How You Can Discover True Hunger After WLSSeptember 12, 2018
Obesity & the Princess and the Pea
I often use the imagery of the princess and the pea story when trying to illustrate what’s behind one’s obesity.
The pea is the problem. The pea is the source. The pea is where it once started. The pea is the heart of what we are really hungry for, and the mattresses are all those layers we have put on top of that pea, over time.
Each one standing for avoidance, addiction, helplessness, and/or martyr complexes. The list goes on. The mattresses are what stands between how we start to look on the outside, and what we truly need on the inside.
The problem is that, by the time someone has reached the point of clinical obesity, there are usually so many layers, that they don’t even feel the pea anymore. They’ve just adapted to all those layers over time, that have served to cover up the initial hurt and don’t even know why they overeat in the first place.
The person then begins to develop unhelpful narratives like:
- “I’m just not that disciplined of a person”
- “Everyone else has more willpower than me”
- “I don’t think I’m as driven as other people”
- “I’m just a lazy person”
- “Maybe I don’t deserve anything better”
Guess what we do when we feel badly? We behave badly. We respond to the toxic and insidious machine that is the food industry, laden with images of how high-sugar and high-fat foods can solve all of our problems; Models biting into cheeseburgers semi orgasmically, athletes pounding a candy bar whilst simultaneously winning the world cup, or two dudes, capable of competing in an iron man, sharing a beer together after a long day at work.
What is the tool that finally tears away the layers of mattresses and gets us right next to that pea? Awareness.
“Blah.” You say. “Another psychologist telling me to become a Buddhist monk in order to drop 50 pounds.”
But wait, just sit tight. This isn’t about asking you to sign up for the monastery just yet. I am not even asking you to start a meditation practice. I am simply asking you to raise your level of awareness through micro-actions throughout your day, that eventually transform your years.
Discover Your True Hunger After WLS
Awareness, or mindfulness, might be one of my favorite topics to discuss with weight loss patients. Part and parcel of any addictive or habitual behavior is - mindlessness.
Most people, at any given time, are ruminating in regret about the past, or fear of the future. We are stressed about the upcoming meeting with the boss tomorrow. We are chewing on what we should have said to our critical sister. We are sitting with an emotional callus, created years ago from physical, verbal, or sexual trauma. We have unfinished business; grief, breakup, divorce, financial loss, parental, or marital strain.
We condition ourselves to believe that the power to feel better lies in something outside of ourselves through quick fixes.
We avoid by watching mindless television. We bury ourselves in work. We cultivate a budding addiction- and food just happens to be the lowest hanging fruit of all the addictions- the easiest to maintain, because it’s all around every day. We put so much distance (the mattresses) between ourselves and our unfinished business (the pea) that we create habits.
All of a sudden, each day is lived until 6:00 pm when we can get home, eat a hearty dinner in front of the TV, and “finally unwind.” Maybe that isn’t your pattern. Maybe you work the night shift in a job you loathe, and that sugary snack towards the end of your day is the bump you need to get you through the last couple hours.
Maybe it’s something darker. Maybe you and your partner no longer share the same bed. Maybe you feel alone at night and food has become your companion. However, you’ve been doing it for so long that you don’t even see it that way, you are simply trained to mindlessly turn in for the night with a big bowl of popcorn, crunching away the resentment.
On a deeper level, maybe there is emotional trauma from your past. Maybe there are multiple traumas from your past. Multiple disappointments. Food became a way to self-soothe and nurture. Food is a way to feel full within ourselves. Except, ironically it is starting to hurt you further.
Think about it- when we try to escape old trauma through addiction, we inevitably and ironically perpetuate the very suffering we wanted to get away from by creating a secondary problem- addiction.
How Do We Break Free? How Do We Wake Up?
To cultivate awareness, or mindfulness is a daily event. When we practice mindfulness as it relates to our relationship with food, it often starts as a backward process.
You are standing in front of your pantry, looking for something to eat. You immediately snap to and ask the question “what just happened right before this?” Your response might be “oh yeah I just got a call that a bill is overdue and I am stressed now about our money this month. I went to food to help soothe me.”
5 Steps to Discover Your True Hunger After WLS
Step 1: Step back.
At this moment, you would take a step back. Close the pantry door. Sit and simply observe the anxiety or stress that might be present as a result of worrying about your financial situation.
Step 2: Go deep.
Can you go deeper at this point? Maybe you grew up with a parent who floundered when it came to managing finances. Maybe you grew up in poverty and the feeling of scarcity was ever present.
The goal is not to judge the thoughts (“I need to relax. Other people don’t stress this much,” or “I shouldn’t feel this way, that was years ago.”) and simply observe and accept them. You can note how they are present in your body. Maybe you feel a tightness in your jaw, a warmth in your face? Maybe you feel butterflies in your stomach.
Step 3: Check-in.
Ask yourself- “what am I really hungry for in this moment?” Do I need to sit and take a hard look at my finances to set myself and my family straight? Do I need to seriously trim the fat in our spending? Do I need to re-strategize how to bring in other forms of revenue to feel more secure? Do I simply need to remind myself that an old trauma is being triggered and not indicative of the future, but merely of something that deeply affected you in the past.
Maybe you're procrastinating because you have a big project coming due. What am I really hungry for? I want to finish this project. Maybe I need to seek advice as to how to approach this juggernaut of a problem. The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Can I chunk this thing out into do-able concrete steps?
Step 4: Yay You!
Congratulate yourself on taking the first step towards clipping the neuronal wires of mindlessness and cultivating the synapses of mindfulness.
Step 5: Focus Swap.
After devoting a good 5-10 minutes to simply sitting with “the pea,” choose to pair that pea with something else besides food. Focus on something else. Something that does not enhance the feeling of stress, but another feeling that is positive. Perhaps you open that funny email from a co-worker, maybe you go and read to your child or play a silly game, maybe you hug your spouse, or call a friend and plan a night out.
If you can build this muscle of bringing mindfulness to your mindlessness you will radically transform the way you relate to food.
We must also, continuously be able to identify when we are caught up in an unhelpful “tape.” You know the tape that tells us we aren’t disciplined enough, the tape that rationalizes why today it is ok to not do our best, the tape that tells us the upcoming meeting is going to be rife with conflict and overwhelmingly stressful.
Simply identifying that a tape is playing is half the battle. Dealing with the “pea(s)” head-on is the other half. Once we do this- we can take a step back and feel proud of ourselves. We can begin to feel a sense of mastery and hope for true and lasting transformation.
ABOUT THE AUTHORDr. Colleen Long is a licensed clinical psychologist and couples therapist. She is a nationally sought after expert on relationships and has appeared on Dr. Drew, HLN, Discovery Channel, The Jeff Probst Show, E!, and was most recently featured on A&E's Surviving Marriage. She offers a free course WLS/VSG Psychological Supplement for Sustained Weight Loss.
Read more articles by Dr. Colleen Long!