The alarm clock goes off.
Your eyes flutter open.
Still drowsy from sleep, you turn over and glance up to see someone who looks remarkably like Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” standing over your bed.
He stares down at you, face like stone, eyes cold and unblinking, as he barks:
“RISE AND SHINE, SCUMBAG! TODAY YOU WILL EAT HEALTHY FOOD AND NOTHING BUT HEALTHY FOOD! YOU WILL EXERCISE FOR PRECISELY ONE HOUR – I DO NOT GIVE A HOOT ABOUT YOUR SO-CALLED TENDINITIS! YOU WILL COMPLETE EVERYTHING ON YOUR “TO DO” LIST, INCLUDING TAKING YOUR CAT, KATY PURRY, TO THE VET BECAUSE SHE’S TWO MONTHS OVERDUE FOR HER WORM TREATMENT! I DO NOT CARE IF YOU DID NOT SLEEP WELL OR THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE A CASE OF THE SNIFFLES, THERE WILL BE NO EXCUSES AND NO COMPLAINING! YOU WILL COMPLY WITH THESE ORDERS BECAUSE YOUR ASS IS MINE!”
You then shout “SIR, YES, SIR!” as he harasses you out by bed by threatening to tear you a new something if you don’t submit to his demands within three seconds.
Is this how you start your day?
Of course it isn’t (at least I hope not).
The point I’m making is that we often begin issuing orders to ourselves from the moment we wake up.
As a result of our early experiences in life, we can develop a very demanding side to our personalities that puts pressure on us to DO THINGS PERFECTLY and GET STUFF DONE.
How often do you tell yourself first thing in the morning “I’m going to stick to healthy eating today” only to find yourself overeating or bingeing later because it “all went wrong” when someone brought a birthday cake into work?
Maybe you tell yourself you have to exercise every single day for a set amount of time and the moment you break your regime – because you were too busy or got sick or just didn’t feel like it – you berate yourself for having zero self-discipline and give up moving your body altogether.
Perhaps you supply yourself with a list of daily tasks and then spend your life running around at breakneck speed trying to get everything done. Either that or you find yourself getting nothing done because you’ve suddenly decided it was vitally important to update your Facebook page or catch up with several episodes of Gilmore Girls from 2003 on Netflix.
If you put pressure on yourself in this way, you can spend your life feeling constantly anxious, stressed and harried.
How does this relate to emotion-driven overeating?
Because when you’re stressed, the likelihood is that you reach for food.
Faced with such relentless internal pressure, you need something for yourself in order to deal with it and keep going – food is that something.
Food becomes a reward, a release, a comfort or a diversion.
Further to that, if you’re under the whip of this demanding side you never get to appreciate how well you’re doing because no sooner have you achieved one thing then it rushes you onto the next. The overriding message is “whatever you do will never be enough and you will never be good enough”.
This sets you up for life-long dissatisfaction with yourself that begins every day with “I must do” and usually ends with “I’ve failed”. Then you lie in bed swearing to yourself that tomorrow will be different and the cycle begins all over again.
So why not take the pressure off?
Instead of Sergeant Hartman issuing his orders, what if you started the day by saying “Good morning, sunshine. What would you like to do today?” You could then consider how you would really like to eat, how you would really like to move your body or how you would really like to spend your time.
This doesn’t mean I’m handing you a Get Out of Jail Free card to bimble about all day and shirk your responsibilities – we all have our daily load. I’m just asking you to consider your preferences alongside your obligations and think about how you would really like to live your life. After all, it’s your life.
“But I need that part of me to motivate me”, you might argue. “Without it I won’t get anything done”.
But healthy motivation comes from the part of us that knows we need balance. The part of us that urges us to rest as well as to achieve, to play as well as to work, to meet all our responsibilities without forgetting to enjoy life.
Perhaps instead of “I have to eat healthily” you could think “I decide what I eat according to what will satisfy and nourish me”.
Rather than “I ought to exercise every day” maybe “I listen to my body about how it likes to move”.
As an alternative to “I must get everything done” you could say “It’s important for me to relax as well as to achieve”.
Many things in life are out of our control, but what we say to ourselves isn’t one of them.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting yourself to be perfect. Be open to what happens today and how you’re feeling. Tell your inner drill sergeant to back the hell off and see what impact that has on your eating.
Above all, support yourself, care for yourself and remind yourself that you – yes, you – are absolutely good enough.