hurt. It helps me to freedom and serenity when I experience trust, acceptance and respect in a talk, to be able to be who I really am in that very moment with the person listening. To hear myself put in words what is inside of me makes me well-defined to myself and it also helps me to find my own way and have the courage to follow it. That is to me, among others, what empathy is about.

Empathy, I have thought for some time now, is something in short supply today. Instead, we have learned to come up with ideas of how the other person could change his or her situation. I have done it myself and still do it sometimes. My goal however has become to try to listen so the other person can hear himself or herself finding their own solutions.

By learning Nonviolent Communication, I have become more sensitive to my feelings instead of trying to numb them and that is what most of all has helped me to treat my craving for sugar. The feelings are like an instrument that I can listen to as they point out to my needs. If I need consolation, it will not come through 200 grams of sweets. Maybe I need to call a friend or sit down to write and to put in words what I feel and need. One of the strategies that I have started to use to care for myself in the last few years is to buy me a bouquet of flowers.

Something I also missed during those years was my own confidence in that my body actually tells me when I need nourishing and when it is, or begins to be, satisfied. A book I wish would have existed already in 1989 is Needbased Eating  by Liv Larsson. One of the three practical tools, a hunger- and Satiation scale, has in later years helped me to increased consciousness about my body announcing to me when it is time to eat or when it is satisfied.

Thus, I nowadays ask myself if it is my body or my soul that needs nourishing and then I give to myself what I need.

One of  the bouquet of flowers
One of the bouquet of flowers