Running the Gauntlet

Mindless Eating to Conscious Choice. ~ Part 1

I know a woman who faces a daily challenge in her workplace.  She works in a government building with lots of staff, multiple offices, and a reception area overflowing with free treats.  She says that it feels like she’s facing a gauntlet of candy every time she has to pass the reception desk on her way to her office.

Human beings evolved as hunter-gatherers. We evolved to eat food when it was readily available.  When our ancestors found sweet berries and fruits out in the wild, they understood that those things had a limited shelf life and would be gone soon.  They ate sweets when they were available. All of them.  This is normal human behavior because of the way we evolved.

Google image

The woman went on to tell me that it was possible for her to resist the sugary treats early in the day, however the later her work day wore on, the less in-control of her own decision-making she felt.  That makes total sense.  When we rely on willpower, it’s like a bank account we draw down throughout the day. By late afternoon we may have used up our entire supply of willpower. This is common for most of us when we try to resist something.

This resonates completely for me.  I can’t tell you how many times I started an eating plan with complete conviction, only to fall victim to old familiar patterns later in the day. It’s easy to do.  Familiar eating patterns often call us back because they ARE familiar. We can get there with our eyes closed.  Sometimes we’re in the middle of a behavior before we even realize we’re doing it!

This is even easier to do when we find ourselves in an environment with free-flowing food.

Easier still when we find ourselves in a series of environments with free-flowing sweets, high-fat foods, and alcoholic beverages, served up alongside heaping helpings of social pressures, anxiety, and stress. 

Like the modern holiday season!

Halloween to Super Bowl is one long gauntlet of goodies.

If tradition demands we eat particular treats on special holidays, who are we to argue?  It’s so EASY to find any reason to eat off plan!  It’s easy to get distracted, and head down that familiar path toward eating foods that soothe our emotions, but do not serve our health.

The gauntlet lies before us, and the challenges are familiar and inviting.

Family members want to love us with food.  Holiday buffets are loaded with sugary nostalgia, satisfying fats, and dopamine rewards.  The desire to release stress, feeds our desire to eat because eating releases dopamine in our brains which actually relieves stress and makes us feel good.  It makes total sense that if we are feeling stressed, we want to engage in familiar behaviors that we know will release stress.

Often our own beliefs challenge us and limit our choices: “I have to eat the pie on Thanksgiving!”  Or whatever it is for you – peanut butter cups at Halloween, cheese balls or fudge at Christmas – that “thing” you can’t resist.  We convince ourselves that we have no power over certain foods by reciting mantras like “I can’t say no to cheese” or
“I can never resist chocolate.”

Those beliefs limit us into thinking we MUST say yes to the holiday delight.  What if someone offers seconds?  Thirds?  How many times must we say yes to it?  Yes to them?  Until the treats are all gone?  Until we are no longer in the vicinity of the treat?  And what if we want to say no?  What if we’re really full?  Do we still have to eat the pie just because it’s that holiday?  

If we convince ourselves that we are powerless whenever our favorite temptation is about, then guess what?  Of COURSE we give in when it’s sitting there free for the taking (we’re powerless not too, right?).  We have trained our mind (brainwashed ourselves) to BELIEVE that there is no other option.  We believe the lie we have been telling ourselves – that we are powerless to resist.  It’s there in front of us, so we HAVE to eat it.  We convince ourselves internally that we have no choice.  It’s a slippery fucking slope.

Then when we overeat, we scold and shame ourselves for “doing it again” or for not sticking to our eating plan.  

I find the descriptor ‘gauntlet’ particularly apt since it has two definitions that fit this situation.

Gauntlet: 1) an intimidating or dangerous experience one must go through in order to reach a goal.  2) the punishment of receiving blows while running between two rows of men with sticks.

But the punishment of blows comes from the self-defeating thoughts inside our own head, not rows of men with sticks.  

How was your Halloween?   
How successfully did you align with your own intentions and goals?   
How does your energy feel when you read those questions? 

If the questions above leave you with a sinking feeling, you are judging yourself harshly. 

Our own harsh judgment is one of the BIGGEST things holding us in this pattern of wanting to change, trying to make changes, not feeling 100% successful with the new behaviors, beating ourselves up for ‘failure’, and then comforting with the old behaviors we are trying to avoid – which leads to further ‘failure’ and beating ourselves up.

