Have you been unknowingly using band-aids to solve big problems?
Do you struggle with emotional eating and body shame? Have you researched ways to stop these dynamics? Have you tried them, only to meet with limited success? Do you then feel stuck, frustrated, and perhaps even ashamed that the tactics you’ve tried haven’t worked?
This is really common! And guess what – I’m here to tell you that it’s not your fault. Here’s why:
Most of the mainstream information out there about how to heal these kinds of issues constitutes what I call “band-aid solutions”. When I say “band-aid”, I’m referring to a quick fix that might reduce or eliminate symptoms in the short-term, but doesn’t effect lasting change in the long-term. This is really problematic, because then those of us who suffer from binge eating try those suggestions, fail, and blame ourselves, when in fact it’s the suggestion itself that is faulty.
In fact, the self-help industry – and therapists are guilty of doing this too – is rife with band-aid suggestions that masquerade as The Answer. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the most notorious ones, and explain why they don’t really work as long-term solutions. I don’t mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater – many of these coping mechanisms have their place – but when we rely on them without exploring and healing the deeper roots of compulsive eating, we aren’t engaging in true healing.
Bubble baths are awesome, but they won’t necessarily help you stop bingeing.
How often have you heard these kinds of suggestions: when you want to eat, try calling a friend! Going for a walk! Doing art! Taking a bath! Rubbing lotion onto your elbows! Watching a movie! These are distractions masquerading as solutions. Now, bear in mind that these are all nice things to do – and that there is certainly a time and place for distractions. Sometimes we are just so overwhelmed that we can’t deal with looking at our feelings, and we need to numb out with a movie. And sometimes a bath or walk really can soothe our nerves and help us calm down. However, if engaging in distraction is your only tool for addressing compulsive eating, your toolkit is pretty limited, and it’s keeping you from addressing and healing the underlying causes. Plus, think about it – binge eating itself is a distraction. Solving a dysfunctional distracting behavior by swapping it out for another distraction doesn’t really make sense.
One client who came to me to work on emotional eating told me her prior therapist suggested “just don’t eat white sugar and flour”. Another client informed me that a past therapist disclosed that she ‘managed’ her relationship with food by journaling everything she ate, and suggested my client do the same. This rigid structure can also look like weighing yourself daily, imposing strict diets on yourself, setting specific eating schedules, adhering to a punishing workout regimen, and counting calories obsessively. Rigid structure, like any other band-aid, has the potential to work in the short-term. However, you inevitably fall short, because who can flourish within such a fascist regime? When that happens, your inner critic comes roaring out, and you beat yourself up. Not a sustainable model for long-term success.
Mobilizing the Pre-Frontal Cortex at the Expense of the Limbic System, or, Trying to Think Your Way Out of It.
We live in a culture that prizes logic, rationality, and the intellect. We LOOOOVE our pre-frontal cortices! In my experience, they’re limited when it comes to changing behavior. When we are engaging in a compulsive activity, deciding not to do it doesn’t always work. (If it did, you wouldn’t be reading this article). And knowing why we are doing it doesn’t help us stop it, does it?
Now that you understand the concept of band-aids, can you see why they only work in the short-term? Which ones tend to suck you in? What can you try instead?
If you’d like my help exploring other tactics that can actually effect long-term change, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to talk with you.