How many of us can relate to one of these scenarios?
Anne is having a really stressful day at work. There is so much to get accomplished and not enough time. It’s all on her shoulders to complete these tasks. Her boss is counting on her. She’s just stressed to the max. Anne reaches for that food that she knows is going to make her feel better. Something about chocolate just helps her feel calmer, so she can keep going. And it does... for a few minutes. Then the stress comes back and now she feels like a failure because she “blew it.”
Jill finished dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and feels satisfied after a good day. She’s relaxing on the couch with the hubs, watching TV. The next thing she knows, there’s a bowl of ice cream in her lap. Inside, she’s asking herself why she’s doing it. She’s shaming yourself. But she’s still snacking.
Laura enjoyed a nice meal out with girlfriends. It was delicious, and she’s really full, but her best friend suggests you all order dessert. She knows she doesn’t need it, and doesn’t really even have room for it, but she orders it anyway. She can’t let her bestie eat dessert alone, right? That would be rude. So they share the dessert, and Laura feels bloated and sick the rest of the night and beats herself up for being “weak” and lacking discipline.
Maggie got in a really good workout and is feeling good about herself. It’s Friday night, which is pizza night at her house. She had plans for a huge salad because she knows she’s going out tomorrow night. When she gets home, she’s starving and pizza sounds so good! She tells herself, “I worked out really hard today. I earned it!” But then one slice becomes three, and she’s so mad at herself all weekend for not sticking with her plan.
Susan eats really healthily all day. Lots of fruits and veggies for breakfast and lunch. She is feeling good about her body, and her friends are always impressed with how well she takes care of herself. But when she gets home at night, she eats all the junk food. She feels like she undid all the good work she put in during the day, and she feels like a fraud.
Our brains are complex organs. We have the best of intentions, and then we act in contrary to what we want sometimes. It can be so frustrating! We all do it in some ways. It’s not because we’re weak or undisciplined. It’s not because we don’t think we deserve good in our lives. When our actions don’t match our goals, it’s because the part of us engaging in the negative behavior wants to have a say too. The behavior is only a symptom of something. We’re made up of all these different parts and each of those parts has a positive intention. You may be saying to yourself, “how can stress eating have a positive intention?” I’m so glad you asked.
Take Susan, for instance. The part of Susan that monitors her long term health is in conflict with the part of her that craves junk food. Eating the junk food is just an action initiated by that other part of her. What exactly is that part of her that craves junk food, and what is its intention? Only she knows. Or maybe she doesn’t. It’s getting to the root of that part of her and allowing that part to communicate with the part that looks out for her health that’s the challenge. When we allow these conflicting parts to acknowledge one another, they can begin moving in the same direction, and then we can begin to change our behavior.
So the next time you find yourself acting in a way that isn’t congruent with your goals, take a moment to stop and see if you can identify where that part is coming from. It’s not easy, and it’s not always clear and straightforward. It’s about self-awareness, and raising our self-awareness is always a good thing.
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