React or Respond
Although it’s not all you have, the moment is where the work is at regarding changing thoughts about and behaviors around eating. Hopefully, you’re engaged in ongoing information gathering about food, yourself, and the world to influences your choices at any given time and continually assessing whether you’ve been staying on course or straying from it. Even so, what you choose to do in the moment is what counts most.
Two postings last month on my Food and Feelings Message board HYPERLINK "http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings got me thinking about ways to ensure that we make effective decisions. One comment described the difference between reacting and responding. To paraphrase, the commenter described reacting as taking action from the emotional part of the brain and responding as taking action based on higher order think, ie, from our cognitive abilities. Impulsively refusing or accepting food without thinking is reacting. Deliberating about choices, reflecting about what would satisfy, or evaluating consequence regarding health and satisfaction is responding. Which kind of behavior are you prone to engage in? Which pattern serves you best? For survival or evolutionary purposes, we’re meant to use both areas of our brains—instinctive reaction and thoughtful response—in healthy tandem. Yet another example of balancing ying and yang and more evidence against the all-or-nothing mindset.
The second board posting described Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT ( HYPERLINK "http://www.contextualpsychology.org/act" http://www.contextualpsychology.org/act), a cognitive-behavioral approach which focuses on mindfully noticing and accepting feelings and keeping them separate from behavior. ACT says that you can have feelings without acting on them (a revolutionary concept for disregulated eaters!) and that many of our reactions are due to fear. ACT teaches you to simply notice that you have a feeling (eg, anxiety about food at a buffet, desperation for that last slice of cheesecake in the fridge, disappointment, sadness, hurt). You don’t have to do anything else with the feeling, even experience it. As with meditation, you only need to recognize that you have an emotion. This method works because noticing creates distance and distance creates objectivity which gets you a foot in the door to consider what is in your long-term self-interest.
These ideas are excellent tools for improving your relationship with food, but you can also practice them in every kind of situation. Imagine living a life replete with healthy, deliberate, life-enhancing choices. It’s yours if you’re willing to do practice these new skills at every decision point, until they become automatic.