Why distractions to stop binge eating don’t work

May 19, 2022

Have you been looking for ways to distract yourself and stop binge eating?

I don’t believe distractions are the best way to stop binges. Quite the opposite.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve focused on slowing down and on spending time connecting deeply with people, food and with myself.

I bumped into a couple of messages that inspired me to take it slow and be more mindful of my mental wellbeing, especially while surfing the web, eating, connecting with other (and more in general in life).

Being your own digital gardener

First, I read an article pointing out at the importance of digital decluttering. There was something in particular that resonated with me, which is this:

It’s easier to become mindful of the clutter in our wardrobe or our living room, because their size is obvious, visible and tangible.

It is way more difficult to notice the confusion and clutter created by files, apps, frequent messages on your phone or the constant flow of content on the social networks.

That made me reflect, quite deeply, and I’m after realising how much I look for my phone to rest and chill-out, when the best choice would be to close my eyes and sleep or focus on my breath, for example.

I’ve been resisting letting go of such reliance on the phone for a while.

That’s why I’m experimenting with embracing the idea of being my own digital gardener. I mean spending less but more mindful time online and also being mindful of fostering the same for the wonderful people who follow me on The Mindful Body’s profile, by posting myself a bit less but making it more helpful and meaningful content.

We can definitely achieve more and get an overall sense of wellbeing when we focus deeply on less.

The way out is in

The second message came last night as I watched “A cloud never dies” on YouTube. It’s a new biographical documentary about Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, where he shares this great message:

“The way out is in.

To go back to oneself and take care of oneself,

learning how to generate a feeling of joy,

how to generate a feeling of happiness,

how to handle a painful feeling, a painful emotion,

listening to the suffering,

allows understanding and compassion to be born and this way we suffer less.”

Both these messages have brought me back to the importance of becoming more present to myself, of going back within, simplifying, instead of constantly looking out and dispersing my focus looking for answers in what others are doing, eating, saying and sharing out there.

These same messages served as a reminder of the fact that there are some very powerful forces which can prevent us from taking action to be and do what really matters the most to us:

  • Distraction from what’s here & now
  • Mental clutter
  • Fear of doing things differently (from what most people do)
  • Disconnection from inner life

Where am I going with this? You might wonder…

Well, my point here is this.

If you’re trying to change something about your relationship with food & your body (or anything else in life, really!), building mindful presence and eliminating mental clutter & distraction will be fundamental for you to win the resistance to change and progress in the journey.

CHANGE RESISTANCE ACTION

Changing that relationship requires you to move from awareness of what is causing discomfort to taking action, so that you can generate more feelings of joy, or simply build more acceptance and peace in that relationship which now feels very complicated.

When you are put in front of the need to take action, fears will arise and they will create resistance to change.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this in the past when trying to change something in your life. You feel all ready and motivated to change, you collect all the information and resources you believe you’ll need in order to do it.

Then, at some point, resistance arises and you just can’t seem to find the way to break through the other side of that resistance.

Make space and focus on your own thing

What will turn out to be very helpful in navigating the resistance and the fears you might experience in that changing process is:

  1. Developing the ability to create that mental space (declutter and eliminate distraction) and stay present to both what’s happening inside you as you try to change and what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Focus on your own thing, your own path and your own vision of where you’d like to be, instead of following what everybody else does or say you should do.

THE WAY OUT OF DISCOMFORT IS IN

Remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching: 

The way out is in.

The way out of suffering is one that goes inside yourself not outside.

You look inwards, make space for your specific needs and your feelings, instead of looking outside and seek out the magic formula someone else is promising will end your suffering (normally an expensive product, carefully marketed and presented as the n.1 solution to all your problems).

Dieting is the perfect example

I always strive to find examples to better explain the point I want to make and in this case I believe dieting is THE example to explain how looking outside of yourself is unhelpful when you’re working at changing the relationship with food and your body.

If you’re here, you’ve probably followed one or more diets before, so this example should be relatable enough for you to get a sense of what I’ve shared so far.

Let’s look at the four points I mentioned from the dieting perspective:

  • Distraction from what’s here & now. As you’ve heard me saying before, dieting is a great form of distraction. It distracts you from what the real issue may be, from what might be causing the struggle with food in the first place. Those deeply rooted issues never get resolved while the focus keeps being on the food. Add to that the fact that when you’re not happy about what you eat as you follow the diet, you’re likely day-dreaming about the next time you’ll be allowed to eat what you really want or about the “cheat day”. It’s very difficult in this situation to stay present to the here & now and fully enjoy your meal or not to think about a binge.
  • Mental clutter. Dieting & the diet mentality contributes to a lot of mental clutter: the food rules, the conflicting messages about what’s good to eat and what’s not good to eat, the chats around weight-loss and the constant messaging about what a healthy diet should look or not look like, counting points and adding them to an app, etc. Exhausting, isn’t it? If that chit-chat is playing in your mind 24/7, I hear you! It’s a lot of mindspace to be hijacked by just one aspect of one’s life.
  • Fear of doing things differently (from what most people do). What most people do when they feel unhappy about their body, their relationship with food (or even areas not directly related with food & body) is starting a diet. That’s what the majority of people do. It provides the temporary feeling of controlling and accomplishing something. Becoming aware of the fact that the problem is not food itself, but rather food is just a symptom of something deeper, it’s not a conclusion you make straightaway. Even after coming to that conclusion, it takes time to decide you want to try something different to solve the problem, something most people don’t do.
  • Disconnection from inner life. One or more diets over the course of your life create disconnection from your body and your inner sensations. Have you ever asked yourself, for example, “What do I really want to eat right now?” and the answer was “I don’t have a clue!”. So many women I connect with share this feeling of not knowing how or what to eat anymore. It’s understandable. Diet after diet, rule after rule, it gets more and more difficult to recognise the variety of foods that really satisfy you, because your taste & choice might be deeply buried underneath the million layers of food rules that sit like a microchip in your mind. Likewise, weigh-in after weigh-in it’s easier to lose track of all the great things your body keeps doing for you, despite the enourmous amount of stress and discomfort you put it through with each and every single diet. No wonder it takes time and patience to change that, as it’s like re-setting your mind to the manufacturer setting.

Dieting is just an example, although a big one to be honest.

Other examples of great distractors from your own journey to food freedom and body acceptance, which disconnect you from the here and now and from focusing on your own path, include:

  • Social media, especially those pages and influencers which make you feel bad about yourself, your size, your food choices, or promote a weight-loss or weight-centric lifestyle, keeping you stuck in “comparison mode” and making you obsessed about your body.
  • Slimming clubs/outlets, for the same exact reasons mentioned above.
  • Binge-watching and content over-consumption. Coming back to my “being the gardener of my own mind” intention (which I mentioned earlier on): How many times you could make space to do less/nothing, take a quick nap or a moment to follow your breath, and instead you turn on the tv to binge on Netflix, or open your laptop to play some games for hours? I’m not saying these things are wrong. What I’m saying is we could be all more mindful about how much time we spend on those. And also observe how many time consuming food mindlessly comes into the equation when you’re in front of a screen.
  • Workaholism. Yes, working to the point of burnout and occupying 80/90% of your waking hours with work, work, work doesn’t help your relationship with food & your body. And if most of your colleagues do it, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good to follow them on the road to burnout. There’s way more than work to life. I’m sure you know this already. However, how much do you really practice this conviction in your daily life?

I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. I’m just curious to know if any of these in particular resonates with you? If you find any of these distract you from the goals or intentions you set to improve something in your relationship with food, or in your life?

If you feel like sharing, leave a comment and let me know. I learn a lot from conversations, way more than I do from monologues with myself!

Take example from the sunflower (a mini practice)

A sunflower in the middles of a field
  • I invite you to close your eyes and try to imagine you are a wonderful sunflower, standing nice and tall, in the middle of a big green field.
  • It’s the dawn, the sun is rising and the sunflower slowly opens up and moves its head up to offer it to the sun.
  • Try and see if you can notice what it feels like to fully open yourself up to the energy of the sun and grow taller and stronger. Be mindful of the other trees out there, and the wildlife around you. What sounds, noises can you hear?
  • Then, when the sun goes down and it’s time to rest, like the sunflower you surrender to that and peacefully turn your head down, returning to yourself, until the next dawn.
  • During this resting time, the field and the animals around you get quieter. Your focus is inward. There’s enough space and time to slow down, which also helps you grow taller and stronger.

 

There’s a time to go outward and there’s also a time to go inward.

If your tendency is to look outward most of the time, in an eternal search for the energy that comes from the external, these are some questions for your journal today:

  • How could you make more time to turn inwards, rest and give your mind & your body the chance to relax from the noise and the distractions around you?
  • What are two moments of your day where you can go back to yourself/make space just for yourself, away from screens, noise, clutter?
  • What will creating that space make possible for you?
  • Which fears arise as you think about making that space?
  • What do you need to remind yourself, if you’ll you feel awkward for doing something most people around you don’t do?

Stay with this practice as much as you need and journal about what comes up, if you like.

With kindness,

Dona 🌷

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Would you like sharing about this and other issues with like-minded women and doing some journaling together?

Why not join The Mindful Body Women Circle? It’s a group support for women who want to increase the confidence in their body, and learn to enjoy eating again, without guilt.

Click here if you’d like to find out more!

 

Donatella Porceddu. Contact me.
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Written by Donatella Porceddu

I am a registered psychologist and life coach specialised in binge and emotional eating, body kindness, and mindful eating. I empower women to become the best version of themselves through my comprehensive approach, which combines personal coaching and psychology, leveraging my client’s strengths and building around their opportunities.

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If you have any questions, reach out to me today. I’ll be more than happy to connect with you and see how I can help.

Donatella Porceddu Psychologist & Eating Coach specialised in Binge Eating, Overeating, Emotional Eating, Food freedom, anti-diet approach. 1:1 support through my Make Peace with Food program.

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