Motivation: Start Lifting Yourself Up and Stop Beating Yourself Down

Motivation, non-judgment, authentic life
Listen to the Audio Version of Dr. Bando’s Article.
Often, clients or prospective clients approach me for help with motivation. We all want to live vibrant lives and maybe increase exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by, and we realize we haven’t made that change we wanted at all. We can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever make that change.

Finally Fed Up?

Maybe we finally decide to get serious. We are disgusted enough with ourselves that we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a brief time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by, and we are sick of being restrictive and “depriving” ourselves, so we give in and “indulge,” feeling stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

It’s Time to Get Motivated!

MOTIVATION happens when our goals align with our values, then the behaviors we take to move toward our goals link closely to our values, and we reinforce those behaviors. I know from personal experience that the key factors in staying Motivated are reinforcement, which inspires and ignites Motivation, and punishment, which extinguishes Motivation. When we narrow it down to these two simple principles, we begin to realize how straightforward it is to start down a path to lasting change. By reinforcing yourself with simple things like clear goals, being in tune with what is truly important to you, and staying passionate (by focusing on what works and reinforcing the hell out of it), you are guaranteed to break yourself free from that cycle.

Audio Meditation for Motivation:

Listen to Dr. Bando’s Audio Meditation
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.


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!


When Everyone Turns to You, and You’d Rather They Didn’t

Everyone occasionally gets assigned to be the Point Person: the one people turn to for making plans, coordinating, and figuring everything out. The people around you may have the impression you are the most knowledgeable, capable, or willing to do the work. They may look up to you or see you as an authority. For whatever reason, you become the Point Person, the hub of responsibility in a situation or group.

Sometimes it can be preferable to be the “Point Person,” but there will be times that you just do not want the responsibility. You may have been told to “just say yes” or “step up to the plate” when you have been put in this position. People may try to cheer you on, thinking you just need encouragement and that leading or organizing will be good for you, or that it’s your duty. Still, you do not want to do it. So, what now?

Your Health

Consider whether it is healthy for you to take on unwanted tasks. The associated stress increase can cause you harm. We all know excessive stress is harmful, but the chronicity of stress that comes from being a “Point Person” can be especially injurious, because there is no apparent time for your body to realize that the situation is over, signaling that it is time to relax.

Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety” – National Institute of Mental Health website

when you're the point person, assigned responsibility, appointed in charge

Your Relationships

Allowing others to decide that you are in charge can be detrimental to your relationships. It is best to talk about what you are comfortable with early before you grow resentful for having endured a situation you felt forced into. This can also prevent tensions that would inevitably arise in the course of you trying to fill that “Point Person” role.

Feeling pushed into a default role of responsibility most likely does not help you put your best foot forward and shine. Your performance as an unwilling “Point Person” may disappoint people that matter to you, or matter to your success at work or other areas of your life.

How to Handle Being Elected Point Person

Once you decide how you feel about being the responsible party, you can then set limits that protect you from absorbing more responsibility than you want. Be clear with yourself about what bothers you, what feels right in your wisdom, and how you would like to interact with the project or situation ahead of you. Then you can set parameters with the people looking to you for guidance.

Setting limits promotes better health and well-being. Some of the benefits of being clear about your boundaries include that you learn more about yourself, you become a more transparent and effective communicator, and you have more time for the things you value.

It can take practice setting boundaries with others. Here are some tips to help you set your boundaries:

  • Do your homework: Ask what others expect of you without assuming.
  • Know yourself and be truthful: Before starting a conversation about your limits, know what you are willing to accept and be honest about it.
  • Negotiate: Be willing to try to find a solution that works for everyone if it exists, don’t accept “solutions” that truly do not work for you.
  • Self-care: Stick with your commitment to take care of yourself.
  • Be assertive: Don’t try to disguise your limits or make them seem like something they aren’t. Be direct and clear.

If you want to learn more about limit setting or other ways to take your health from surviving to thriving, contact Dr. Bando today.


Validation is Good for Your Health

Why Validate?

