• on January 21, 2018

How do we change our unwanted habits and thought patterns?

I am beginning to understand that The Process, our map of recovery, could be described as the feminine path to behaviour change.  Rather than controlling, dominating and eliminating unwanted aspects of ourselves, we transform through our deepening sense of acceptance, sensitivity, kindness and freedom.

We wrote The Process three years ago, and much has changed since. Here, I present the old version first, then any changes, plus a commentary on why and how our understanding has grown. If you’d like to begin practising this Process yourself, to experience more ease and comfort in your life, then get in touch with Emily Holden at ‘I eat what I need’ Emily@ieatwhatineed.com.  I am working 121 with people to help them to understand how these principles could apply in their everyday life.


THE PROCESS

‘The Process’ is the means by which we have changed our unwanted behaviour (over/under eating, binge eating, addictive and compulsive eating, craving, negative body image and concerns about our weight) into our new behaviour (acknowledging and working with compulsive/addictive urges until they weaken and fade; feeling conscious around food and in control; eating to hunger; making good choices that sustain our energy levels and support our lives; feeling at home in our bodies at their natural size).

*When we wrote this 3 years ago, I think I still had a vague sense that natural eating would lead to achieving your ‘natural size’. What I realise now is that there is no ‘natural size’ to achieve. The size you are now is your ‘natural size’, because you are a natural human being! There is nothing unnatural about your body!

Disordered eating leads to both weight gain and weight loss, and weight cycling is deeply stressful for our bodies. Drawing on the work of HAES (Health at Every Size), I have a deeper understanding of the internalised fat phobia that so many of us carry. IEWIN is not a weight loss programme, because we don’t believe that your weight determines your worth, or that thinner is better.

Ultimately, weight is a symptom, not a behaviour, and as such we cannot control it. It’s a huge waste of time to focus on it. At IEWIN we are interested in the root cause of our unsupportive behaviours. Your weight may or may not change as a result of dealing with the underlying unconscious beliefs and thought patterns that drive your behaviour. The likelihood is that, if allowed, your body will find the most comfortable way to be, so that you can eat and move with greater ease. Only you can know what it feels like to live in your body, and what ratio of comfort/discomfort you are willing to experience.


NOTICE (2015)
Noticing is awareness without judgement. Shining a light on our behaviour without the “background noise” of criticism and negativity. Listening to our minds’ many cues, triggers and justifications like observing passing clouds, knowing that our body wisdom is more powerful than our brain if it is allowed to surface.

NOTICING (2018)
To notice is to become aware of this moment now. This awareness exists without judgement. It is shining a light on our behaviour, and our mind talk, without harsh criticism or self-attack. It acknowledges the truth of what is, without pushing it away or making it different. We listen to our minds and bodies, we pause, and we take stock. What is happening, right now?

*The big different here is the emphasis on NOW, this moment, coming into the here and now. There is so much we could notice: thoughts, behaviours, judgements, other people, the environment…it’s overwhelming. Anchoring yourself to this moment now distils your awareness and gives it a useful focal point. This is also a spiritual teaching that comes up time and time again. Be. Here. Now.


CREATE SPACE (2015)
If you have no time to devote to this process, then this approach is not for you. It takes patience and perseverance to resolve this major issue in our lives. It involves making a commitment to develop your own process, using this as a guide, and using it throughout the day; to come to the group as a priority, to notice the subtle but significant ways in which your life is better and the urge to eat or make poor choices is diminished and manageable. We need to create the space to accomplish this. This community of eaters is your space.

CREATING SPACE (2018)

Creating space is the art of gradually weakening the strength and the frequency of the urge to eat. It takes patience, perseverance, and a lot of repetition to resolve this major issue in our lives. Every time you notice an urge, you have a golden opportunity to re-wire your brain and create a new, more spacious reality for yourself. Armed with your commitment to experience a greater sense of freedom, you give the urge some space to be. You embrace your imperfect nature; you engage in this process to the best of your ability. You are enough.

*Creating space is an art form, a dance, not an exact science. We feel spacious some days, able to move through life without attachment to food, and on other days, we can’t stop thinking about the next meal. This new definition of Creating Space includes neuroplasticity (re-wiring the brain), motivation (your commitment to your own freedom), and worthiness (you’ll do it as best you can, and that’s good enough). This is a complex and challenging stage to practice, but it’s crucial as awareness (noticing) is not enough for change to occur.