This was my pattern for decades.  Coaching helped me disrupt that behavior pattern so I could finally grow forward!

So how do we disrupt familiar behavior patterns that are harming us?  How do we walk past the candy basket on the desk fifteen times a day when it has our favorite morsels?  How do we navigate the holidays without overeating?

HOW do we move from mindless eating to conscious choice?

As a core energy coach, I have a process to help my clients do JUST that.  Today I want to share just the first crucial piece.

I have discovered from my own experience and from talking with clients that retraining our self-critical messaging is of utmost importance when it comes to making conscious, intentional choices around food.

How to Retrain Your Inner Critic

The critic voice in your head is a part of you.  That critic arose with the most noble of intentions – to protect you from harm.  She cries in alarm whenever she senses danger.  When our critic voice tells us to keep small, play it safe, don’t make waves, don’t try anything new – she is sincerely trying to protect us from emotions that feel crappy.  When we experienced fear, embarrassment, guilt, shame, regret, rejection, anger, and so many other painful emotions, we did not like the way they felt.  Our critic voice arose to keep us from experiencing those emotions again.

image borrowed from the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine

If she perceives that we may experience uncomfortable emotions, she will say anything to protect us from that – even make us feel like shit so we don’t risk embarrassment or rejection.  Weird, right?  The human mind is fascinating.

We tend to be far more forgiving of others than we are of ourselves, so there are a couple of techniques that I find helpful to stop the exhaustion created by inner critic messaging.  In the moment we become aware that we are repeating an OLD behavior pattern, we can choose to beat ourselves up again, or we can choose one of these helpful alternatives:

Toddler Technique ~

If we had a toddler at home learning to walk, and she lost her balance and fell on her diapered butt, would we scold her? Of course not. We encourage her when she is doing well, and understand that it is completely normal when she loses her balance.

How different is this from how we treat ourselves when we fall short of your goals?  It’s very common when learning new behaviors to get frustrated or irritated with ourselves when we lose our balance, or don’t get it perfectly right on the first try.

When we’re learning new behaviors, we’re going to fall occasionally!

Can we give ourselves some grace around new behaviors, just as we would the toddler, while we find our balance?

How possible is it to treat yourself with as much love and gentle kindness as you would treat your toddler?

What emotions come up if you treat yourself that way?

Put another way; Will we beat up on our toddler-self, or lovingly encourage her to try again, and help her regain her balance?

Helpful Employee Technique ~

Pretend your inner critic voice is a valuable, loyal employee who wants nothing more than to protect you.  If you ignore or repress the critic voice, she generally screams loudly because she is afraid you will leave her behind, she will be lonely, and you will surely come to harm if she is not there to protect you from danger.

What if instead of ignoring or repressing her, we give her praise and appreciation for being SO good at her job?  

We can let this aspect of ourselves know that we value her service so much that we have a new and more important role for her.  We can offer this employee, who protects us so aggressively, the job of protecting us from all the harmful inner critic messages that we have internalized.

We can make a list for this employee of all the messages we WANT to internalize, and retrain her to read those messages when she catches the old messaging sneaking in.  This employee wants to help, and she is already really good at spotting harm!  We can retrain her from a critical voice to a healing, nourishing, supportive ally.

Sometimes our helpful employee will fall back into old patterns.  That’s perfectly normal after years or decades of being trained to be hyper critical. 

Gently remind her that we’re not doing things that way anymore, we’re going in a healthier direction.  Read over the list of new messages again to gently get your employee back on the right track.

We can retrain our inner critic to be a helpful employee. It’s a vital first step toward disrupting familiar patterns of behavior that we wish to change.

Grow on!

What sorts of messages has your critic has been using to beat up on you?
What kind of things trigger you beating up on yourself?
What kind of things trigger your need to protect yourself from negative emotions?
What messages would you like to internalize? Make a list of these messages for your helpful employee, and read it often!


If you want to learn more about the process to move from mindless eating to conscious choice, book a 20 minute conversation AT THIS LINK. I would love to chat with you to find out if partnering with me can help you overcome what’s holding you back, and start creating the changes you desire!

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