But back at your desk, the nagging self-talk begins again. “Well, that wasn’t very satisfying! You should have gotten the chips, after all.” But it’s too late, I’m back at my desk, and I shouldn’t have anything else.
“But you really want the chips!” your self-talk says. You answer: But they are too fattening, and I’ve got to get back to work. This only intensifies the nagging: “You gotta have the chips, gotta have the chips, gotta have the chips.” After many minutes of this nagging, you resist no longer; you’re back at the vending machine, getting the chips and the donut.
What happened? If you are a chronic dieter, your self-talk has convinced you that choosing something “good” but “forbidden”—something sugary or fatty—is what you really want. Your head tells you to use willpower to fight the urges and resist. But your self-talk tells you, on a subconscious but powerful level, “but you want it, you want it. Just a bite, just this one, You won’t eat any thing else ‘bad’ for the rest of the week.” Thus, the tug-of-war begins. You fight your craving and fight your craving and fight your craving and pretty soon the craving becomes an obsession until you have lost control.
That’s what happens when you are on a diet and you want something sweet. One side of your brain is driving you toward a particular food, and the other side is telling you ,”no, no, not good, stay away.” Your desire has now been categorized as “bad,” and you fight it until you can stand it no more and you give in. You feel guilty because you succumbed to the forbidden, and, as a result, you are driven to eat even more—sometimes to the point of sickness—all with the resolve that “tomorrow I’ll get back on my diet and I will never go off it again.” And the pounds pile on.
Changing the Voice
But what if you changed that voice in your head that divides food into “good” and “bad” categories? What if that voice gave you permission to have a mouth-satisfying snack when you wanted it? What if it allowed you to have a dessert after a meal? How can you do that without sabotaging your efforts to eat these foods respectfully and moderately? How can you do this and still maintain the weight your body was meant to carry?
You can do this by changing your self-talk before, during and after eating. For example: when you have a craving for one of your “forbidden” foods, your knee-jerk reaction is to fight it, to tell yourself you can’t give in, you can’t eat this food without wanting a huge quantity of it. What if you instead changed this self-talk to this: “I have power over food. There is nothing inherently ‘bad’ about this food. I can eat this food mindfully and stop when I’m satisfied.” This is an example of using your self-talk to your advantage, not to your detriment.
Three Steps towards Change
Here are three simple steps to help you begin to change your self-defeating behavior when it comes to eating:
Step # 1: Awareness. Become aware of your self-talk. Be mindful of when it occurs and what messages it delivers. Especially be aware of when your negative self-talk drives you to eat more than you need or want. Also, notice when you lapse into your “good food/bad food” categories---challenge those bad food categories by showing yourself that you can indeed eat them mindfully and respectfully. Remind yourself that you have power over food.
Step # 2: Be Mindful. Stay in the moment with your food. That means you eat it mindfully, fully tasting it and checking in with yourself to see if you’ve had enough. Are you satisfied? Do you need a little more? Are the next few bites going to taste better than the first few? And if you do want more, don’t judge it! Remember that guilt over what you’ve eaten is much more fattening than the food itself. A good start to learning to eat mindfully would be the Basic Mindful Bite covered at this web site.
Step # 3: Affirmations. Challenge your old negative self-talk and counter it with positive affirmations. When you’ve finished your meal and you immediately want more, ask yourself why? Your immediate answer is that it tastes good! But be on the lookout for the more subliminal reason: that old voice of yours is telling you that you can’t stop once you start. You can’t have just one portion. You have to have more and you have to have it now. Now, however, you have the awareness and the power to talk back to that voice. Use it! Of course I want more. It tastes good! But I now know that I can have this food again the next time I am really craving it. And I needn’t worry—I will crave it again. So I can stop now and I will. I have power over food. I eat slowly, and in small amounts, savoring each bite.
Countering your self-talk and eating mindfully will take time before they become second nature. It is a challenge to overcome what may be a lifetime of negative thinking and compulsive eating, but it can be done. That is the way to true freedom from the obsession and compulsion with food…and the excess weight that comes with it.
Have you ever thought about how much your self-talk affects your eating? Most people aren’t even aware of self talk, because they tend to go “unconscious” when they eat. They not only eat mindlessly, but they are unaware of what they are telling themselves before, during, and after eating. Believe it or not, your self-talk can be more damaging to your weight management goals than a triple-decker chocolate cake and a pound of candy. How? It sabotages how and what you choose to eat.
It all starts with awareness. Imagine this situation: You’re on a diet, and it’s the type that deprives you of many of the foods you love. You’re at your desk and it’s 3:00 p.m. Your internal, self-talk voice is nagging at you: “You want something to eat and you want it now.” Your first thought may be to push such ideas away, but sooner or later you scan your options: apple? yogurt? carrot sticks? candy bar? chips? donut? You know which ones are “healthy” for you, but the voice says: “No…you want something sweet.” In spite of the underlying, unconscious guilt you may feel, you decide to get a candy bar instead of the “healthier” choices. You go to the vending machine, get the bar, and gobble it down before anyone sees you.