BE CURIOUS (2015)

We offer this process to you as a completely different approach to eating, weight and body image issues than the conventional “calories in, calories out”, “eat less, move more” received wisdom as it stands now. Being curious about our behaviour rather than condemning it or simply wishing it away, allows us to understand it, feel it, and face it fully. Being curious works, because it is a less stressful way of delving into our minds and bodies to understand why our urge to eat is so strong. The curious mind can then, through the miracle of neuroplasticity, choose to change its pathways and evolve new behaviours that suit us better and bring us peace.

BECOMING CURIOUS (2018)

We offer this process to you as a completely different approach to eating, weight and body image issues than the conventional “calories in, calories out”, “eat less, move more” received wisdom as it stands now. Being curious is a lifelong process of inquiry, which serves to understand things as they are rather than any expectation of how they should be. The curious mind dives into this process, interested to learn about why we behave in such seemingly conflicting ways, when rational thinking fails us. Being curious about our behaviour rather than condemning it or simply wishing it away, allows us to understand it, feel it, and face it fully. Being curious works, because it is a less stressful way of delving into our minds and bodies to understand why our urge to eat is so strong. The curious mind can then, through the miracle of neuroplasticity, choose to change its pathways and evolve new behaviours that suit us better and bring us peace.

*I love Jan’s original definition of compassionate curiosity. We wanted to add the idea of a lifelong process, which is very different to the ‘quick fixes’ and empty promises of programmes we have done before. I also wanted to add an exploration of the element of confusion that pervades disordered eating. For the overeaters, why can’t you just stop eating? Or start eating, if you’re an undereater? It sounds so simple, and yet denies the deeper truth that we do what we do because we are driven by our unconscious, which doesn’t care about rational or logical demands.


ENGAGE WITH OUR BEHAVIOURS KINDLY (2015)

If we impose change, as we have done previously by dieting and other restrictive means, we will cause further stress on our bodies as we push or coerce ourselves into changing our behaviour. Engaging with our behaviours kindly and compassionately releases any “have to, should or must” and instead, using our curious mind, we are merely interested to observe ourselves without the need for over analysis or criticism. We start with small steps; perhaps trying a new food in a tiny amount or choosing a ten minute practice that helps our minds to calm. Adopting kindness towards ourselves underpins the IEWIN approach.

ENGAGING WITH OURSELVES KINDLY (2018)

If we impose change, as we have done previously by dieting and other restrictive means, we will cause further stress on our bodies as we push or coerce ourselves into changing our behaviour. Although perhaps effective in the short term, as any dieter knows, motivation through “have to, should or must” is extremely counter-productive in the long run, and only serves to further fuel our sense of inadequacy. We start with small steps, we lower our expectations, and we take it gently, slowly and gradually. We celebrate every tiny triumph, every breath we take when met with the urge to eat. We forgive ourselves when we find ourselves back in old ways. Being kind means being a friend to ourselves in all weathers, and staying alongside ourselves in times of struggle.
Adopting kindness towards ourselves underpins the IEWIN approach.

*We are not only engaging with our behaviours, but also with our thoughts and beliefs. And notice that we’ve generally moved from an imperative (Notice) to a gerund (Noticing) to better represent the ongoing practical applications of these principles.

Being kind sounds so obvious, so simple, and yet when we notice how habitually we abandon ourselves in times of struggle, we realise how necessary it is to practice this step. Self-forgiveness is key here. Our self-compassion cannot be built on a foundation of “compliant behaviour”. That is no foundation at all.


SPEND TIME WITH OUR BODIES (2015)

We have all found great support and comfort in setting aside some time in the day to be with our bodies. It could be a walk, a self-massage, or a gentle movement practice. When we feel at odds with ourselves because of our eating behaviour or our body image, it is sometimes hard to acknowledge our bodies for the amazing work that they do. Giving time to yourself is part of the process.

