Sunday, 25 March 2012

"It's too hard" - Cravings. Addiction. Emotional Growth.

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.

The immature brain will attempt to hijack, with its, "I want it and I want it now!", but I've had to grow up emotionally.

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, 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?


Sunday, 18 March 2012

"Eat for the future, not in the past" - Olympic Training

On Saturday, March 10th, my neighbour said, "Have you lost weight?" I kissed her on the cheek. At last, someone had noticed. (Before I'd mentioned it.) 

On Friday March 16th, my son said tentatively, "May I say that you're looking trim." I jumped up from the sofa, punching the air. At last, a family member had noticed.

Wearing baggy winter layers doesn't make weight loss immediately noticeable, but for the last few weeks, I was beginning to wonder if my efforts were worth it, if no-one noticed.

For regular readers you may recall a blog at the beginning of the year.

So what happened next?

I wrote about my health being a prime motivator for weight loss and it should have been, as it should be for most of us. But in all honesty, it was vanity that provided that all important kick start. In April I will be collecting my London 2012 Games Maker uniform. A purple and cream track suit with red trimmings. I just did not want to go to the collecting depot and be handed a Size 18. As things are progressing, that looks unlikely.

In April, I'm also taking up a position as President of the Soroptimist International York Ebor club. This means official photographs being taken and published over the next year.  Another motivator.

Ok, so I had a SMART goal. Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Timed. But how was I going to achieve it?  Diets were a big no-no, for reasons stated in the aforementioned blog. So I started to mention that I was doing Olympic Training. To get fit and increase stamina. That suited me and was easier to talk about. 

My food intake was generally quite healthy and nutritious, so I didn't quite know where to start. The mantra of 'eat less, exercise more' was going round my head. Did I need support of some sort? 

A new year always heralds masses of money-making weight loss offers. A poster went up in the village. A new slimming club was starting some meetings at 8pm on Thursdays. I was tempted, but going out at 8pm on dark, cold streets and paying money did not appeal. Then a money saving website advertised that a slimming club was offering a free three months trial online. That was more tempting.

I looked up the website. It did not forbid any food or say that certain foods were a sin. That was crucial for my personal psychology. It counted points and you could swap activity points for food. Sounded promising. I could do it on my own and in my own time.

That's where I started and immediately was quite shocked. My regular healthy breakfast bowl of muesli, fruit and yoghurt, used up over half my daily allowance. There was no problem with the contents, it was the size of the portion. I discovered that, quite simply, I was eating too much.

Eight weeks later, how could I sum up how I have achieved a loss of over 1 stone (14lbs)? Guess what? Eat less, exercise more!

Emotionally, I've also had to manage the comfort eating feelings. Eat for the future, not in the past.

But I've had to do it my way. As my increasingly strong-minded two-year old granddaughter says, "Addie do it..."
  • Using a set of kitchen scales, as I have been genuinely surprised at how easy it is to consume more than is needed.
  • Downsizing from a large dinner plate to a dessert plate for meals. I was always feeling too full anyway, now I eat just enough.
  • Eating chocolate every day. 
  • Filling in a daily food and activity online diary.
  • Reducing alcohol intake drastically. It really is 'empty calories' or points in my case.
  • Walking that little bit faster and further, taking stairs when I can and thinking exercise can equal food.
  • Saying "No, thank-you." and meaning it.
  • Having a few emergency snacks around, just in case, especially around my most challenging time between 5 -7pm.
  • Using an image of me in that tracksuit, when I'm feeling weak-willed.
The upside:
  • Tucking tops into skirts and trousers.
  • Feeling fitter.
  • Digestive system working better with less food to process.
  • A belt going from being unusable to now 4 holes in.
  • Using the daily online food and activity diary to keep on track. 
  • Re-educating my brain.
  • Surgery-free stomach reduction.
  • Lowering the risk of diabetes 2 and heart disease.
  • Working around my weekly working chocolate-tasting work at Nestle.
  • Breathlessness walking up inclines noticeably reduced.
  • Clothes not fitting, but not ready to buy new ones.
  • Really difficult sometimes, though easier now.
  • Sometimes missing an evening glass or two of red wine and nibbles. 
  • More facial wrinkles, due to loss of face plumping. Vanity again. (Botox and fillers not an option.)
Writing it down for the first time is interesting. No contest really is it?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband commented on a jacket I was wearing. "That's looks nice", he said.  I replied, " Thank-you, I haven't been able to wear it for a while."  That was it. I thought he would pick-up on my reply, but he didn't. Possibly an example of hearing, but not listening?