Everybody craves validation. Even babies need to be responded to as though their experiences are valid and have their needs met. To be told that you matter, and your experiences make sense is a deeply regulating and nourishing experience.

What is Validation?

When you validate, you are NOT saying you agree, approve or condone. In fact, you can validate someone you completely disagree with (more on this later). You can also learn to validate your own experience even when you have self-judgments, such as thinking you “should feel differently.”

Validation is not a compliment or an insult. Validation means expressing that the person you are validating (yourself or someone else) has an experience that makes sense. Science tells us there is a cause-and-effect process to your emotions and behaviors, meaning that if you feel or act a certain way, there is a reason. In other words, your emotions and actions make sense. They come from somewhere.

To complicate things a bit, everyone does not feel validated by the same words and actions. Different people and situations require diverse ways of validating. Sometimes, simply saying, “How you feel makes sense,” can be enough. There are also situations that require spending some time listening and asking questions before the other person feels they have been heard.

Read on for tips on how to validate and understand the benefits to your health.

How to Validate

Give verbal responses to show you are engaged and listening.

This can be “um-hum” or “ah” or “I see” or “keep talking” or “I’m interested in what you are saying” or “tell me more.” You can also ask follow-up questions, “Then what happened?” or “How did you feel about him saying that to you?” Respond with whatever feels natural to illustrate that you are following along and giving attention to what the other person is saying. The key here is to be genuine. If you are rolling your eyes or sighing with boredom while at the same time verbally expressing your interest, this can be experienced as confusing or invalidating.

Express that you are listening with body language.

Instead of slouching back in your chair, looking at the wall, or fidgeting with a pen, look at the person speaking. Watch their expressions and listen as though you are interested. This is a time to practice putting down your electronic devices and silencing them. You can lean your body slightly forward or sit forward in your chair toward the person speaking. This indicates interest and can be reinforcing for many.

validation is good for you

Verbalize you are listening by saying it.

Validation is about recognizing and expressing that what a person is experiencing matters and is real. You can show this by simply saying it. Phrases such as, “I can understand why you feel this way,” or, “It makes sense you would be frustrated,” or, “I think anyone in your shoes would feel this way,” can communicate validation.

Search for the kernel of truth.

If you are trying to validate but disagree and so do not know how to validate the person, the remedy is to get curious. You must take a stance that even if you cannot see it, this person’s experience makes sense and then throw yourself into discovering “the kernel of truth.” In other words, you do not have to agree to validate. You can even disapprove of another’s point of view and still validate. A common type of conversation for this difficulty to arise is in political conversations when you have one point of view and the other person has an opposing view. Or, perhaps your friend tells you about an argument and you agree with the others person’s stance and disagree with your friend. The thing to do here is let go of the content (specifics of the conversation) for a moment and try to identify and make sense of the other’s emotion. While you may disagree with your friend’s political stance, you can still validate that he feels passionate about it or frustrated or whatever the emotion is at that moment. Here, you are communicating, “I may not agree with you, but I still think you make sense and that your experiences are valid and worthwhile, even if we never see eye-to-eye on this.” Through this validating stance, you are accepting how a person feels or perceives a situation. That’s it. You are not approving or condoning; you are simply accepting their experience for what it is.

Validating those you disagree with is an advanced practice. It requires that you let go of framing it in your mind as wrong, illogical, insane, or any other judgments. This exercise further requires you accept that somehow this person makes sense, even if you cannot understand why in this moment. Practice this in less intense situations first until you get the hang of it, then apply it to more emotionally tricky situations. Experiment with validation and investigate the effects it has on your relationships. (Warning: You may experience less conflict and even get your own needs met more frequently.)

Validation is Good for Your Health

If you only learned one skill to improve your relationships, I would cheerlead for that to be validation. Validation is extremely effective in reducing conflict and increasing the bonds between people (this means increased endorphins and all the pleasant-feels and chemicals in the brain and body). Validating others also releases you from the trap of thinking you must tell them what to do, how to feel, what you would have done or otherwise, how to problem-solve their situation. Letting go of the desire to guide or critique others who are perfectly capable of doing that for themselves is a release of perceived responsibility for you, which can be an immense stress reliever. Less stress means lower cortisol levels (regulates your ability to relax and sleep) and often, regulated serotonin (mood regulator).

