“Can we talk about my eating?”

I get this particular request from my clients all the time, even though it may not seem like something someone would come to a psychotherapist for.

My clients ask it because, from their frustrated perspective, they can’t seem to control it, or they can sometimes, only to lose what control they gained a few months later. They blame themselves, wondering why they can’t seem to climb out of that particularly deep hole.

I personally feel their pain. I, too, struggle with eating at times. And in dealing with my own struggle, I’ve learned about what works for me, and how to emotionally support myself through it. I could say what these are, but honestly, for anyone with this struggle, anything in that regard that I say isn’t going to be surprising or new to them.

What I’d like to say something about, instead, is how eating is connected to discipline.

Yes, discipline! But possibly not in the way you might think.

I don’t mean beating up on yourself. Nor do I mean coming up with a rigid and unrealistic schedule. That’s what we tend to do.

Here’s a pattern I used to go into, and that you might recognize in yourself: I’d get upset over my weight, and want to be slimmer. This was most often (if not always) because I’d been comparing myself to someone slimmer; and that comparison would happen because I was already unhappy about myself or the situation I was currently in. My ‘solution’ would be to put myself on a diet. Being on a diet gave me a sense that I was in control of my life, at least in terms of my appearance. At first it would go fine, if feel in control of my life – even good about it. Then something would upset me, and I’d lose that control, regaining all the weight I’d lost, and then some.

Sound familiar? It wasn’t really about controlling my eating. It was about not liking myself.

That’s why people come to someone like me to try and deal with their eating. It’s emotional eating, based on not liking themselves, or of not being satisfied with who they are.

This leads to the answer that worked for me and would work for you – develop a healthy self-love so that you no longer have any need or desire to compare. Follow a way of living that supports you in really loving the way you look and feel, right this moment.

How does discipline fit in? It is about how you support yourself emotionally, and spiritually, in losing or gaining weight to a healthy number, and then maintaining that weight.

Discipline is a practice. It’s something you develop in order to train your mind and body to control your behaviour. It requires a commitment on your part, to follow a path, in this case, of your own making. It’s the opposite of self-indulgence. Self-indulgence, while feeling great at the time, doesn’t feel good later on. I can indulge, but when I over-indulge, I don’t feel good about myself, and that’s when I tend to beat up on myself. Once I developed my own discipline, I had a way of curbing that indulgence, and of feeling better and better about myself.

Here’s what worked for me at an emotional and spiritual level, and might also work for you:

Learn to appreciate and love who you are. This isn’t the same as being perfect. Nobody is ever perfect. What it means is that you fully accept who you are at this moment, and love yourself for that. Just as I love, say, my grandmother. I know she has ‘flaws’, and I love even those.

Pace yourself. I tend to over-fill my days, and to overwork. While I don’t expect that will ever change (I’ve tried and have come to accept this is part of who I am), I can pace myself. I’ve learned to recognize certain clues that let me know I’m beginning to overdo things. For instance, when I begin to panic or stress, I try to control things more by detailing every minute of my day. That’s my clue. What’s yours?

Rest when you feel tired. Take a nap, go to bed early, take a break from what you’re doing simply to relax your body. I tend to eat when I’m tired, as a way of forcing myself beyond my natural limits to keep on going. Learning to recognize this tendency helped me to rest instead of push.

Get a good 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly. I need 9 hours, you may not. If I don’t get those 9 hours, I set myself up for getting overly tired, and then eating sugars or processed foods to give me an energy boost. Sometimes I stay up way too late. Most of the time, when I do that, I know there’s something I’m worrying over, even if I don’t consciously feel it. I’ve learned to take a moment to find what that is and to do something that helps me let it go for that day.

Whenever I find I am forcing myself to do some task I don’t want to do, if I allow it to continue, I will turn to food. Whenever I push myself, I invariably turn to food for comfort. So, I’ve learned not to push myself most of the time. On those occasions I know I must push, I give myself a break, eat what I have to, and begin again the next day.

How I developed my own disciplinary practice may not be what works for you. Finding a way that works for you will require experimenting with different ways until you find what does. Whatever it is, it begins with a commitment to loving yourself, just as you are, at this very moment.

Need help building a better relationship with yourself? Reach out here to book a therapy appointment with Maryanne Nicholls.

Why dieting doesn’t usually work

Quote of the Week

A disciplined mind leads to happiness, and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness


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