Strategies on Rewiring the Brain One Deep Breath at a Time

Most people, especially women, spend the vast majority of their life going on and off diets, only to gain back more weight than they lost. Not infrequently, there is a lot of stress associated with these diet modifications and trends, such as having to choose between different types of food, paying attention to specified times, or having to monitor every single calorie.

This is exactly what Bonnie went through for the majority of her life.

Bonnie has been on and off a diet for most of her adult life. She alternated between a rigorous low-calorie diet and entirely giving up and eating with reckless abandon. Slowly gained weight throughout the years, regaining more than she had lost on her previous diet.

She, on the other hand, felt penalized when she was on a diet. She also believed she deserved the penalty because she could only blame herself for her current situation, right? She was never satisfied with her diet, but she wasn't hungry, yet she wasn't satiated either. The food was always monotonous, and it didn't take long for the notion of eating another low-calorie meal to make her realize she couldn't go on much longer.

When she gave up her diet it was usually precipitated by a stressful event, such as:

  • The stress could be anything that caused a negative emotion

  • Someone could be disappointed in her

  • She could be unhappy with her performance

  • Or she could remember an old pain that swirled around unendingly in her mind.

When she ate under stress, she typically ate very fast, not really enjoying what she ate. The guilt that came afterward always lingered.

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The act of eating itself caused her body to feel uneasy. Her breathing was labored. She felt a tenseness in her gut, similar to sickness. Her thoughts were divided between "should I?" and "shouldn't I?"

She was never content with what she ate. She was either rationalizing a terrible decision or being disappointed in a good one - it felt like a never-ending battle. It wasn't long until her entire existence seemed constrained, and her space became increasingly limited.

For Bonnie, the act of eating was associated with either punishment or guilt.

There was no winning. She needed to change her relationship with food and eating. Ultimately, she needed to change how she saw herself.

A good starting place was “one deep breath.”

Here’s how she retrained her mind

She decided to retrain her mind such that eating would be fulfilling and joyful rather than punitive or stressful.

To retrain her mind and body, she needed to first become aware of her internal dialogue and her body's reaction to it.

Bonnie noticed that the concept of eating set off a nasty chain of thoughts. Typically, it was judgments, criticism, and negativity.

Her body reacted to the stress of this mental discussion by becoming tense, nauseated, and breathing shallowly. Fear, worry, and passionate annoyance were all elicited as a result of these unpleasant mental talks. She would never say anything unpleasant to anyone. She would never say anything unpleasant to anyone.

And so, she became aware of how vicious she was to herself.

How to get out of this vicious never-ending cycle

When Bonnie was hungry or it came time to eat, she took "one deep breath" and thought the nicest, supportive thoughts she could imagine - she pondered what she would say to her child or best friend.

She let her breath guide her. When she was pleasant and helpful, her breathing slowed and her body relaxed. As her breath became shallower or her body stiff, she realized she needed a few more minutes to take a deep breath and calm down.

Bonnie made it a point to unwind before eating anything. She trusted herself to make healthier decisions once she felt more centered. She ate more slowly and became aware of any building stress in her body. Because, when she was stressed, she would speed up her eating.

Her shallow breath or tightness had now become her cue to calm down, breathe, and re-center.

She was able to adjust her eating habits and weight over time. Eating was both nutritious and pleasurable. She looked forward to eating nutritious meals and came to consider meal preparation as a labor of love rather than a chore or something she desired to avoid.

Bonnie was quickly becoming her own best friend.

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