Last week I wrote about losing weight, or achieving some success with my Olympic Training, as I prefer to call it. There was one sentence in the middle of the blog, which summed up dealing with cravings. It was almost a throwaway line, as if cravings were of little bother.
"Emotionally, I've also had to manage the comfort eating feelings. Eat for the future, not in the past."
Oh, if only it was that simple. One simple sentence that explains most addictive behaviour and causes more grief and distress in people's lives than anything else, including war.
This week I am extending the subject of cravings, or as I called them last week, "comfort eating feelings." It's those emotions that hijack our attempts to give up anything that we may do in unhealthy excess or using addictive behaviour. From alcohol, sex, eating, gambling, porn, cigarettes, shopping, fitness regimes, medication, computer games, drugs, stealing, introspective thinking and so on. Notice that some of those activities are fun and okay in moderation. Some are illegal and risky.
And as I sit here on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, my mind could drift to a refreshing alcoholic drink, savoury nibbles or several of the Mother's Day chocolates, without any problem. Indeed it is doing just that. Can't write it down and not think about it can I? (Think of a pink elephant. Don't want to? Maybe not, but the majority of readers will now have an image of a pink elephant. It's why advertising works so well.)
I have to battle against those thoughts with other, stronger thoughts which will mean I won't succumb to the cravings. Well, not at the moment. "But it's hard." Yes, very. But worth it.
Use your brain and the 20 minute rule. In the majority of cases, cravings will pass in 20 minutes. Use distraction techniques. That's what I'm doing at the moment. It works with eating too. The brain needs time to register that the stomach is full. Eat slowly.
The subject of this blog is emotional growth. It's about recognising that at any adult age, feelings experienced today have their roots in the past. These past feelings can hijack our present thoughts. The good news? These thoughts can be changed. "But it's hard." Yes, very. But worth it.
(I am writing here about a person who has the usual range of cognitive abilities. Not someone who has experienced brain damage in some way.)
Everyone has different triggers or something that "pushes my button." I cannot write for others and expect my thoughts to be same. They won't be. But I can give some personal illustrations, that may remind you of something in your life. Yes, you. You don't think you have any addictive behaviour to be addressed? Hmmm, I wonder...
Adult thought: Something sweet is comforting
Childhood experience: "Have a biscuit, sweet, chocolate...to make it better"
I was ill and on a restrictive diet. The family went into the garden. I went to the cupboard and 'stole' a Lemon Puff biscuit. Bliss. This may have also triggered my future stealing behaviour. Stealing = reward.
Adult thought: "The kids are in bed, now to sit down with a drink, I'm knackered." or " It's been a horrible, rotten day. Let me have a drink."
Teenage experience: Relax with a drink.
Socialising with friends in the pub = fun and an escape from the day's work and domestic hassle.
*My parents introduced alcohol to me in a responsible way. The problem was that it was cider, which they thought was an innocent, refreshing drink. My worst behaviour excesses were triggered by cider. As a result I stopped drinking cider around 23.
Adult thought: "Buy that, you deserve it."
Teenage experience: The freedom to buy my choice of clothes and shoes.
After wearing my mother's choice of clothes as a gawky 13/14 year old, I went shopping with my first earned money as a paper girl at 15. I can still see and feel the pink dress and the joy it bought me.
Adult: "I'm bored." or "I don't want to do this job."
Childhood experience: Eating food as a distraction. Helping others.
Probably my strongest trigger. I'm an ace procrastinator. Finding, making, eating food uses up time. I also used to find any excuse to help others in school, rather than do my own work.
Adult thought: "I'll just taste this/finish the leftovers/see what's in the fridge."
Childhood experience: Post-war mantra. "Eat every thing up on your plate." "Think of the starving children in Africa."
As I said in the last blog, my most challenging time is 5-7pm. I can recognise so many triggers from 1968 onwards. From preparing children's meals and eating the leftovers.
I could write more, but you have enough of the picture to try some CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) yourself.
1. LOOK! At yourself. Are you about to use an unhealthy behaviour.
2. STOP! Name the feeling you are experiencing.
3. THINK! About the first time the first time you experienced that feeling. Go backwards through your personal timeline.
4: LISTEN! To yourself and your self justification in carrying on with that past behaviour in the present day.
5: GROW UP! You are not that child/teenager anymore. Let your emotional age increase to the present day.
"But it's hard." Yes, very. But go on, you deserve it.
Now where's that glass of wine?