Is obesity all in the mind and if it is, can we change our mind?

I wrote before about hunger and this prompted a post from a fellow blogger on the same subject.

Read my post here Not Hungry  and my fellow blogger’s musings here Musings On Hunger

I’ve been reading lots of blog posts about cravings for foods, stuffing faces with things we shouldn’t have and it’s got me thinking. It’s also got me sad because we beat ourselves up so much over it. We’re the bulimics who don’t throw up afterwards, we feel good for a moment and then we feel sad, depressed, fatter and the cycle which keeps us fat continues.

It struck a chord with me in the post above that the blogger compared it to self harmers cutting themselves. Meaning that when we eat out of compulsion it is our way of self harming, we do it out of a compulsion.

It’s not hunger, it isn’t. If it was hunger it wouldn’t happen right after a big meal or when we are full already. Hunger is the body’s way of telling us we need food. We don’t feel hunger when we’ve just eaten.

Perhaps it is our mind taking over our body and putting it into self destruct by fooling us into thinking we are hungry, by mimicking hunger and replicating those feelings so that we stuff our faces or binge on chocolate or whatever. Let’s face it we don’t get cravings for apples do we, or a nice cucumber, it’s always ‘bad’ stuff.

Also, how many times have you been ‘starving’ or read obsessing about food and the phone has rang or someone’s walked in to your office and you’ve carried on another 3 hours without food because you’re not hungry any more? I know it’s happened to me. I’ve been convinced I’m hungry knowing there’s a cake in the kitchen and the baby’s woken up or someone’s knocked on the door and it’s not until midnight that night that I realise I didn’t  get around to having any of the cake and it’s still in the kitchen.

If as the blogger above says we are self destructing it could be for some deep seated reason perhaps that we don’t even understand, remember or know… remember fears are instilled in us often at a young age before we can remember why we developed the fear so we can feasibly assume that other things can be too, such as a need to self destruct or a self loathing.

So if our body is tricking us into self harming in the obese person’s way, not by cutting but by eating, then we need to consider how we divert that desire to do that damage. Speaking to a ‘typical’ self harmer and to any psychiatrist or psychologist (and having worked in mental health for years I’ve spoken to plenty of each) the compulsion doesn’t go away. You can’t stop wanting to do it, you can only control wanting to do it and one such way is through diversion, change the focus rather than fight it.

This got me thinking about when I stopped smoking. I received a wonderful piece of advice which I have never before thought to apply to eating and that was simply this:

When you have a craving and you will have cravings for years after you stop smoking, they may come less and less frequently with time but they will come, but when they come instead of coping with the craving or fighting it by focusing on it, divert your attention to something else and the craving will subside. You can substitute the cigarette for food or for a drink in the case of an alcoholic.

If you want a cigarette (food) at 10am and you fight it, you try to resist it, you argue with yourself you are focusing on it, you can’t get it out of your head. What happens? You can bet your bottom dollar you will still be craving that cigarette (food) at 11am and still at noon and at 1pm and 2pm. You just will, it will take you over. In truth you will have given in by about 11 anyway and smoked/eaten or whatever.

But if you want a cigarette (food) at 10am and you divert your attention, you put in some laundry, you do some ironing, you change the beds, if at work you make those phone calls on the to do list you tidy your work area, if out and about you make a call, send some texts, read a bit of a book, dip into a shop, strike up a conversation with someone by 10.05 the craving  WILL have gone. Even if it comes back at 11 and you divert your attention again it WILL be gone by 11.05.

That way you are not fighting your craving for hours at a time, instead you are fighting it for seconds or minutes at a time. Eventually your body gives up craving so often once it realises you are in control and you are not giving in… think of it as training your inner spoilt child. Oh gosh Freud would love this, controlling the Id and all that.

This worked for me, it was how I stopped smoking, I didn’t use any aids, I just practiced that and I also took it hour by hour, I went a morning with no cigarette, a lunch time, an afternoon, a tea time, an evening, I’d done a day, I could do another day, I could do another morning, another lunch time…. and so on until I could do another week, another month, another year.

One of the tactics and this will sound ridiculous which worked for me was to do a crazy dance every time I wanted a cigarette. This was something my kids came up with for me because I could do it no matter where I was, I didn’t need to rely on anything else to distract me. If I was with my kids I would say “I’m craving a cigarette” and they would point to my feet and shout “Dance monkey girl, dance!” and I would do this crazy little bum wiggle, mash potato style dance thing and the craving would go in seconds. Crazy but it worked.When they weren’t there I would do it for myself, i conditioned myself to think “Need a cigarette, not having one, dance monkey girl dance” and I would do my little dance just for a moment and the craving was gone. And yes I did it in supermarkets in the street and I didn’t care because I would rather that than ever smoke again.

I’m going  to adopt this approach to resisting food cravings. I’m going to bring monkey girl back (don’t ask why they called me that I have no clue). The more I think about this, the more I read, the more I think about the post I linked to above the more I think that we can recondition our brains to not bother trying to make us destroy ourselves anymore. Maybe that’s the key. it’s got to be worth a try.

Maybe our brain just knows how awesome we are, because let’s face it most obese people are awesome people and it just wanted us to figure this last piece out for ourselves. The brain is a powerful tool and we are given no challenge in life that we can not overcome, I firmly believe that.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

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