I’ve been noticing my brain chatter a lot (inspired by Jeffrey Schwartz’s book, “You are not your brain”), and in this week’s group, we aired and shared some of our inner dialogue.
Imagine the situation: you’re at home with family for the weekend. There’s abundant and delicious food around. You’ve spent the last week alone, travelling, and have felt generally able to eat to hunger – with no one else to accommodate, or please, your natural cues of hunger and fullness have kicked in beautifully. You’ve felt light, free and comfortable in your body.
You’re happy to be home and with your family. You’re enjoying their company. You love the healthy food you prepare together. But… the hunger based eating doesn’t seem quite so available. What happened? What is your brain saying?
You’re at home! Relax! Enjoy it!
You won’t get this food normally – have it now while you can!
Everyone else is eating – join in!
It looks so yummy – I’m going to feel so happy eating this!
You don’t ALWAYS have to eat to hunger – let go a bit!
Get some before it’s gone – otherwise there won’t be any left!
This is just so delicious! I love it so much! Yey food!
What seems to happen is a subtle shift of values. Before I arrived home, while travelling, I worked hard to value my natural rhythms of hunger and fullness, to being in tune with my body, and respecting its physical signals, doing my best to act accordingly.
Come back home, to a place and a situation where I have often and habitually overeaten – I am hit with a sort of amnesia. My “deceptive brain messages” (as Jeffrey Schwartz would refer to them) have gone into overdrive. I am no longer valuing hunger as a cue to eat. I am valuing the sensory pleasure of eating, and the enjoyment of participating with others.
This is not about a right or wrong way to eat. Enjoying food is lovely (even when not feeling hungry), and eating together is wonderful. But it’s also extremely satisfying to give my body enough breathing space to allow hunger to arrive, and eat in response to that physical cue. So if both can bring benefits, what to do? Which cue to trust? When you eat without rules or restriction, how do you decide what, when and how to eat?
With no rules to follow, I must ebb and flow with the tides of my brain and belly.
With regard to my eating habits, I am noticing a pattern that matches my menstrual cycle. Mid cycle, I have a few weeks of lightness, ease, and generally eating to hunger. I feel well, optimistic, happy that I’m able to respect my body’s physical cues.
Then there is a gradual descent into the later stages of my cycle, and I’m feeling less able to eat to hunger. I’m waking up and eating breakfast, even though my stomach doesn’t feel quite ready for it, but I feel I need it. I’m eating because others are eating. I’m eating because it’s a mealtime. I’m eating because the food is available. I’m eating because it looks delicious.
Now I have a choice. Do I condemn this version of me, the one who doesn’t eat what she needs? Do I desperately push and force myself back into hunger-based eating? Do I decide – come on, it’s Monday now, time to get sorted and back on it. No more of this allowed!
Or – do I allow this cycle, this gentle ebb and flow, to pass through me. Noticing when I am more or less able to create some space for hunger to arise. When able, I experience the deceptive brain messages, I breathe into them, I allow them to be, and I reconnect with my belly. Easy does it. I move on, and give hunger a chance to come and meet me later down the road. But I don’t always feel able. Sometimes I want to buy into the messages in my brain – sometimes I need that sensory pleasure, the experience of eating, more than I need the experience of hunger.
Where is the line drawn? The line is drawn by the belly. As much as I enjoy eating and participating, I do not enjoy physical discomfort, feeling sluggish, painfully full. The line is also drawn by my brain – I do not enjoy feeling out of control, compulsive, manic or sneaky.
We do not have a choice about the messages our brains send us, which may be frustratingly getting in the way of our natural hunger cues. Whether we eat in response to these messages or not is determined by how much discomfort, both mental and physical, we are willing to tolerate.
The thing about flow, is that it is a never-ending balancing act of noticing both physical sensations (especially in the belly) and the inner dialogue of your brain. This is in constant flux. No diet, external system or set of rules will ever account for this. It just doesn’t work.
My current practice is about ease of transition between phases of eating. I ease into my hunger-based eating phase, and then I ease into my overeating phase. They are both equally valid parts of me. And I know my body likes this gentle transitioning – no scary shift from binge to starve, and no harsh obligation to “get a grip” and change my reality. Each time, it’s feeling more OK to occupy this overeating phase, without it becoming a stick to beat myself with. I’m remembering that those same tools that allow me to eat to hunger – self acceptance, kindness, gentleness and flexibility – are also the same ones that help me to overeat more gently and consciously. I don’t need to lose myself anymore. I can stay alongside myself throughout the whole process, safe in the knowledge that, like all cycles, things will shift and change, and I’ll be flowing into a different phase soon.
I wish you…
…comfortable transitions between different phases of your eating cycles.
…comfortable experiences of eating.
…comfortable experiences of being in your body.
I wish you a comfortable, and gentle, weekend my darlings.
Check out Jeffrey Schwartz, “You are not your brain”, and his work on deceptive brain messages. Well worth a look.