So up to this point, he hasn't said anything, though I'm pretty sure he's noticed a change.

But he always reads my blog before I publish it. 

So I wonder what's he thinking now? I'll let you know...!*

*2hrs later. 
Husband: " Of course, I'd noticed." 
Me: " I thought so. Why didn't you say anything?"
Husband: "Well, when I said something when you put on weight, you were very negative."
Me: "So you didn't think that by saying something when you noticed I had lost weight, I would be positive?"
Husband: "No, I thought if I said something, you would be negative."
Me: "Well, I wouldn't have been."
Husband: "Tricky thing, women and their weight."


Sunday, 11 March 2012

"I need to be loved..." Emotional abuse

It was International Women's Day on Thursday. I read the following piece by Christina Patterson in The Independent.

Her thoughts were similar to my own, when I read about the court case about grooming and abuse. The details did not make for pleasant reading. Sadly though, the behaviour of both the girls and men is not unknown in the UK.

I belong to a women's service organisation called Soroptimists International.
The club I belong to is part of the Yorkshire Region. There is a sub-group: The Anti-Slavery Group. (Slavery covers abuse against women in all forms, worldwide) The group is only five years old but has already achieved much in the region.

Last year, at one of the Regional meetings, we were shown a film on the subject of grooming. It had been made for showing to teenage girls. The contents were disturbing and not dissimilar to the details of court case.

The core truths are always the same: the girls want to be loved and given attention. They are vulnerable and are taken advantage of by men giving them exactly that. Attention and gifts, which they interpret as love.

There are many theories as to why the girls are so vulnerable.  My own thoughts are, that the absence of men, or responsible men, in many households, are one of the larger pieces in a complex jig-saw.

My parents split up when I was 13 years old and for legal reasons I didn't see my father for a year. I lived in a female household,  which I have explained before, wasn't particularly easy.  I went to an all girls school, with all women teachers and both grandfathers had died a long time before. While these circumstances, gave me an edge over the radical feminism in the 1970s, they didn't help with relationships.

By 16 years old, I had become an outrageous flirt. If I had a boyfriend, I would be flirting with someone else too. It's another example (as with drugs), when I think, "There, but for the grace of God go I"  Flirtatious yes, but promiscuous, no. 

I'm not going to pretend that I didn't in the main have a great time, but I eventually grew up emotionally and understood that it wasn't always a helpful way to behave. As I grew older, I thought about why I behaved like that. 

I don't think it takes Einstein to see that I was craving male attention. I've always been drawn to tall men too. My father was 6ft 2ins. As life turned out,  I married for a second time to a man I'd known when I was 16 years old. (Yes, he's 6ft 3ins.) We often talk about our short, but happy relationship in 1967.  Our respective moves to different parts of the UK, meant we didn't stay together, but never 'fell out'. 

He and I can recall one time when he asked me, "why do you hug me so tightly?' I didn't know, other than I liked it. I loved hugs. As a younger teenager, I can remember my mother telling me off for 'mauling' her or cuddling my grandmother. What was I needing? Not just wanting. Really, really needing.

When I lived on my own at the age of 42, I craved hugs with my grown-up children. I'm a tactile person, but it's important to respect someone's space. I almost get it right, but can make mistakes.

We need to be touched. We need to give and receive attention. We need to give and receive love.

If we don't give and receive in a healthy way, then we may seek resolution in unhealthy ways.