So far, you have read about validating others. Validating yourself is just as crucial to your health and well-being. People who have a history of chronic invalidation and learn invalidating self-talk suffer profoundly. Chronic invalidation, including self-hating thinking, can lead to depression and symptoms such as binge eating and other behaviors destructive to your health. Your ability to validate yourself is a major strength and allows you to trust your own decisions and wisdom. Building confidence in what you believe, feel and think brings a sense of calm and centeredness that is impossible to attain when you do not trust yourself. Self-validation can promote your general well-being as well as harmonious relationships. Use this short Self-validation Handout/Worksheet to help you practice.

For help validating yourself or others, or learning more techniques and strategies that can enrich your life, contact Dr. Bando today and shift from surviving to thriving!


In an Exercise Rut? 5 Steps to Get Unstuck!

exercise rut, healthy habits, staying active

 

If you are in an exercise rut or not exercising at all, you are probably associating exercise with a “have to” rather than a “want to.” If you’re not having fun and exercise feels more like a punishment than a reward, you will not keep doing it. The way your brain is wired, it remembers situations that feel punishing and avoids them. This means that if exercise feels like a chore, your brain will make it harder and harder for you to engage in that activity. You will notice your motivation continue to decrease.

We all know that a sedentary life brings countless health problems. Most people agree that exercise has extreme health benefits: strength and muscle maintenance, slows down the aging process, weight management, mood regulation, skin health, balanced hormones, increases energy, promotes sound sleep, andimproves circulation. Exercise also regulates your brain chemistry, including the neurotransmitter serotonin, a key chemical involved in depression and anxiety.

Since you know exercise is beneficial to your overall health and well-being, how about making it rewarding instead of punishing? Follow the 5 Steps below to get out of the rut and feel vibrant and energized moving your body again!

STEP 1: Identify where exercise could be enjoyable.

What, realistically, would be a step toward enjoyable exercise that you can take this week? Before you respond with, “No exercise is enjoyable,” really open your mind here. Most, if not all of us enjoy moving our bodies in a way that feels good. What way of moving your body feels pleasurable to you? Perhaps you miss going on a morning walk and listening to the birds. Maybe you enjoy the feel of the water when you go swimming. Perhaps you feel powerful lifting weights. If exercise is new to you, think about environments you enjoy being in and how you might inject just a little bit of movement. Perhaps you enjoy that first big stretch before getting out of bed in the morning? No movement is too small. For Step 1, just start identifying where or when you enjoy moving your body. Put judgments aside and think about what feels good in your bones.

STEP 2: Figure out a small and realistic next step based on where you are right now.

Be honest with yourself. If you take advanced yoga classes three times per week, lift weights, and hike regularly, your next step will look very different than if you fancy yourself a couch potato and haven’t exercised in years. It doesn’t matter where you start or how small your first step seems to be. I once had a client who was sedentary, and years ago, she used to love to walk outdoors in her neighborhood. Her first steps toward exercise involved finding and then cleaning her walking shoes. These steps took a couple of weeks, and then she was off and walking. I viewed this as a tremendous success because she had been trying to bully herself into walking for years, with no success. By putting judgments aside (she initially thought these steps were too “small” and “silly”), she was moving regularly, and feeling energized and motivated in a matter of a few weeks.

STEP 3: Take the first step!

This may seem obvious, but many people can get stuck in the planning stages. Planning exercise is not exercise. Once you have identified a first do-able step, take it! Go for it! HINT: If time goes by and you are not taking that first step, break it down further into much smaller steps until you can follow through and take one.

STEP 4: REINFORCE!

There is a reason this step is in all CAPS. I cannot emphasize enough the power of reinforcement. If you respond to the step you have taken by telling yourself it is “too small” or “not enough,” you are punishing yourself for the effort you just put forth and can look forward to another exercise slump and watch your activity level wane. In contrast, reinforcingyourself for doing it, giving yourself positive feedback and being proud of what you are accomplishing is how you can keep your momentum, or build it. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for more specifics on reinforcement and how to do it.)

