Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How To Soothe Yourself (without food)

Not long ago, I took my daughter to the park and while she was with friends, I noticed two toddlers playing in the nearby sandbox. They scooped sand into a pail, digging happily.  One of them got up and suddenly ran off with the shovel. The other, a little girl, burst into tears.

Her anxious mother ran up, saying, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, it’s okay.”

The little girl continued to bawl.

Her mother hurriedly reached into her bag and pulled out a box of animal crackers. “Here,” she said, shoving the cookie towards her daughter, “Have a cookie.”

I wanted to say:


Instead, I restrained myself (which took a considerable amount of self-control).  Here's why I was upset:

When the mother handed out a cookie as a way to stop the crying, that little girl tacitly learned her feelings are upsetting to other people.  She got the message that either she shouldn’t have upset feelings or show them, but if she absolutely could not stop those feelings, a cookie would resolve the problem.

Then I realized this exchange between mother and child replicated the internal process of binge eating. When you start to feel something - anger, sadness, hurt, resentment, and so forth - a part of you might resist the feeling, as if saying, "Don't feel that! It's too uncomfortable! I can't deal!"
That's when you might turn to food to cope or distract, or start attacking yourself or your body in some other way.

Other possible responses to this situation:

dismissive parent might not notice that the girl was crying or might glance over and say, “You’re okay. It’s not the end of the world.” The girl learns her feelings are of no interest to others.
An angry parent might snap, “Stop crying, already!” The girl learns her feelings upset and irritate others.

supportive parent would say, “Of course you’re upset, it’s okay to cry it out. Your feelings are hurt.”  The girl learns that her feelings are worthy of her attention and that it's okay to express them.

Food for thought:
  • How do you soothe yourself when you’re upset?
  • Where did you learn to relate to yourself this way?
  • What would you say to a friend or loved one who is upset?

How do you soothe yourself without food?
Speak to yourself in a supportive way.   Do this:

  • Acknowledge the feeling:  "I feel upset."
  • Validate the feeling:  "Of course I feel this way.  How else could I feel?"
  • Remind yourself it's temporary:  "I feel this way right now, but this feeling will subside."

When you soothe yourself with words and support yourself through challenging, difficult and upsetting situations, you WILL feel better and stop using food for comfort!!

A note on mothers (and fathers): Parents usually do their best, given their circumstances and their upbringing, but sometimes their "best" can be harmful to their children. It's not helpful to blame parents, because that can keep people in a victim stance (ie, "It's their fault I'm this way!"). Explaining why you feel or react in certain ways can be healing, as it helps you understand why you react to yourself the way you do.  Considering a different response leads to empowerment (ie, "I understand that my upbringing impacted me in a particular way, but now that I get it, I can work to change it.")

Remember, you're not alone in this battle.  Together, we will make peace with food!

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