Take that last sentence a little further. While I believe certain behaviours should not be excused, you can usually find reasons.

The Soroptimist Anti-Slavery Group created a bookmark. It is very good.

It relates to any relationship in any situation.
Straight. Gay. Parental. Sibling. Friend. Workplace. Social.

If this information isn't helpful for you, the odds are, that you will know someone it may help. Please pass this blog on. Thank you.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Keep it simple - unnecessary complexity?

I was vacuuming in someone else's house the other day. Topics for blogs can arise in varied situations.

I groaned inwardly when I saw the cleaner. A famous bagless model.  Not my favourite vacuum cleaner. But it had been many years since I'd used one, maybe it was better? It wasn't. I loathed every minute and had backache at the end of using it.

Around twenty years ago I had to buy a new vacuum cleaner. I was prepared to buy a good one and the revolutionary bagless model was new on the market. I went to a showroom and tried several types. My requirements were: an upright for a tall person, an easy to use crevice tool, easy disposal of contents and easy to unblock, if necessary.

I was more than ready to buy the bagless machine. "How do you get rid of the contents?", I asked. The answer was to remove the canister and empty the contents into the bin. Er, but that was messy, with dust flying about in the air. I looked at the crevice tool. Not impressed with extending tubes, handles etc: It seemed to me to be a question of style over substance. I bought one of the most simple to use on the market. Not cheap, but pretty much idiot proof. Perfect. And it has been.

Twenty years later and I find that things haven't changed. I know the bagless model has its admirers, but it's not for me. An awful machine.

It's similar for many machines. Lots of bells, whistles and knobs. I bet most readers have a washer, dryer, dishwasher or suchlike that has a dozen functions. How many get used? Not that many.

Complexity impresses. Complexity costs money. Complexity sells.

Complexity confuses. Complexity intimidates. Complexity breaks down.

A friend recently went into an Architectural practice and was surprised to find them using PCs. Most architects and graphic designers use Macs. One of the members of staff was an IT person. My friend said, "If there were Macs in here, you wouldn't have a job." The IT person answered, "I know, you're right."

In 1998 I heard a man talking about the psychotherapy business. "First of all there is an idea. An article is written about the idea. Then a chapter,  a book, a course, a degree...and so on..." He was illustrating the simplicity of a good idea, becoming a money maker and becoming complex. He was promoting a new idea. It was good, but in the end the creators lost the simplicity and got caught up in adding complexity to the idea. The beautifully simple idea became more complex. 

Of course, we need experts and we need complexity. I wouldn't be tapping away on this incredible machine, if it weren't for a complex idea and people willing to understand how to work with it. Same with cars, planes, trains and most machinery I use.

I'm not sure there is anyone who on meeting me would call me stupid, but my brain has always had a problem with complexity. It's as if my brain won't process it.  It used to concern me, but there's an upside. If I need to understand something that is confusing me, I remove the bits I don't understand.

One of the lessons I enjoyed at school was precis. We used to be given lengths of prose and had to cut it down by 30%, keeping the core truth intact. I can pare something down quickly. I can remove the gobbledygook and find the core truth. 

So, what's all this got to do with emotional health?
(A great deal of 'mental health problems' are more honestly, emotional health problems.)

Take a simple truth, that is contained in the thinking of anyone I've ever seen with an emotional health problem. "I don't feel good enough". In fact, the truth will often be, "I didn't feel good enough when I was a child."

That's it. The bottom line. From there have been built the monoliths of of psychiatry and psychotherapy. Not to say, Big Pharma. Vast amounts of time, money, energy and people's lives have been lost in trying to feel 'good enough'. So often, it about their emotional age needing to catch up with their chronological age and medication can't do that. 

Except the majority of people don't only want to feel good enough now, they really want their younger self to feel good enough.  

And that's impossible. Just like Chasing Rainbows. There is delusion in the illusion.

Must be more complex than that? You don't believe me?  Remember Hans Christian Anderson's  'The King's New Clothes'?

Oh yes, my vacuum cleaner is a Sebo.