Many patients of mine use food as a way to distract themselves from deeper, emotional conflicts rooted in earlier life experiences. Focusing on food provides them with a kind of shield from troubling thoughts and feelings like unresolved grief, low self-esteem and low mood. It is as if the unconscious parts of them that need soothing commandeer their conscious, better judgment and "procure" an excess of food, almost against their will.
This reality helped me come up with a technique to battle overeating, which has helped many of my patients and might help you, too (with overeating or any addiction). It's pretty simple, but it's proving to be pretty effective. It involves ministering, if you will, to the part of you that "takes over" and defeats your willpower.
I now tell patients trying to lose weight that they should literally talk to themselves when they want a fattening food or a second helping or a snack. I tell them to acknowledge their desires, but state emphatically that fulfilling those desires simply isn't possible. It goes something like this_ "Right, of course you want to go out and grab a snack right now, because you love having snacks between meals, but that just can't happen, because I just don't eat between meals." Or: "No, I totally get it. You want an ice cream. But the trouble is, that isn't going to happen, because I don't eat ice cream."
In this way, you literally cleave off the self-defeating part of yourself, commiserate with it, but control it. If this sounds like treating the addicted part of yourself like a child, it is. Our out-of-control behaviors are very childish.
The two critical elements of the self-communication I suggest are: 1. Allow the child in yourself to grieve the loss of what he/she wants. "You do love Coke. I know. And it is right there in the refrigerator. I know. I get it." 2. Emphatically set a limit, like a good parent. "The fact is, though, that I don't drink Coke, so I might as well get a glass of sparkling water, because I am thirsty."
Give it a try. I have had patients lose weight this way, stop smoking this way and even stop drinking this way.
If it doesn't work at first, keep trying. Talk it out with yourself. "Okay, so that's understandable. You do love dessert. And it is tough to imagine you won't be having dessert, anymore. I know. I know. I get it. But since I don't eat dessert, tomorrow I'll have to literally get up from the table after my last bite of dinner, wash the dishes and go upstairs to read a book."
We are-all of us-a combination of the things we do knowingly and those we are driven to do, almost unconsciously. Bring as much of your mind into consciousness as possible, and you can defeat most any habit.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement includingwww.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team.