Mindfully binging: Resisting discomfort begets discomfort
By Ari Snaevarsson, Features Editor
If you’ve read many of my past articles, firstly I want to congratulate you on your refined taste in health/fitness writers, and secondly I think it is fair to say that a common theme has made itself visible in my writing, namely that of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Certainly, entire volumes can be written on this topic (and have been), so I need not belabor this point. But, so that we are all on the same page, mindfulness refers to a focusing in on the present moment, rather than ruminating on the past or fixating on the future. The term is often used synonymously with meditation, which tends to be thought of in the context of sitting meditation practice, but it has use in many realms outside of this as well, most important for the purposes of my articles being that of dieting.
Do you know what one response we all have to instances of “failure” in our diets, or else full-blown binge-eating sessions? Resistance.
This is a lesson I have only started to understand in the past couple months of meditation and applied daily mindfulness. It is of course human instinct to meet uncomfortable, stressful, or painful situations with resistance. This could be in the form of beating yourself up (“I suck at dieting! Why did I ever think I could do this?”), escapist tendencies (i.e. using drugs or alcohol or pornography to block out the feelings), or even just trying not to think about it after it happens. Whatever the case, it boils down to the same basic, counterintuitively counterproductive response.
Resisting discomfort begets discomfort
The dark irony behind this habitual response to resist negative emotions that arise is that in resisting them, we are only making them stronger. Why is this so? Well, certainly some advanced psychological concepts way above my paygrade are at play, but in a more simplistic sense, what is happening is that we are letting the cycle of negative thought patterns to continue going unchecked.
Where the body is hardwired to respond to the cue for said negative habit to begin, it will naturally release the same neurotransmitters and hormones it is used to releasing, and it will ultimately inspire the same physically manifested responses we are used to enacting. In other words, walking by the cookie aisle triggers the onset of a craving for junk food or a full-blown binge session, the brain and body interact as they always do in these familiar circumstances (familiar to the individual experiencing them), this tells us to respond with the stimulus we know from experience will complete the reward circuit, and in the end we are driven to act on this, and we do.
For the sake of convenience, I will be speaking in terms of a full-blown binge, whether part of an established eating disorder (i.e. Binge Eating Disorder or bulimia nervosa) or subclinical disordered eating patterns. And to ensure we are all on the same page, binge eating, or binging, refers to the consumption of unusually large amounts of food, generally accompanied by a loss of self-control (according to the Mayo Clinic). Mindfully binging (this may or may not be an actual concept in treatment of eating issues, so it may have different meanings to different advocates of the method) denotes a purposeful bypassing of this initial resistance that is so common.
How to mindfully binge
Please note that I am by no means advocating that you purposefully initiate a binge-eating session with this in mind. This is a means of dealing with the behavior once you feel the cycle beginning. With that out of the way, a mindful binge looks something like this:
- When we notice the first sign that a binge session is on its way, we stop and notice.
- We notice what that first trigger is and how we feel in this moment.
- We shift our focus to the breath, riding the wave of each inbreath and outbreath, taking thoughtful consideration to their innate uniqueness (no one breath is the same!).
- We feel the points of contact between our body and the chair we are sitting on, or bed we are lying on, or ground we are standing on.
- We specifically stop and feel the powerful emotions that are festering inside of us.
- Most importantly, we come to terms with the calming fact that these emotions are harmless. They themselves are not capable of causing you any real pain, and they are not forcing you to continue down the path you might otherwise be led to believe is inevitable.
Noticing can be painful, but it is not optional
This kind of mindfulness, that is comprised of actively opening ourselves to these unpleasant feelings and making ourselves vulnerable in this light, is something most people do not associate with the practice, and yet it is arguably the most important aspect. Painful emotions exist, and to do anything with the goal in mind that we can or will eliminate them is naive at best. By sitting with these troublesome thoughts (be they self-doubt or disgust or depression or hatred), we are equipping ourselves to deal with these inevitable emotional responses in the most appropriate and realistic manner.
At this point, if you are still reading this, you have presumably stuck with the entire article. That tells me you either are taking an active role in understanding the complexities of dieting and finding means of optimizing the relevant facets or you are one of the copy/web editors (in which case, you still did put the work in to actually read this through). In either circumstance, I want to thank you for bearing with me.
I also want you to know that if you can bring yourself to the point where you are not only absorbing these principles but actually applying them in your everyday life, I am confident you will see discernible changes in the near future. Keep grinding!