Body Image and Weight Loss Part 3: Reinforcement

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 3: Reinforcement

Listen to the audio version of this article

It is nearly impossible to turn on your TV, go online, or even go out in public without being bombarded by society’s idea of the ideal body. It is not only frustrating, but it can also be extremely discouraging. Experiencing this way of thinking on a regular basis can reinforce a “box thinking” mindset, that there is a particular way that each of us is supposed to look. This also makes it harder to take those steps towards change. Luckily, there is a way to overcome the feelings of stagnation and defeat with reinforcement.

When it comes to Body Image and Weight Loss, becoming proficient in the following four skill sets will help you achieve your goal of mastery and confidence over your health and body weight:

    • AWARENESS
    • NONJUDGMENT/CURIOSITY
    • REINFORCEMENT
    • SELF-COMPASSION

I discussed Awareness as it pertains to Body Image and Weight Loss in the first part of this series, and in the second part, I reviewed Nonjudgment and Curiosity. In this installment, we will take a look at Reinforcement and its role in keeping you on the path to positive, lasting change.

REINFORCEMENT

Years of research and over a decade of my own professional and personal practice have confirmed the time-tested wisdom: reinforcement is the most effective way to achieve lasting change. When you want to shift your behavior, defining the steps needed to move toward your goals and reinforcing those steps repeatedly, will help you achieve the results you desire.

At times, my clients will ask, “Am I supposed to ignore what is wrong and just focus on the ‘positive,’ pretending that everything is fine?” My answer is a resounding, “No!” You need to acknowledge problems as they appear in your life because awareness of what is happening and what you do and do not want is the first step to change. Once you have this nonjudgmental awareness and are clear on your goals, it can be defeating, punishing, and stall your progress to continue focusing all of your attention on what is wrong or difficult to change. Reinforcement is not about ignoring problems as they appear, it is about focusing your attention and intention toward what works to optimize your capabilities for change.

Reward, not punishment, helps produce and maintain lasting change. This means you get to be kind and encouraging toward yourself when you do what works, instead of looking for the mistakes and giving yourself an internal lashing. When you use reinforcement for what is working, as opposed to punishing yourself for slip-ups or relapses, you empower yourself to move forward, and you ignite motivation.

Another point to remember about the reinforcement-change experience is that change is not a linear process. Progress does not happen in a straight, upward moving way; in fact, you will almost certainly experience multiple ups and downs. No one can go from a lifestyle of eating nothing but processed foods to eating healthy, whole foods with no struggles or setbacks. Change does not work like that. Most of the time, you will go back to engaging in behaviors that you would like to stop. Even if you follow behavior-change protocols to a “T”, you will find yourself having urges or engaging in old, ineffective behaviors at some point. You will crave and possibly eat that food that drains your energy, blow off that walk to watch TV, and stay up later getting less rest than you know you need.

Going back to old behaviors is part of the process of change, not failure! Moving momentarily backward can be perceived as a sign that progress is happening. You are headed in the right direction and engaging in old, ineffective behaviors is part of making the changes you want. Knowing that this is how the process works will allow you to stay encouraged even when things don’t go exactly as you had hoped.

You can anticipate this process and give yourself a break when it happens. Instead of judging yourself, giving yourself a mental slap with harsh self-critical thinking, or giving up, you can reinforce yourself for noticing when you have gotten off track and decide the most effective step to take next. “Failure” is an opportunity to notice, take a small step toward the path you want to be on, and reinforce! Practice this over and over and over until the practice becomes what you automatically do.

The more you engage in this cycle, the sooner you will notice lasting change happen and stick. Remember, going back to your old ways is a part of the process of change, and does not signal failure! In the moment you notice you have relapsed, you can then make a new choice about what to do next. The more you practice becoming aware that you have reverted to old ways, reinforce your noticing (being gentle with yourself and without judgment), and get back on track, the sooner you will be on course and more quickly reach your goals.

 

REINFORCEMENT PRACTICE

For a guided practice in reinforcement, listen to this Meditation on Motivation and strengthen your reinforcement muscle.

To stay motivated and moving toward goals that you value, you must build the muscle of Reinforcement. Finding what you are already doing that is working, or taking very small steps forward, and then rewarding those actions creates sustainable motivation for change. Think of it this way: punishment extinguishes motivation and reinforcement creates, ignites, awakens and maintains motivation. Where you have reinforcement, you can create motivation.

Let’s practice building this muscle:

Start with noticing your breathing. You do not have to change or alter your breath. Simply notice that you are inhaling and exhaling. Pay attention to where in your physical body you feel your breath.

Now, for the next three to five breaths, pay attention to where you feel your breath in your physical body and when your mind wanders away or zones out, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

When you notice yourself wander and bring you attention back to your breath, you can think of this as a weight lifting rep, or an exercise to build your ability to put your attention where you want it.

Now, let’s go further. Using this idea of placing the mind where you want it to be in the moment, recall one thing you did in the past day that was effective. Unless you achieved a huge goal in the past day, this exercise requires you to let go of judgments and find where you were effective. Do not dismiss anything for not being “good” enough or “big” enough. If you were tired and you got up on time, that is an accomplishment. If you felt depressed and did not want to get out of bed but you took a shower, perhaps that was effective. It does not matter how big or small you think this action was, take a moment and pick one effective action you engaged in over the past day.

When you have that behavior in mind, reinforce it. You can reinforce this behavior a number of ways: you can reinforce with self-talk, such as, “Good job,” or “I did it,” or “Nice!” Remember, your focus is on what you did well and reinforcing it. If your mind wanders to telling you that it wasn’t good enough, your practice is to gently bring your focus back to what you did well and reinforce it. You may also reinforce your behavior through soothing touch. Maybe if feels soothing to place your hands over your heart center and notice the warmth, or one hand over the other hand, or gently cup your face with both hands. This is touch that feels loving and sweet. Again, when your mind wanders to you or your behavior not being good enough, gently bring your attention back to what you did well and reinforce it.

This is the practice of increasing your motivation in a way that is sustainable and reliable. You can practice this every day – find one thing you did well and practice turning your mind toward noticing what you accomplished and reinforcing it. When your mind goes toward judgments about you or your behavior not measuring up, this is punishment. It will extinguish your motivation and ability to move forward. It’s not wrong, this is just what minds do, they wander, and they come up with judgments. Your task is to calmly notice when this happens and bring your attention back to reinforcing your accomplishment. Practice, practice, practice this and you will notice your motivation grow and your ability to take more steps toward your goals increase.


Body Image and Weight Loss Part 2: Nonjudgment/Curiosity

If you are like most Americans, the word “overweight” immediately brings up a judgment such as, “No!” or “Ick!” or “I don’t want that,” or some idea that being “thin” is better than being “overweight.” We even have the term “plus-sized” for people who require larger clothing, indicating that they are not a “normal size” in society’s eyes. Conversely, we do not frequently use a term such as, “under-sized” for people who are under average weight, because society does not have the same harsh judgment for this situation and may even encourage it.

If you would like to listen to this article, click here.

For many people, the concept of weight can immediately bring up judgments toward ourselves and others. Once we learn to practice the skill of Nonjudgment, this helps pave the way to get past those mental roadblocks that keep us from making changes to our health, including weight regulation.

If you are grappling with your own Body Image and/or Weight Loss, consider the following four elements as your skills to practice on your way to achieve mastery and confidence feeling comfortable and at home in your skin:

  • AWARENESS
  • NONJUDGMENT/CURIOSITY
  • REINFORCEMENT
  • SELF-COMPASSION

We discussed Awareness as it pertains to Body Image and Weight Loss in the first part of this series, and in this second part, we’ll take a look at nonjudgment and its role in helping to move past seemingly impossible obstacles.

Nonjudgment/Curiosity

A stance of being nonjudgmental and curious is imperative for you to begin to raise your awareness about what you are doing that is effective, and what you are doing that is not working for you at this point in your life. If you are judgmental (as most of us have learned to be) and feel shame when you notice your behaviors that are not working, it becomes so aversive to pay attention to these ineffective behaviors, that you start to tune out. When your awareness wanes, the change you want also goes out the window. When you learn to notice a judgmental thought and label it as such (“a judgmental thought just came into my mind,”) and look at your situation and behaviors with curiosity instead of evaluation, you are able to gain information about how you are feeling and behaving. Gathering data is the key to being able to change behaviors, and the stance of nonjudgment and curiosity allows you to do just this. This stance transforms an aversive and shameful situation into something interesting to notice.

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth. Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to the issues in your own personal life that are keeping you from making a change. You will start to notice life go differently for you if you practice approaching problems with nonjudgment, which can then lead to compassionate and effective action.

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to emotionally charged life circumstances, start practicing with more every day, ordinary, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of Nonjudgment. When you become stronger at applying this skill, you will notice more success when you gradually apply a nonjudgmental stance to larger, more significant events in your life and the world around you. To discover essential steps to get you started, click here.

The practice of Nonjudgment does not eliminate the pain. Rather, it can take the suffering down a notch so that you can breathe, get a bit of distance from the intensity of emotion, and regulate the emotions and/or solve the problem. If you are interested in further developing the skill of Nonjudgment, try the practice suggestions below:

  • Practice noticing judgments throughout your day.
    When you are aware of yourself (or someone else) making a judgmental statement, or you have a judgmental thought, say to yourself “judgment.” (Over time, noticing and labeling judgments helps us become more aware of them and gives us a choice about the most effective way to proceed.)
  • Sit and focus on your thoughts for 30 seconds to a minute.
    Imagine two different boxes, labeled “judgment thoughts” and “other thoughts.” For the next 30 seconds to a minute, notice any thoughts that come into your mind and imagine placing them in the appropriate box.

The next time you notice yourself being judgmental, see if you can describe (verbally or in writing) the same situation nonjudgmentally; truthfully and descriptively, without judgment.

After some time practicing, you may notice increased awareness of what is going on around you and in your life. When your eyes are opened, it allows you to take the steps needed on your road to change.

To listen to the Nonjudgment Practice audio, click here.

Nonjudgment Practice

Take a moment to bring your attention into the present moment. You can use your breath as a grounding or focus point. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. Every time your attention wanders away, very gently come home to the feeling of your breath in your body. If you’d like, you can try to gently notice your breath in the background as you listen to my words. Your breath is always in the present moment and you can always bring your focus back to your inhalation and exhalation when your mind wanders.

Now we are going to spend the next several moments paying attention to thoughts. However, rather than involving ourselves in the content of our thoughts, we are going to sit back and observe thoughts that come into our mind.

First, imagine that you have two boxes or containers in your mind’s eye. You can design and create them any way you wish. Now, imagine that one is labeled “judgment thoughts” and the other box is labeled “facts.” Your task, for the next several moments, is to observe any thoughts that come through your mind and place them in either the box marked “facts” or the box marked “judgments.” To be clear, facts are everything you take in through your senses – eyes, ears, nose, skin, mouth. Anything you add to this is an opinion or judgment. If I have the thought, “that painting is framed and has blue and green colors,” I will place that in the “facts” box. If I have the thought, “that painting is ugly,” I will place that in the “judgments” box. See if you can not only observe your thoughts, but also place them in one of these two boxes. We will do this in silence for the next 30 seconds. Remember, take the observer stance, notice any thoughts that come through your mind, and place them either in the box labeled “judgments” or the box labeled “facts.” I’ll let you know when 30 seconds has passed…

Now, gently let go of the images of the boxes in your mind’s eye. Bringing your attention back to your breath, notice that you are breathing, feeling your breath in your physical body. And now, reflecting on what you noticed during the 30 seconds of watching and categorizing your thoughts. Did you notice mostly judgments? Mostly facts? Did your mind go blank? Were you flooded with so many thoughts it was hard to catch them all? Did you notice not knowing whether your thoughts were facts or judgments and weren’t sure in which box to place them? Take a moment to reflect on what you noticed. See if you can do that without judgment (or, if you notice judgment, call it a judgment and return to the facts).

It doesn’t matter what you noticed during this practice. Your practice is first, bringing your mind back when it wanders (that’s mindfulness), and second, embodying a stance of curiosity and interest in place of judgment.

Practicing nonjudgment is just that: a practice. Nobody walks through their day without any judgmental thoughts, and we wouldn’t want to. Judgments are useful. By practicing nonjudgment, we expand our capacity to notice when we are judging and then allow for ourselves to make a choice whether proceeding forward with that judgment is helpful or harmful. The key to nonjudgment is repeated, daily practice, practice, practice, and then more practice. If you are interested in building the muscle of Nonjudgment, set an intention for your practice now. Make it short enough that you can practice daily – 30 seconds of daily practice can be useful. How will you practice? Will you watch your thoughts as we just did, take some of my other suggestions I’ve written about, or come up with your own practice?


Body Image and Weight Loss Part 1: Awareness

body image and weight loss: awarenessMy definition of the word “overweight” may be different than yours. We can probably agree that the word “overweight” immediately brings up a judgment such as, “No!” or “Ick!” or “I don’t want that,” or some idea that being “thin” is better than being “overweight.” After all, the idea that thin = good and fat = bad is probably a message you have received your whole life. Body Image and Weight Loss are a concern for many, so if you struggle with either, you are not alone.

Listen to the audio version of Dr. Bando’s article.

It certainly doesn’t help that you are constantly bombarded with society’s opinion of how the ideal body should look. We even have the term “plus-sized” for people who require larger clothing, indicating that they are not a “normal size” in society’s eyes. Conversely, we do not frequently use a term such as, “under-sized” for people who are under average weight, because society does not have the same harsh judgment for this situation.

Receiving these messages over and over in your life – from your family, school peers, and the media – creates a breeding ground for shame. Regardless of what you weigh or your body shape and size, it is common to feel embarrassed and shameful, to some degree, about your weight and your body.

You may know that feeling ashamed of how you look makes you feel miserable. Do you also know that shame significantly contributes to your weight and size? You can think of shame like a subtle, poisonous bacteria, worming its way throughout your cells and influencing not only the decisions you make about your health, such as what you eat, how you exercise, and the quality of your rest, but also how your body metabolizes, what you crave, and how quickly you feel satiated. Often, the people I work with in regard to managing their weight or body image are not aware of the extent of shame they feel, and so do not have any agency over how this shame is influencing their bodies.

If you are interested in learning more about your relationship with your body and building skills to improve that connection, read (or listen) on.

The first skill imperative for a healthy, happy relationship with your body is:

Awareness

However you view your weight (e.g., overweight, underweight, ideal), cultivating awareness of your physical body is key in not only maintaining a weight that supports your health and well-being, but also fosters feelings of calm, peace, and feeling comfortably at home in your own skin. You may use your actual, physical home as an example, and imagine having harsh, stiff furniture that you don’t like to look at and feels uncomfortable when trying to sit and relax. This is what it feels like to be disconnected from your body. In contrast, imagine your ideal home where you feel like you can exhale, kick your feet up and be completely embraced and supported by comfort. This is what it feels like to have awareness and connection to yourself.

Let’s think about the link between awareness, and body image and weight loss. Even if being overweight is not a problem you have experienced, we all know that feeling of eating too much during the holidays. That Thanksgiving food hangover is all too real: your stomach hurts, your clothes feel tight, you feel lethargic, and your physical activity is limited. Who wants to move, dance, walk, be sexually active, or just physically engage in life when feeling over-full? Now, imagine eating this way on a regular basis. In order to overstuff ourselves the next day and the next, we must be numb to what we are feeling in our body, or we wouldn’t be able to tolerate the discomfort and would change our eating habits. Eating becomes a way of tuning out instead of tuning in.

When you reach a point of being overweight as a result of eating, and not because of health problems outside of your control, it tends to be easy to become unaware of your situation which in turn cuts you off from the emotions you should be feeling as a result.

To continue to overeat, we have to dissociate from our experience of feeling. When we pay attention, it feels horrible to eat too much. Painful, even. Think about being as extremely overweight as you can imagine and how uncomfortable that would feel. You would have to have to have no awareness and dissociate from your emotions to continue down your current path of gaining more or sustaining a weight that is physically painful.

Frequently, when I see patients who are significantly overweight, feel stuck, and cannot lose that weight, lack of awareness is an issue we attack first and foremost. There’s usually a correlation: the more overweight and stuck the person is, the more they tell me they are “fine,” “good,” “great,” and can’t figure out why the weight is staying on and they are struggling. This equation equals severe LACK OF AWARENESS. If I step on the scale and it says 350 lbs. (and I am a woman standing 5’5” tall), everything is not fine! Yet, I hear this report time and time again. Our weekly session time comes, and my client can’t think of anything to work on or anything difficult that happened during the week to bring up. I see this as a habitual state of dissociating/zoning/tuning out of how their body feels until they don’t know what is going on, what they are feeling, or what they are struggling with. In fact, at first, they may also not know how much they are tuned out.

If you see yourself in this description and it brings up shame, you are not alone. It is so common to feel shameful about this process of eating and lack of awareness and then turn away and not be able to face it. If you feel this, I encourage you: take a deep, slow breath (maybe three), and keep reading. You do not have to continue to suffer in this way. This does not have to be a life sentence.

Why and how does this happen?

In our society, problems with body image and weight typically come with shame. Lots of it. Thinking about how emotions work: one thing learned from DBT (a therapy developed to help regulate emotions) is that all emotions have what is called an “action urge” associated with them. In other words, emotions propel us to want to do something:

  • anger = attack
  • guilt = apologize/fix it/repair
  • love = get closer
  • shame = hide

Imagine a situation where you might feel completely ashamed or embarrassed. Maybe you’ve had a dream where you were naked in a crowd – what did you do? You tried to hide. Now, think about being criticized or made fun of for your weight. Even if you were never directly ridiculed, you probably have witnessed others being criticized for their body weight. Either way, no one is oblivious to our society’s values in regard to body shape and weight.

The fact that we have the term “plus sized” for people who wear a certain size of clothes is a subtle indicator that this is more than the average and not okay. We receive subtle messages all the time that thin is good and fat is bad, and if we don’t fit the mold of what society says we should look like, we feel shame.

The feeling of shame can lead to hiding behaviors, such as not eating certain types of food in front of people for fear of judgment, lying about your weight on your driver’s license, wearing clothes that look “slimming,” avoiding full-body pictures, and many other behaviors. Think about how subtle behaviors like these can seep their way into your daily life, and how as a result, you are getting a daily dose of shame. Little by little, if these behaviors of hiding increase as they often do with weight gain (eating “bad” foods in secret, going shopping alone so nobody knows your size, minimizing physical pains and discomfort that are related to your weight), shame increases. Remember shame = the urge to hide. If you are unaware (and therefore, unable to make an intentional choice) and are giving in to this urge to hide day after day, eventually, hiding is what you do. When hiding becomes your go-to, it is easy to trick yourself into pretending that everything is okay when in reality, you feel far from okay.

The Remedy

The remedy is a ton of mindful awareness practice. I don’t mean sitting on a cushion and meditating for hours, although if someone chooses, that may help increase awareness. We do need to repeatedly turn on the lights, look around the room, and notice the clutter if we are going to organize it and clean it up. There are many techniques for raising our awareness in this way. Here is a guided practice you can listen to as often as you want to help increase your awareness of your body and your experience:

Listen to Dr. Bando’s Guided Meditation

Take a moment to feel the bottom of your feet. Can you feel the surface of the bottom of your feet? Notice. What do they feel like? Are they touching something soft, hard, cold, warm? Do you feel the air on the bottom of your feet? Notice and place your awareness there.

Can you feel your clothes on your body? Notice what this feels like. Where do you feel your clothes the most? Is it everywhere or a particular location on your body? See if you can describe to yourself what your clothes feel like on your body. Is there a temperature, weight or lightness, or other sensations? Can you notice with curiosity and put judgments aside? Taking a stance of: Hmmm, what does this feel like on my body?

Now, can you notice that you are breathing in and out? Notice where does your attention go as you are placing your awareness on your breath in this moment. Keep noticing your breath and see where your attention goes at the very end of your inhalation? Where in your body do you place your awareness at the end of your inhalation? Some people say this is a place where they find Wisdom. Does it feel like that to you? Or does that not resonate or feel confusing to hear. Notice your experience.

Now, ask yourself: How hungry am I in this moment? If you had to rate your level of hunger on a scale of 0 (no hunger at all) to 10 (the most hungry you have ever felt), how hungry are you in this moment? Now, ask yourself how do you know? Is your mind telling you how hungry you “should” be or are you noticing particular sensations in your physical body? Where are you picking up on hunger cues? Where are you looking?

Now, ask yourself: How full am I in this moment? If you had to rate your level of fullness on a scale of 0 (not full at all) to 10 (the most full you have ever felt in your life), how full are you right now? What do you notice when you ask yourself this question? How is it similar or different to what you noticed when asking yourself about your level of hunger?

You have just spent quite a bit of effort noticing your physical body. Now, take a moment to offer yourself some compassion. Place a hand on your heart or over your other hand as a reminder that you are bringing not only awareness but kind and compassionate awareness to yourself, your body, and your experience. Take a nice, deep, slow breath. And now say a compassionate phrase to yourself: May I be kind to myself, May I be patient with myself, May I accept myself as I am, or May I learn to accept myself as I am. Choose a compassionate phrase to say to yourself in this moment.

If you have been in therapy with me, or you have access to tools, such as the Model of Emotions, recording emotions, urges, and behaviors on a diary card, Wise Mind practice, or other Mindfulness skills, you can also use these. The important point is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then, when you think you have practiced enough, PRACTICE some more. My Zen teacher says that we cannot change who we are. What we can do is practice, practice, practice every day until one day, what we have practiced becomes us.

If you have found yourself in a position where you feel you are stuck, and you would like to make changes in your life so that you can be healthier and happier, contact me today to get started on a path to a new you.


When Others’ Opinions Get You Down (and What to Do When You Feel Fat)

judging ridicule others' opinions feeling fat
We’ve all been self-conscious about our appearance, and have at one point or another worried about what other people think of us. Whether it’s how we dress, speak, act, or even weigh, that concern can at times be overwhelming. While it’s important to take in others’ opinions (this gives us a reflection of ourselves and how we are perceived), over-valuing what others think or may think, while under-valuing our own ideas can damage our self-respect. If you’d like to spend less time concerned about others’ opinions and more time embodying your own values, I’ve put together a few strategies that will help you in this area.

Tuning In

Tuning in requires focusing on your internal voice and turning up the volume so that it is louder than the opinions around you. When you find yourself in a situation where you feel over-worried about what someone else may think of you, ask yourself, “What, in my deepest values, do I believe about this situation?” You may also ask yourself how you would respond to a friend who was in your shoes. Would you shame and browbeat her or tell her that you understand where she is coming from and she did not do anything to be embarrassed? The strategies of asking how you feel, what you believe and to what standard you would hold someone you care about, gives you valuable feedback about whether you want to correct your behavior or if the problem is not your behavior but worry thoughts and shame entering your mind and body.

Your Values, Thoughts, and Emotions

When you have discovered that you have behaved, dressed, spoken, etc., in line with your values but are still plagued by embarrassment and worries about what others think of you, the first step is DON’T CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR. If you change your behavior when your behavior is not the problem, you are sending yourself a confusing message and shame is likely to build.

For example, Marla (pseudonym) found herself concerned that she was not “thin enough” and felt embarrassed about her appearance in certain social situations. As a result of this embarrassment, Marla would tug on her clothes, check herself often in the mirror, avoid being in pictures, and plan her outfit days in advance in response to excruciating worry thoughts. When Marla asked herself about her values, she realized that she would never ever treat a friend the way she was treating herself. She would never judge a friend based on her weight or fit of her clothes and would not want to associate herself with anyone who would judge in this way. Yet, she had been behaving as though she should be ashamed.

Marla’s strategy became clear: Treat her body as perfectly fine and refuse to apologize for how she looks. This means that Marla resisted urges to tug on her clothes, plan the perfect outfit in advance, and even volunteered to be front-and-center in photos. Initially, her self-critical and worry-thoughts increased, and she felt embarrassment wash over her when seeing a full-body picture posted on Facebook. Marla was determined, though, and she persisted.

Over time, her mind and body understood the consistent message that Marla was sending. The message was, “I will not apologize for how my body looks because there is no reason to apologize.” Her self-hating thoughts and worries about what others thought of her began to quiet and feelings of embarrassment lessened over time. Now, when Marla feels a surge of her old urge to apologize for her appearance rear its ugly head, she knows what to do and prioritizes her mental health and self-respect.

As my wise Zen teacher says, “You cannot force yourself to be different. All you can do is practice every day until one day, you become what you have practiced.”

Your Breath and Sensations

If you find it difficult to tune into your values and priorities, start with your breath. Any of my past or present patients will tell you that at least once per therapy session, I will ask them to stop and notice three inhalations and exhalations. This offers an opportunity to notice what the breath is doing in the body. Stop and try it now – place your awareness on your breath for three inhales and exhales. Notice: Where in your physical body does your attention go as you are placing your awareness on your breathing? Your breath is a readily available sensation that can help you start to tune into your body and then your wisdom.

After noticing how your breath feels in your physical body, you can also start to pay attention to sensations. Start to ask yourself questions, such as, “How does my body feel when I am having fun, trusting myself, following what feels right?” Are you relaxed in some areas, tense in others? Do you notice changes in your posture? How about temperature or a feeling of moving energy in various parts of your body? The more you tune into how your body feels, you will begin to get clear messages from your wisdom and be able to sharply access your values and priorities in different situations.

Now What?

The more you practice paying attention to your breath, listening to your body and feelings, identifying your values and behaving as though they matter, the easier it will become. With any new behavior practice, practice and then more practice is needed to help the new habit stick. As my wise Zen teacher says, “You cannot force yourself to be different. All you can do is practice every day until one day, you become what you have practiced.”

Identify a step from this article that you can put into practice today and practice doing this every day until it becomes easy for you. Then, identify and take a next step. If you are a person who has loud self-critical thoughts, it will take a while for them to calm down and for value-driven thoughts to take up your mind space. Give yourself the time you need and devote yourself to one small practice every day.

If you want additional help learning how to truly experience and enjoy your life, contact Dr. Bando today for an online consultation and start shifting from surviving to thriving!


Do You Have a Sugar Addiction?

 

Can you tell yourself before dinner that you won’t be eating sweets, even all the way up until you order, and then your mouth spontaneously orders dessert? Or you tell your friend “no thanks” for a cookie, and then find one in your hand, on the way to your mouth? If so, you are not alone. And you may have a sugar addiction.

If you are not sure about the use of the word “addiction” in relation to sugar, chew on this: Recent research is not using the word lightly when it finds that sugar IS biologically addictive in the same sense as heroin. On top of that, studies are finding many more reasons to avoid sugar that we previously have only suspected.

 

addicted to sugar, sugar addiction, health psychologist

 

We now know that sugar poses a threat to your heart health, impairs your ability to feel full, damages your liver, contributes to obesity and you can be genetically predisposed to overuse it. There are numerous important reasons to address sugar addiction, and seemingly no benefit to high sugar consumption. If you find yourself eating or drinking sugary foods and beverages often, it is essential to your health to question if continuing this way is in your best interests.

High-sugar foods and drinks are easily accessible today. It is often quicker and cheaper to find high-sugar foods than it is to find food containing fresh, whole ingredients. Sugary desserts are available in convenience stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and at every company or family party. It feels like the stores and manufacturers are telling us sugar is what most of our diet should be. In short, sugar is hard to quit!

What Can You Do About It?

NONJUDGMENT and REINFORCEMENT

Stop telling yourself that sugar is “bad,” you are “bad” for eating it or otherwise flogging yourself for having sugar in your life. Why? Because punishment is the least effective way to create lasting change. Judging and shaming (punishment) yourself for eating sugar, even after you have committed to calling it quits, may just make it harder to stop.

The brain pairs unpleasant or pleasant experiences with the situations that caused them. If, for example, you try to curb your sugar intake and then end up eating ice cream at the end of the day, your brain will remember what happens next and catalog it for future use. If punishment occurs, the behavior will be harder to change. If you mentally beat yourself up for not succeeding, your mind associates your efforts to limit sugar with this mental punishment and essentially, starts to give up. When you try to put further efforts toward decreasing sugar in your diet, you will find it increasingly hard to motivate yourself, and your brain will tell you, “What’s the use?” while throwing its hands up in the air and then reaching for dessert.

If, however, you end up eating ice cream at the end of the day and instead sigh, acknowledge this behavior is not in line with your goals and your stomach feels uncomfortable (nonjudgmental honesty), you are starting on the path to change. Then turn your mind towards noticing that you turned down that donut earlier in the day and say, “That was fantastic! Good for me. I want more of that.” (reinforcement). Now you are greasing the wheels of change and your brain will remember this too. (Reinforcement is very powerful in creating change and there can be some nuance to it. Check out some of my other articles specifically related to reinforcement for clarification.)

In short, when you find yourself being harshly judgmental about a behavior you want to change, stop, notice what you are doing, and describe it nonjudgmentally, in terms of cause-and-effect (e.g., if I do this, then I suffer that consequence). Then, turn your mind towards a behavior you have recently engaged in that is in line with your goals (or find a behavior in line with your goals to engage in in that moment) and reinforce (reward) yourself. If you are used to being critical toward yourself, you may have to lower your standards here. It is perfectly acceptable to reinforce the smallest of steps, even if you just thought about taking steps to change, the fact that you thought about it can be reinforced.

THERE ARE NO SMALL STEPS

As mentioned above, in our society sugar is practically shoved down your throat and is in almost everything that comes in a package, including savory food. Recovering from an addiction, especially one that is in every store and restaurant across America, is difficult. Don’t expect it all to change overnight. Take small steps and reinforce them (see the NONJUDGMENT and REINFORCEMENT section above). For example, you might start with just reducing (not eliminating) the amount of sugar you put in your coffee or tea or decreasing the amount of soda you drink just by leaving a few sips behind. Reinforce these seemingly small steps and you will gain momentum and watch these steps add up.

ASK FOR SUGAR ADDICTION HELP

If, despite your best efforts, you cannot curb your sugar intake and are experiencing problems as a result, ask for help! You may want to contact your healthcare professional or reach out to a health psychologist, such as myself. Health psychologists help people make sustainable changes to their health. We take the guesswork out and help you move toward your goals in a way that is streamlined and rewarding.

If sugar is causing a problem in your life, take one of the steps mentioned about today and start shifting from surviving to thriving!


3 Signs You Might Be Struggling with Binge Eating

Whether or not you suffer from an eating disorder, it is typical in our society to experience unhappiness with our body or the way we eat. Unfortunately, we exist in a society that is very appearance-focused, and that really does not allow for diversity in the way we look. This is a cultural norm, but we can work to change this by taking one small action today:

The next time you see someone you have not seen in a while, do not comment on how they look. Refrain from saying anything regarding their appearance and instead, make a comment focusing on how you feel about being with them such as, “It is so good to see you,” or, “It’s nice to get to spend some time with you.”

This simple, easy step gives the message that we are focused on seeing the person in front of us, and not evaluating their appearance.

 

Many of us are familiar with eating disorders, perhaps seeing depictions on television or in movies. Some of us are also personally challenged or have friends or loved ones who struggle with their eating. What you may not realize is that eating problems can include a range of behaviors, outside of the more commonly known Anorexia and Bulimia. One eating behavior is sometimes casually called compulsive overeating or food addiction, but when it reaches a diagnosable level, psychologists label this Binge Eating Disorder.

You may have reached this page through an internet search because you are already worried about your eating patterns, or somebody else’s eating behaviors. You may simply be wondering if your own problems with overeating would qualify as binge eating. Let’s look at three signs that you might be struggling with overeating or even binge eating:

  1. You Eat a Lot of Food in A Short Amount of Time

One of the characteristics of Binge Eating Disorder is that you eat quite a lot of food in a very short amount of time. Up to 10,000 or 20,000 calories may be consumed in just one sitting, compared to an average calorie intake of approximately 1,500 – 3,000 calories a day. Consuming this significant amount of food in one sitting is called binging. People often say that during these times they can “zone out” or lose track of what is happening around them. When binge eating, you often feel guilt and shame afterward. You may or may not engage in compensatory behaviors like self-induced vomiting, food restriction, or excessive exercise. In fact, food restriction can trigger the binge in the first place.

What can you do?

Eat regular meals throughout the day. This means that you eat roughly at the same time each day and do not go longer than about four hours without food. Research confirms that episodes of binge eating typically occur after a period of restriction (not receiving enough nourishment). While this suggested step is not sufficient to treat Binge Eating Disorder, it can be a part of eating disorder treatment and help if you struggle with occasional binge eating. Please note: The suggestions given in this article are not a substitute for treatment from a healthcare professional. Seek help if you are suffering from a serious disordered eating condition.

binge eating disorder, overeating problems California therapist

  1. You Have a Hard Time Stopping Eating

Another characteristic of binge eating is that it is hard to stop eating and there is a feeling of a loss of control. Binging is often called compulsive overeating because you may feel compelled to keep eating and as though you are not able to stop. People also call it food addiction because it can feel very much like an addiction, something you need or depend on, and are unable to reduce. Once you have started binging, it can feel impossible to stop eating despite how full you feel. Those suffering from compulsive eating often keep eating past a feeling of fullness, to a feeling of extreme physical discomfort or even in pain from the amount of food.

What can you do?

Seek help. If you find yourself unable to control your eating behaviors, you most likely could benefit from the support of a healthcare professional who specializes in binge eating. This can be a challenging behavior to change, but with the right help, change is possible. Take the guesswork out and get help from someone who knows how to help you extinguish binge eating behavior.

  1. You Have Other Mental Health Concerns

Overeating and Binge Eating are often associated with other mental health concerns. You may also be struggling with anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, self-doubt, or other troubling emotions. The relationship between these sorts of problems and binge eating can be reciprocal. In other words, one can lead the other and vice-versa. Often, we turn to food for comfort or self-soothing to cope with emotions. Finding relief in food feels helpful in the moment, but it is ultimately a maladaptive coping technique. To resolve this concern, you want to learn alternative, more effective coping skills.

What can you do?

If you are worried about your own eating behaviors, then you may consider going to therapy for Binge Eating. There are many ways a therapist can help you. Research has identified Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as a helpful approach for Binge Eating Disorder therapy. DBT can help you learn new skills, such as mindfulness and behavioral strategies that will allow you to approach food and eating differently. These skills will also provide healthier, more effective ways of coping with your emotions. Consider contacting a DBT therapist and asking about their approach to Binge Eating Disorder treatment today.

 

 

 


How to Love Your Emotions (and why you want to)

I was browsing my YouTube feed recently and noticed a number of videos about “getting rid” of your emotions. There seems to be a lot of talk and instructions on how to control, master, and avoid having to feel those pesky and painful emotions. Tap this point on your body here, say this “positive” statement there, and make that pain and unpleasantness go right away.

I started to get worried.

You’d think I would be delighted, and that I might think, “I don’t have to feel painful or unpleasant emotions?! Great! Let’s get rid of them!” The thing is, I know better.

What I know, in my years of experience of helping people regulate their emotions, is that trying to get rid of or push emotions away increases pain, suffering, and misery in the long run. Avoiding emotions or trying to make them vanish makes things much, much worse. In fact, viewing any emotional experience as “negative” sets the stage for emotional buildup and suffering.

Well then, what do we do?

LOVE our emotions!

Now, I’m not just talking about those mushy, gushy, gotta love ‘em emotions like joy, amazement, thrill, infatuation, delight, and all of their friends. I’m suggesting even loving emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, despair, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy.

Here’s the deal: our emotions exist and they aren’t going anywhere. Emotions are a human experience, and all of us experience the entire range of those emotions. Whether we want to or not, we all experience emotional pain. That is just part of life. If we didn’t have unpleasant emotions, we wouldn’t have empathy, gratitude, connection with others, deep appreciation for art and drama, understanding, and the list goes on.

In other words, all emotions, even painful emotions, have great value. They give us information about what is happening in our environment and ourselves, help us understand what we need and attend to it, and connect us to others. Pain is not something to be pushed away. In fact, when we push away painful emotions or try to mask them or just be “positive,” we actually suppress the painful emotion, which leads to emotional buildup.

The way to truly and freely experience life is to welcome in and feel whatever emotion comes. In other words, love your emotions.

Want practice? Check out this short audio meditation that you can listen to anytime, anywhere and start practicing loving all of your emotions today.

 

 

A practice in loving your emotions.

Take a moment to settle in wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you are standing, sitting, lying down, or any other configuration, bring your attention to this very moment.

Begin to notice that you are breathing. Notice your breath coming in and out. Where in your body do you notice your breath? When you bring your awareness to your breath, where in your physical body is your attention drawn? It doesn’t matter if you notice your nose, throat, belly, or tips of your toes. There is no judgment about this, just simply noticing where your attention is drawn in your physical body as you notice your breathing.

Now, let’s take a few moments and notice physical sensations. What physical sensations are present in your body in this moment?

When you notice thoughts coming in, either distracting you or analyzing why you are feeling what you’re feeling, very gently, bring your attention back to your physical body and notice what sensations are present in this moment?

See you if you can lay out the welcome mat for whatever physical sensations are there – pleasant, unpleasant, static and rigid or shifting and changing, it doesn’t matter. Welcome in whatever comes.

You might turn the palms of your hands toward the sky, opening your posture to help you welcome in and allow whatever sensations are present in this moment.

See if you can put words to the sensations you are noticing: like, a presence in the center of my chest, a tightness in my neck, a warmth in my belly. Take the next few moments, notice physical sensations in your body and try, as best you can, to briefly describe them to yourself.

Now, I am going to ask you a couple of questions while you continue to breathe and notice physical sensations in your body. I don’t want you to search for an answer or try to come up with a way to answer these questions. Instead, simply notice, what, if anything you notice, when I ask you a question:

  • What emotion is present in your body in this moment?
  • Where is emotion present in your body in this moment?
  • Where, in your physical body, do you feel an emotional sensation in this moment?
  • Take some breaths as you notice emotional sensations or lack of sensations. Remembering to welcome in whatever is there.
  • Breathing in and out and welcoming whatever emotional sensations are present or absent. Welcoming your experience in this moment.

Now, bring both hands to rest over your heart center, or the center of your chest, one hand over the other. Breathing in and out, notice the sensation of your hands resting gently and lovingly on the center of your chest. Know that by tuning into your breath and your physical body, you have just participated in a practice to nourish, cleanse, and love your emotions. Your emotions, even when painful, are friendly and here to inform you. The more you practice loving your emotions in this way, the more peace and ease you are inviting into your life.

Acknowledge yourself for putting the time and attention into this loving practice.


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando