Thinking Out Loud 2/5/15: If We Hate What We Do, Why Do We Do It?

Good morning, everybody! I’m linking up with Amanda on this fine Thursday to share some of what’s been on my mind lately. I recently read this article, and it gave me a few things to think about. Do you have any behaviors that you feel compelled to engage in despite the fact that they make you feel utterly terrible? I know that I do, and I know that I’m not alone. It doesn’t make sense, does it? If we know that these things will leave us feeling horrible, why do them?  We do these things because, at one point, they worked for us.

Allow me to use some of my own destructive behaviors as an example. A few days ago, I did not eat enough for breakfast or lunch. I knew this because I was still hungry after both meals. Rather than eating something else, I went to the store, bought some gum, and bought a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper. Then, I proceeded to spend the rest of my afternoon still hungry, chewing gum, drinking soda, and feeling like shit. As I did these things, I asked myself why in the world I was doing them. Why did I buy gum? Why did I buy soda? I am far enough in recovery to know that I would only feel worse if I did these things, so why the hell did I still do them?

In my most restrictive days, I chewed gum and drank diet soda like it was my day job. Two packs of gum and a few cans of soda later, I would feel utterly terrible, but I felt like I couldn’t help myself. I relied on these habits more and more as my eating disorder progressed, and the reason I did so is quite simple: when I was starving all of the time and I knew that I would not allow myself more food, gum and diet soda provided temporary relief. They occupied my mouth and my taste buds, but because they did not deliver any of what my body actually needed (food), I felt the need to compulsively chew twenty pieces of gum or guzzle a liter or two of Diet Dr. Pepper rather than just having a piece or a can. After my gum and diet soda fiasco the other day, I realized that my body and mind still panic when I am not eating enough. They panic and they crave the two things that I used to constantly offer in place of food: a pack of gum and a diet soda.

Now, when I’m having a rough day where I am not eating enough, it’s as if my brain and body do not trust that I will feed them real food. They continue to crave gum, even though I can chew through an entire pack and only feel worse. They still crave soda, even though I don’t enjoy the taste all that much anymore and it never fills my stomach up in the way I want it to. I still do these things because, at one point, they (kind of, sort of, temporarily) worked. They took my mind off of my starving body for at least a little while, something I was grateful for at the time.

I am far enough in my recovery process to know better than to chew a pack of gum instead of eating a snack. I know better than to get a gigantic Diet Dr. Pepper from McDonad’s and drink it in five minutes flat. I know better, but I revert to old behaviors from time to time. I don’t feel good about it and admitting this slip to myself and others is hard, but a huge part of recovery is having grace with oneself, and I am choosing to use this as a lesson rather than an opportunity to beat myself up. After giving it some thought, I now know that I do these things not because I lack self-control or willpower. I do them because my brain is relying on old coping mechanisms that used to work, but do not anymore. Simply realizing that these coping mechanisms developed for a reason is empowering. It makes me feel a little bit less crazy. Most importantly, this realization lets me see the ways in which I can prevent my brain from trying the same door again and again, hoping for different results but coming back disappointed each time.

I can prevent the out-of-control gum chewing and soda consumption by eating enough food. For me, that is the single best preventative measure I can take. If I’m not hungry, I don’t crave the gum or the soda. It’s as simple as that. To those without an eating disorder, this solution probably sounds obvious, but for those of us who tend to err on the side of under-eating, that can be easier said than done. Fortunately, we have the chance to choose the right thing for our recovery multiple times per day. Just because the morning was spent hungry does not mean the afternoon needs to be spent the same way, and just because yesterday was spent hungry does not mean that today needs to meet the same fate.

Consciously deciding to eat enough offers us the opportunity to recondition our brains. Reconditioning occurs each and every time that we choose a different path. When I am hungry after lunch and I eat something else instead of drinking a diet soda, or I have a snack before bed instead of chewing a pack of gum, I am rewiring my brain. I am teaching my brain that I will feed my body and, fortunately for me and for all of us, brains are highly teachable. It may take time and it will certainly take effort, but the human body is capable of incredible things. If we use the same strength and determination that went into making us sick to help us heal, our bodies will learn to trust us once more.

That wraps up this Thursday’s thoughts. I leave for Seattle to visit one of my best buds tomorrow, and I can’t wait! I used to go to Seattle fairly often as a kid, but I haven’t been in quite a while and I’m looking forward to seeing the city and my wonderful friend again. For now, I’m going to go brush my teeth and get ready for my day – that is if I can get my cat to vacate the sink, her most recent napping location of choice.  I hope the rest of your Thursday treats you right!

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6 thoughts on “Thinking Out Loud 2/5/15: If We Hate What We Do, Why Do We Do It?

  1. Oh your kitty in the sink just may have made my day! I know whet you mean – how we give in to our habits (in every part of life) even though we know, time and time again, how shitty they can make us feel. Recently I’ve gotten a smidge better at this – it literally has just taken a lot of practise – but to spot the behaviour, then question it, and try to come up with a better solution that I know will make me feel better, not worse. Bloody hard to do all that when you’re being reactive and are acting quickly, but like I said – practise seems to help!

  2. Bad habits are tough to break. But it helps if you replace them with better, more beneficial ones. And eating enough is a HUGE deal in the recovery process… not only because it keeps us from resorting to habits that trick our hunger, but also because it helps our brains work better so that we’re not tempted by those darker thoughts. For reals. I struggle a lot more with everything when I subconsciously under eat, and I find that the only way to keep those thoughts at bay is make sure my brain is getting enough of the good stuff. It comes with time 🙂

  3. This spoke SO MUCH to me, I found myself saying “yep” and “so true” through the whole read. Thank you for such a wonderful post, it could not have come at a better time for me. I am so happy for you in your recovery process to recognize how smart our bodies are and be so open to breaking the old habits the we know only make us feel worse 🙂 Love your blog!

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad that you could relate to what I had to say. It’s frustrating when we know that we’re hurting ourselves by doing what we’re doing, but hopefully even having some awareness helps us break the cycle 🙂

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