BEING IN OUR BODIES (2018)

As humans, we cannot deny our physical nature. Our bodies are our home on this earth. This stage begins the brave journey of reconnecting with the felt-sense of your body. You become interested in how you feel, inside, and start to register the huge variety of sensations your body is continually communicating to you. It could be tension, bloating, nausea, or the jitters. The key to learning to eat what you need is to feel what you feel. You grow your capacity to feel these sensations, as they arise, gradually letting go of numbing out and suppressive behaviours. You may become more aware of physical and emotional pain within your body as a result. Being aware of these sensations will help to create safe boundaries around your food choices, without any input from the mind, with its constant judgements and justifications. As you spend more time feeling your body, you will also feel more joy, freedom, and spaciousness than ever before. Your natural eater is awakening, and she demands that you feel her, deep within your belly space.

*I feel quietly amused when I re-read the old version of this stage. The body is so objectified: we spend time WITH it rather than IN it, and we take it for walks, like it was a dog to be cared for. There is a clear dissociation from the body as part of my wholeness, my aliveness, the essence of who I am. I used to say that “The body is the vehicle of your life”. I thought that this was a way to honour the body. Now I say “The body is your life.” Our aliveness is anchored in our physicality. It is the gateway through which we experience the world. Without it, we cannot experience our human life.


WHEN WE GET STUCK-START AGAIN (2015)

It is inevitable, as you start your own process, that you will get stuck and possibly frustrated. Food is a very convenient way to “check out” both physically and mentally but especially emotionally. This process is all about “checking in”; noticing, creating space, being curious, engaging with our behaviours kindly, and being with and in our bodies. The well-worn brain pathways of compulsion and addiction may kick and scream as they change direction. This is where the group and this process comes in. We are here to support each other as new and different challenges occur and exciting changes take place.

GETTING STUCK, STARTING AGAIN (2018)

This is not a linear process of continuous growth. This is not a fresh start either, where we become a completely different person from one day to the next. Our brains don’t work like this. We learn to live within the mess, the confusion, and feel our way through. We are asking for a huge u-turn in behaviour. Food is a very convenient way to “check out” both physically and mentally but especially emotionally. This process is all about “checking in”; noticing, creating space, being curious, engaging with our behaviours kindly, and being in our bodies. The well-worn habitual and addictive brain pathways may kick and scream as they change direction. This is where the community and this process comes in. We are here to support each other as new and different challenges occur and exciting changes take place.

*This stage recognises the human patterns of growth and change, which we can see clearly in nature. Periods of rapid growth are followed by stages of rest and integration. Neural pathways take time, and repetition, to re-route. Our old pathways don’t disappear overnight, they simply weaken over time. It’s OK to not understand everything at once. You don’t need to ‘get’ this Process fully to start to practise it. Needing to understand everything, before you practise, will inhibit your potential. Allow things to unfold as they arise.


BALANCE (2015)

We are not interested in perfectionism. This may actually have played a part in our disordered eating. We are not interested in success or failure, pounds lost or pounds gained. We want to live a balanced life in a body free of compulsion, where our food choices are driven by a desire to nourish ourselves. We want to eat consciously and with pleasure and to live in a body of natural size.

BALANCE (2018)

We are not interested in perfectionism. This may actually have played a part in our disordered eating. We are not interested in success or failure, pounds lost or pounds gained. We want to live in a body and a mind that feels spacious and comfortable, more of the time. We recognise that we are in constant flux, and there is no final, fixed state to achieve. Balance is negotiated by daily reorientations towards that which supports us: awareness (noticing), pausing before we roll into habits (creating space), being interested in how we feel, moment-to-moment (being curious, being in our bodies), self-acceptance (engaging with ourselves kindly), and resilience (getting stuck and starting again). As we grow, our choices are driven by a desire to experience greater freedom and ease, rather than numbing out or simply coping with life. We want to eat what we need with pleasure and embrace our bodies as they are, now.

*This stage is the hardest to pin down, because it isn’t really something that you can directly practice, but it arises as a result of practising the other 6 stages. It is that ephemeral feeling of ‘okness’, of being in the flow of life. This state can arise even when external circumstances seem challenging or painful, because it is our relationship to life, rather than our life situation, that determines our experience. This teaching leads to a deeper maturity in all areas of our life, beyond just our relationship to food and body.


May this Process support you as you rediscover how to eat what you need.

And may you experience a deeper sense of aliveness, comfort and joy as a result of practising these teachings.

Emily, Jan and Jane of I eat what I need (IEWIN)

Copywright IEWIN 2018