Do you find yourself eating foods you swore you weren’t going to eat? Or grazing from snack to snack when you’re not even hungry? That’s what it was like for me during the first half of my life when I suffered from Binge-eating Disorder. Back then, I was desperate to know what made me engage in such behavior. I was also unaware of the impact my self talk had on my eating.
That little voice
I now know the answer to what made me act this way. It was a little voice in my head that kept me eating when I was way past full or turning to food when I was upset. The voice sounded something like this: “Hmm, I wonder what I can snack on,” “I don’t care if I’m not hungry, I deserve it,” “But it tastes so good,” or “I’ll just have a bite.” Sound familiar?
Revamp your self talk
If so, it’s time to revamp your self talk and get it working for, not against, you. Self-talk involves the conscious and unconscious things you say to get yourself to do this and not that. Unlike random thoughts, it’s a process that morphs thought into action, propelling you to do one thing rather than another. For example, “I don’t care if I shouldn’t have it, I want it” leads you to eat. While “I’m not really hungry, so I’ll pass on seconds,” leads you to not eat. In both instances, we’re giving directions to the brain to take action.
Think of this internal messaging as self-instruction that can be either constructive (encouraging you toward healthy behavior) or destructive (pushing you toward unhealthy behavior).
The more oblivious you are of self-talk, the more you do things you were certain you didn’t want to do.
Alternately, the more carefully you observe and note what you’re saying, the better the chance of stopping misguided thoughts and redirecting your brain toward actions that support health and well-being.
Pay attention to self talk
Start by paying attention to every snippet of self-talk. Actively listen for it so it doesn’t sneak under your radar and hijack your brain. Evaluate each piece of self-talk as useful or not. The Greek philosopher Socrates said that
The unexamined life is not worth living.Socrates
I’d add that the unexamined things you tell yourself are not worth listening to.
All self-talk is not created equal. Some ideas are treasures and should be taken to heart while others should be dumped into the trash. Once you’re tuned into self-talk and are getting the hang of identifying and assessing it, it’s time for a make-over using these rules.
Self Talk Rules
Make it pride-based
Dysregulated eating is often shamed-based, causing you to feel guilty and bad when you think about or do it. Telling yourself, “I hate myself for eating so much pizza” programs you to eat it and feel terrible afterward. Say only things that make you proud such as, “I ate more pizza than I wish I had eaten, but I feel proud that I left some and put it away for tomorrow.” This statement acknowledges your disappointment and ends on a high note.
Make it positive
When you give voice to an intention to do something that’s not in your best interest, you’re more likely to follow through. Saying, “I just know I’ll eat the whole bag of chips,” tells your brain to polish them off. Instead, say something positive, such as, “I’ll eat until I’m full or satisfied and then I’ll happily stop.” As the saying goes, “If you say you can’t, you can’t.” Instead, instruct yourself that you can.
Make it loving and supportive
Much of the self-talk of dysregulated eaters (not just about food) is composed of commands such as “I should, shouldn’t, must, need to, have to, and am supposed to.” Do you really want to be bossing yourself around?
Gently silence commands and replace them with words from the heart: “you want, wish, prefer, desire, and would like to.” Try saying something in both command and heart mode and notice which one feels better.
Make it compassionate
Most dysregulated eaters know how to be compassionate toward others but are unduly hard on themselves. They want others to feel good, while they (unconsciously) bully themselves into feeling bad. They incorrectly think that it will motivate them. Saying, “If I weren’t so lazy, I’d make a decent meal for myself” is a put down and it’s highly unlikely to motivate you to cook more. Instead, offer yourself a dose of compassion by saying, “I’m not the best cook and have a busy life. And I love myself enough to prepare healthy meals.”
Make it empowering
So much self-talk of dysregulated eaters drains them of power. If you tell yourself, “I’ll never learn to eat mindfully,” you won’t. I understand that you fear getting your hopes up only to fail. But if you want to succeed, you’ll only do so by constant reinforcement. I can learn to cook, I will buy healthier food, I’m stronger than I thought, I’ll get through this.
Changing your self-talk is one of the easiest ways to improve your eating. It’s not necessary to completely believe what you’re saying.
Change happens by repeatedly voicing and hearing your goals and strengths.
That’s how we learn, through repetition. Imagine tuning up your self-talk and having the relationship you want with food and your body.