When Lack of Willpower is a Symptom of Feeling Unsafe

When thinking about getting back “on track” with our eating or ending self-sabotage around food, traditionally we’ve had to resist the food and garner up enough willpower or discipline to make changes. What if the issue isn’t about the food and isn’t because of who you are around food?

People often ask me how Truce with Food is different from therapy, other coaching programs, diets, etc. They are also curious as to what kind of results they can expect from the process.

One of the main differences with Truce with Food is we look at unaligned eating (eating mindlessly, when you’re bored, tired, are self-sabotaging, etc.) as a symptom that you’re feeling a sense of risk or unsafe.

But what do I mean by that? We’re often turning to food when we feel our sense of belonging is at risk or threatened in some way, which could look like:

  • Eating to stuff down something you want to say. That way you keep yourself safe by not speaking up for your needs for fear of judgment
  • Not going to a party with people you don’t know because you might be exposed or rejected, so you stay at home, order food in and binge eat on the sofa.
  • Putting off getting started with tasks or projects at work for fear that you’ll fail or won’t be able to do them perfectly. Instead, you grab whatever sweets you can find to try to muster up the energy to start the project.
  • Not ordering what you really want at a restaurant because you don’t want to be high maintenance and/or you want to fit in with everyone else.

All those situations lead to feeling at risk (whether it’s a perceived or real risk) that you could be judged, fail, or would be rejected (either by others or yourself) and so you do what you need to do to protect yourself. And, when your needs aren’t met or you feel constricted for a period, you press the release valve by diving into a Costco size bag of M&Ms, or a family-size bag of popcorn.

So, why does this happen?

One client expressed it perfectly when she said, “I’ve essentially been imprisoned by the thoughts, values, and opinions of others and it has impacted my sense of self. I’ve realized that the physical weight I’m carrying has been from the expectations, pressure, and stress from trying to be someone else for the approval, love, and validation of others. That’s why it didn’t matter how much I worked out, didn’t eat, did eat, etc., because the issue wasn’t really about the food, but was lurking underneath the food. Overeating is a symptom!”

What this client is describing is choosing how we want to respond to our lives in the present versus reacting to our past story. To be able to respond instead of reacting, we have to feel safer. Often, we feel unsafe from our own self-judgments, which we project outwards onto others and our experiences. We are subjected to these judgments unless we can start to see, “Oh! This is what I’m making this mean about me. Is this actually true?”

For example, do you ever say something and then read the look on someone’s face? Based on the look you may think they’re judging you for saying something “stupid.” You were making meaning based on the expression of their face and then quickly created a self-judgment. It may have been true they were judging you, or it may be untrue.

The more we can see the values and self-judgments wrapped up into our sense of “good” and “bad,” the more we can question our story about ourselves and the situations, and then choose differently.

When we are subjected to our story and the meaning we’ve made about ourselves, we’re often unaware we are creating a perception of ourselves, let alone projecting it onto an experience. Instead, it just feels like ‘this is what is happening’ and then unconsciously, ‘this is what’s at risk.’ And often the emotion is laced with shame, which makes it feel so overwhelming.

The first step towards experiencing a Truce with Food is understanding what specific meaning you made about yourself in your story and identifying how this meaning was often learned from other people. As a part of that, we also need to identify the values and self-judgments authoritative influences had and passed onto you, implicitly, or explicitly.

Once we know what was passed onto us, we open ourselves up to other possibilities and start to question whether we’re really at risk or not. Over time, we build our resilience and explore other options of how we want to be in situations that are more rewarding. Then, you can give yourself more grace and compassion, instead of judgment. After all, we are just human and have needs. Right now, you’re likely doing what you’ve had to do to meet the needs you had in the past. But, what if your needs have changed, or you aren’t even sure of what your needs are right now?

That’s where Truce with Food comes in! By identifying the gap between what you value and how you’ve been protecting yourself, real shifts can start to take place with your relationship with food, as well as your relationship with yourself, work, and others. It’s a powerful process!

Three months into her Truce with Food program, my client Z. G. shared how much it was shifting things for her in her life:

“It’s like I have a new best friend that I want to protect, honor, care for, value, respect, affirm, and love. It’s like a homecoming in which I’m beginning to feel rooted and grounded in myself. I’m starting to feel safe and secure within myself, with myself.

This is the feeling I’ve been yearning and searching for in other things and people to give me. And I didn’t have to be 150 pounds to get here!  I’ve been going all around the mulberry bush chasing things and people I thought would make me happy, worthy, lovable etc., while neglecting the person right in front of my face!

I haven’t had any popcorn since last week! And I don’t have this insatiable drive to get it like before. I even turned down a piece of cake! That’s a huge deal for me because I rarely turn down food, especially cake. I just didn’t have a desire or need for it, so I passed.”

I don’t know about you, but I got goosebumps when I read that. If you’re wondering if you could get the same results from Truce with Food and if it’s right for you, schedule a Curiosity Call and let’s chat! You’ll fill me in on your challenges with your relationship with food and will have a safe space to talk about what’s been swirling around in your mind. (There’s absolutely no charge for our first chat.)

Or, if you’re not ready for that step yet, download your free ‘get back on track’ guide to help get to the bottom of why your eating feels out of control.

About Laura:

Laura is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and holds a certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN). She has supported over 100 clients who know what they should be eating but have a hard time sticking to it by helping them identify the familiar patterns keeping them stuck so they can radically transform their relationship with food.

Laura is a facilitator of the research-based Truce with Food® process, which helps clients achieve sustainable results by getting to the bottom of why they fall off track and aren’t able to remain consistent. She’s also the creator of the self-paced course, “Behind Your Cravings” and the creator and facilitator of the free, online Behind Your Cravings Community.

After successfully losing 60 pounds and working through her own emotional relationship with food, Laura’s mission became helping others get to the bottom of their self-sabotaging patterns.

Laura coaches clients one-on-one, in small groups, runs workshops, speaks at summits and conferences, and has been featured in Voyage Chicago. Laura can be contacted at [email protected].

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