STEP 5: Keep taking this same step and reinforce it until it becomes easy.

Resist the urge to take on more until you have mastered this step. If you do, you risk becoming overwhelmed and may give up before you’ve reached your exercise goals. Keep taking this step until it no longer feels like a challenge but feels rather easy to do. Once mastered, it is time to increase the difficulty and, you guessed it, reinforce. (Expert tip: Once the step has become easy, reinforce it only sometimes before tapering off the reinforcement altogether. This is called intermittent reinforcement, which is the most effective way to lock in a behavior and make it permanent.)
These steps still apply even if you have an active lifestyle. Are you feeling stalled because you have plateaued, or have been doing the same workout so long that it is easy or boring now? Then make it a little harder, step it up, and move towards a more challenging work out using the five steps above. Immediately jumping ahead to something that is very challenging to you right away can only work if you accept that the road to a new habit or skill is not a straight line. For more on that, visit the earlier article on how change really happens:REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Some ideas for reinforcement:

DEFINITION: A REINFORCER is anything that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

  • TIMING counts!
  • Make sure to reinforce your progress as soon as you can after engaging in the desired behavior. (e.g., You just put on your shoes to go for a short walk to increase fitness. REINFORCE yourself right then. “Nice!” “I did it!” Don’t wait. REINFORCE immediately!)
  • Remember, the brain is making connections. The most powerful connections are made when the behavior and reinforcer happen close together in time. You can do it!
  • Find REINFORCERS that work.

Make a note of the REINFORCERS you want to try from the list below or use the list to help you brainstorm some of your own reinforcers.

  • Congratulate yourself (“Good job!” “You did it!”).
  • Make and enjoy your favorite flavor of tea.
  • Write a smiley face on your list next to the task you accomplished.
  • Stop and notice sensations of pride in your body.
  • Enjoy a small bit of nourishing food you enjoy and really taste it (e.g., a sip of fresh orange juice, a small piece of chocolate).
  • Look in the mirror and say, “I’m really proud of you.” Mean it and take it in. Feel the effects.
  • Choose an activity you enjoy to reward yourself (e.g., coloring, a favorite TV program, listening to a favorite song, play with Play-Doh).
  • Dance around the room.
  • Pat yourself on the back or give yourself a hug and feel the effects.
  • Gently rub the back of your hand while acknowledging your efforts.
  • Keep joyful pictures on your phone and take a moment to look at them and enjoy.

The key, no matter how many good tunes are on your iPod or what new sport you’re trying, is that you reinforce yourself- give yourself credit for all the work you do, even and especially when you are moving towards your goals but have not hit them yet.

For professional help with changing habits and creating a thriving life in alignment with your values, contact Dr. Bando today.

 


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.

 

 

 


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 4 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

Part 4 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide

Overeating during the holidays is a shared experience. Everywhere you go seems to be ripe with opportunities to stuff yourself. Cookies, cakes, desserts, and rich meals abound. If you already struggle with overeating, this time of year can feel like a nightmare. Even if overeating is not typically a problem for you, many people gain weight during the holidays and pay with colds, flu and feeling sluggish, and tight clothes in the months following. Read on for some ideas on eating in a way that makes you feel proud of your behavior and connected to your body.

 

AM I HUNGRY?

During the holidays, our self-care behaviors can be on automatic pilot. There is a lot to pay attention to and noticing how we are feeling or what our body needs may not be on the top of the list or even make it on our radar.

 

It may seem obvious, but asking yourself the question, “Am I hungry?” can change your relationship with food and the choices you make about eating. Here’s how to practice: Take a breath (or three) and notice where in your body you feel your breath. Now ask yourself the question, “Am I hungry?” and notice what your body tells you. Put on a curious hat here and notice. Does your mind come up with words? Do you notice sensations in your body? What happens when you ask yourself if you are hungry?

 

Advanced: You can extend this practice and further ask yourself, “How do I know I am hungry (or full)? Where do I feel it in my body?” Try to notice and describe this to yourself.

 

Extra Credit: While eating, pause now and then to take a breath (or three) and ask yourself these questions again. What do you notice now?

 

Why this works: Taking a few breaths and moments to notice what your body is feeling in relation to food and nourishment can help you connect in, be aware of what your body needs or wants and give you some intention before eating. Eating is designed to be enjoyable, nourishing and deeply satisfying. It is a basic need we all share. Practicing connecting with your body in a nonjudgmental, curious way before and during a meal, can change what you eat, the quantity, or how you feel about it. Experiment and notice what happens!

 

Over eating Therapy, Califorinia Psychologist, online therapy

SELF-COMPASSION

I am trying to come up with one person I know who does not have judgments in relation to food. I can’t think of anyone. Our society breeds food and body judgments: good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, fat (bad) vs. thin (good), worthy (thin and fit) vs. unworthy (fat and unfit). We see people on TV commercials celebrating weight loss through packaged food that really doesn’t taste very satisfying. Probably 99% of actresses or actors do not exceed a certain weight limit. We are given the impression that if we just eat “right,” we should be able to look like these characters and the role our genetics play in body shape and size is minimized. We all, to varying degrees, develop a complex about food, size, and worth. Ironically, food is a basic need that must be satisfied to survive. How strange to be taught guilt, shame and judgment about fulfilling a survival need.

 

Most of these judgments are an intellectual and heady experience that has little to do with the body. While reading labels on food and trying to eat healthily are worthwhile pursuits, it leaves out understanding how the body feels and our ability to respond to the body’s needs. I have clients who thrive while eating mainly a plant-based diet and others whose bodies sing while eating animal products. Others feel great and lose inches and bloat on a high-fat eating plan. Some people have food allergies. Every body is different. Every body has its own, unique experience with food. So, doesn’t it make sense to ask how our body is feeling about eating and respond accordingly?

 

Rather than think about a “good” food to eat, practice asking your body what it needs. See what your body says and how it feels during and after eating. This is a much more compassionate and nurturing way to feed yourself. This process also gives you information. What does your body want and when? What happens when you give this food to your body? Do different quantities of this food affect how your body feels?

 

This approach urges you to develop a supportive relationship with your body, kind of like giving yourself the gift of good parenting. This is especially important if you did not receive nurturing parenting or your body has long been deprived of sweet, gentle compassion. When babies are fed, it is a soft, quiet experience, often followed by sleep. Preferably, soothing tones are spoken, and a gentle touch is given. Imagine feeding yourself in this way. Imagine letting go of judgments, giving your body what it wants to eat in the amount that feels right. Checking in and adjusting type or quantity of food as your body calls for it. What a different experience!

 

In addition to practicing asking yourself if you are hungry, try offering yourself some gentle compassion at your next meal. Maybe place a hand on top of your other hand, as a reminder to bring loving awareness to the experience. Perhaps nourish yourself with a deep breath or words of encouragement such as, “This can be hard. Let’s go slow and see how this feels.” Practice calling up the image of someone you love dearly and while you eat, treat yourself with the love and gentleness you would treat this person. Feed yourself compassion with every bite and see what happens to your relationship with food.

 

REMEMBER, CHANGE IS A PROCESS

My Zen teacher reminds me often, you cannot force change. All you can do is practice. Keep practicing, every day, until one day it becomes who you are.

Happy Holidays! Wishing you a gentle, loving, compassionate experience with yourself and the food you eat.

Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

 

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

If you use any of the practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 2 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

Part 2 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide

 

The holiday season is here, and along with this time of year comes a lot of “stuff”! Yes, “stuff” can come in the form of things, objects, presents, toys, etc., but there is also a lot of emotional “stuff” that gets stirred up this time of year. If you are feeling over-“stuffed” and want to loosen the button on your emotional pants, read on for ways to cope. Part 2 of this four-part Holiday Stress Survival Guide focuses on relationships.

 

RELATIONSHIPS DURING THE HOLIDAYS

The holidays are a time when relationships come front and center. We often spend more time than usual with family members or those who are like family. We can find ourselves in a cocktail of a lot of face-time with people with whom we have a lot of history, and high stress, all while feeling rundown during these cold months and at the height of cold-and-flu season. Maybe not a mixture we would like to order often, but during the holidays, this is what we have on our plate.

California Online Therapist, holiday stress, relationships

 

SKILLS FOR INTERPERSONAL CONFLICTS

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a well-researched therapy offering lots of skills that you can put into practice in real-time to get true results. There is a whole module in DBT focusing on Interpersonal Effectiveness. Here are some quick tips for applying some of my favorite Interpersonal DBT Skills to ward off (or decrease the likelihood of) interpersonal conflicts during the holiday season.

 

Be skillful, and ask for what you want, DEAR. DEAR is an acronym used in DBT that gives us a template for what to say when we would like to ask for something we want. It goes like this:

 

D – Describe just the facts, without judgment. This orients the person to what you would like to discuss.

Example: I’d like to talk about who is making each dish for Christmas dinner this year.

E – Express how you feel about the situation. Explicitly tell the other person how you feel. They may not know if you don’t say the words!

Example: Nobody has committed to bringing a dish yet, and since I am hosting, I’m feeling overwhelmed.

A – Assert what you want. Say precisely what you are asking. Don’t leave it up to guesswork. Be specific, direct and clear.

Example: I would love if you could tell me two dishes you will bring and let me know by this Friday.

R – Reinforce the person in advance for giving you what you want. Here, you are answering the question, “What do they get out of giving me what I am asking for?”

Example: If you tell me by Friday, you can choose whatever is your favorite to bring, and I will be much less stressed the next time we talk! (Don’t be afraid to use a little humor and an easy manner to loosen up the conversation.)

Practice writing out your DEAR ahead of time and then rehearse a few times before you deliver it. The beauty of this skill is that only four little sentences are needed to ask for what you want in a direct and assertive way. You can also use this skill to refuse a request, like a dinner invitation. Use the same steps but instead of “Asserting” a question, say “no” to the request. Try it!

 

VALIDATE (yourself and others)

Validation may be the most powerful interpersonal skill. Use it wisely! When used effectively, validation opens the doors of communication and closeness. Make sure that is what you want and you’re ready. I have seen validation break down walls that have taken years to build. It may be the most potent tool to affect change.

 

People often misinterpret what “validation” means. Validation is not a compliment, agreement, or approval. Telling someone you like something about them or think they are “right” is not validation. Validation is exhibiting that the other person (or yourself) makes sense. We display validation in many ways: paying attention, nodding, asking questions to clarify, making statements such as, “I understand why you feel that way,” or, “That makes sense.” In other words, validation is treating someone as though they make sense whether or not you agree with them or like what they are saying.

 

Validation of either ourselves or others is a mighty technique in diffusing conflicts. Once any of us feel understood and like we matter, we calm down and are less defensive. If you’re interested, check out my quick steps and worksheet for practicing self-validation. You can use the same steps on someone else.

 

Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

 

If you use any of the practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 1 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

 

The holiday season is marketed as being the “most wonderful time” of the year. For many of us, this is not always the case. Our to-do lists get longer: we have gifts to buy, trips to book, decorations to hang, cards to send, and on it goes. Many of us deal with stressful family dynamics that also like to come along for the sleigh ride.

 

All this busy-ness during the holidays can divert us from getting to the heart of what really matters. Everyone may have a slightly different idea about what they value most, but all of us typically want some sense of inner peace, satisfaction, happiness, and connection with those we love. Read on for Part 1 of my four-part Holiday Stress Survival Guide; it contains helpful tips to stop “stuff”ing yourself with all the things the holidays bring – gifts, lists, endless tasks, and yes, food – and ease through the season with a strong connection to whatever is deeply important to you.

 

Peaceful, grounded holiday season, online therapy, counseling

UNREALISTIC HOLIDAY EXPECTATIONS

Holiday movies often set the stage for unrealistic standards. With a funny or heartwarming story centered around family, they sell us the message of a season with fantastic holiday décor, impeccably wrapped gifts, chef-quality meals that magically appear, and relationship snafus ending in a hearty laugh and a hug. This all happens with full hair and makeup, flawlessly styled outfits, and no lint or wrinkles in sight. The media (and retail shops) create pressure to make the holidays shine with the perfect gifts.

 

Social media can also create pressure. Have you ever been at an event that was chaotic and not-so-fun, only to discover a friend post a picture of that same event looking charming and lovely? You wonder what happened to the screaming, running children, dog pee in the middle of the room, turkey that fell on the floor and all the grumbling guests.

 

The point here is that pictures and videos, whether they are professionally laid out ads who employ a full-time staff to capture one perfect-looking moment or a friend’s Facebook post, are typically not representative of how the in-person moment honestly feels. People are putting their best foot forward, and we don’t see the behind-the-scenes struggles. Have you heard that old saying, “Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides?” You will almost always come up short.

So, what do we do?

Take control and set your own expectations!

 

STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR OWN VALUES

As always, take a deep breath (or three), and center yourself. Acknowledge that you have access to your wisdom and call on it to come forth and take over for a moment. Now, define a couple of values that you would like to take through the holiday season and jot them down or save them somewhere. Some ideas are below. Pick a few or come up with your own. Make sure to select value-words that resonate with you right now. Do not choose any words that come with the idea that you “should” value them. Only pick the values that sing to you in this moment.

 

ACCEPTANCE — ADVENTURE — BEAUTY — CARING — COMFORT — COMPASSION — CONTRIBUTION — COOPERATION — CREATIVITY — ECOLOGY — FAITHFULNESS — FLEXIBILITY — FORGIVENESS — FUN — GENEROSITY — GENUINENESS — GROWTH — HEALTH — HUMOR — INTIMACY — LOVING — MINDFULNESS — MODERATION — OPENNESS — PASSION — PLEASURE — PURPOSE — ROMANCE — SELF-ACCEPTANCE — SELF-COMPASSION — SIMPLICITY — SPIRITUALITY — TOLERANCE — TRADITION

 

STEP 2: PRIORITIZE

If you chose a bunch of values, take a moment to pick just one or two that stand out most to you. Check in with yourself and make sure it feels right – that if this value carries you through the holiday season, you will feel pride in your actions and as though you are living in your integrity.

Make the holidays easy, telehealth online therapy California

STEP 3: MAKE IT EASY

Nobody needs extra work during the busy holiday stress season. Instead of setting hard-to-reach goals about behaving in particular ways according to your values, let up a bit and create something gentler that will permeate and be effective.

 

I suggest putting the couple words you chose in the places that you will see them often. Some ideas: post-its on your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, in the car; notes with reminder bells on your calendar; a love note to yourself with these words placed in your packed lunch or on your nightstand to read just before bed and upon waking. You get the idea – put these meaningful values places that you will see them often. When you see them, you can just walk on by, and let them sneak in through your periphery. Sometimes, when you have the minute to spare, you can use the words as a reminder to take a breath (or three) and focus on your desire to bring these qualities into your life.

 

STEP 4: DON’T FORGET SELF-COMPASSION!

Want to turn it up a notch and ensure these values powerfully appear in your life? Offer them to yourself! Try a short, little practice daily, and you may be amazed at what starts to happen. Find a ritual that you engage in every day: brushing your teeth, making coffee or tea, putting on your shoes. Tie this ritual to the value-words you have chosen and offer these values to yourself. For example, if you selected the values of “comfort” and “health,” while brushing your teeth (or whatever activity you choose) say to yourself, “May I receive comfort. May I receive health.” Repeat the statements over and over again. Do it again the next day and the next. It does not matter whether you feel their impact or reject them totally. Keep saying the statements over and over. Let the statements do the work and seep in on their own time.

 

Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

 

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

 

If you do partake in any of the holiday stress relieving practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.

 

 


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Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando