Breaking Up With Binge Eating

Self Monitoring (Because Someone Needs To Keep an Eye on You)

September 24, 2020 Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Self Monitoring (Because Someone Needs To Keep an Eye on You)
Chapters
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Self Monitoring (Because Someone Needs To Keep an Eye on You)
Sep 24, 2020
Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia

We crave data. We journal our workouts, log physical measurements, and take interest in our gadgets' feedback on our steps counts and hours of sleep. But without insight into our psychological health, we suffer a major big blind spot. 

Staying aware of how we're doing psychologically gives us an edge in preventing and ending binge eating and emotional eating. In this episode you'll learn about 5 of your psychological needs, how to tell when we are replete or running low, and how this awareness helps us end binge eating. 

Show Notes Transcript

We crave data. We journal our workouts, log physical measurements, and take interest in our gadgets' feedback on our steps counts and hours of sleep. But without insight into our psychological health, we suffer a major big blind spot. 

Staying aware of how we're doing psychologically gives us an edge in preventing and ending binge eating and emotional eating. In this episode you'll learn about 5 of your psychological needs, how to tell when we are replete or running low, and how this awareness helps us end binge eating. 

Self-Monitoring 


“What if this was a terrible idea I regret forever? What if I can’t make enough money doing this to support myself and just end up a total failure? I’ve wanted to be my own boss for the longest time, but if I faceplant going this I think I’ll be too scared to try anything ever again!”

Nicole had decided to resign from her current job as a schoolteacher and work as a private tutor. She had experience teaching a variety of subjects and grade levels. She had an impressive track record of student success. She could teach everything from 3 foreign  languages to biochemistry. What she didn’t have right now, was confidence. 

She was in a near panic at the impending start of the new school year. It was the first time she wouldn’t be heading back into a school classroom. She had enough tutoring clients signed up to keep her busy for the first 3 months, yet she worried incessantly about how it would pan out after that. Would they all continue tutoring long term? Would it be weird getting paid by parents instead of taking home a regular salary? If someone didn’t pay her, then what? Would she have to take them to court or hire a lawyer?  

What if she broke her leg and couldn’t drive for 3 months? She wouldn’t be able to get to work! Her mind played out worst-case scenarios like a tragic film. And the last three nights, Nicole had found herself in the kitchen after dinner, eating slice after slice of bread with butter and sugar. 

Nicole was in a real rough patch psychologically, and this type of lingering uncomfortable situation is a common one which people respond to with binge eating. Today we’ll talk about our psychological well being, how we can sense when it’s threatened, and respond in a way that avoids emotionally eating or binge eating.    

(intro)

In this episode we're going to practice some mindset skills, since our strength between the ears is crucial to stopping binge eating or emotional eating. We’re going to learn about Self Monitoring and Self-Soothing, a pair of strategies which support our mental health, much like the way exercise improves our physical fitness.

First, let’s look at what happens if we don’t have these abilities well practiced and strong. This explains why I think it’s so important to teach my clients this skill. You might discover that your feelings of distress seem to build up silently and then spill over or burst out of you. This can take the form of sudden crying, feeling like you are having a meltdown, or in many cases compulsively eating excess amounts of food. You might also feel like you have lingering worries or distresses that don’t seem to improve or go away with time, and so the same issues trigger you on a regular basis into binge eating or overeating. Third, a sign that this skill will really help you, is that you find when you are really upset or laden with a problem, you feel an increasingly desperate desire for someone to step in and save you. Can I get a white knight on a horse over here, please?  A lifeguard? Anybody? 

By learning how to self-monitor and self soothe, we can spare ourselves the painful experience of melting down. We can move past the frustrating loop of binge eating repeatedly in response to the same problematic issue in our life. And we can feel okay with the idea that in reality no one is going to show up to save us. It feels really great too, to realize this damsel in distress can help herself out.

So, what exactly are we checking when we self-monitor? Just about all my clients are used to monitoring their weight, their food intake, or the measurements of their bodies. They are so ingrained to monitor these things, but when it comes to recovery from binge eating or emotional eating, the psychological self-monitoring is what people most need to learn. To teach this to my clients, I provide them with a list of five basic psychological needs. 

For optimal wellbeing, we like to feel safe, capable/competent, autonomous, valuable, and a sense of belonging. I want to clarify that these are not THE 5 basic psychological needs, because several different theories exist and experts have proposed various lists. I came up with my list of 5 by taking 3 elements from self-determination theory, and adding in a couple elements from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which have been applicable to my clients over the years.  

Once again, my list: safety, competency / capability, autonomy, value, and a sense of belonging. If you think of times when you ranked high on each of these feelings, you probably were feeling quite good! Your level of wellbeing was high, and your level of distress low. But of course, life deals out blows to these all the time! 

We all have felt threats to our safety with COVID, with earthquakes, with fires, and with health scares, for example. Our senses of capability and competence can be shaken when we make a mistake or fall short of our expectations. Our sense of autonomy, or self-directed freedom, can shrink when we have burdensome responsibilities, or when our freedoms are restricted by overbearing authorities like our boss, government, or condo board. 

Our sense of personal value is synonymous with self-esteem. Our sense of being a valuable person can fall when we face criticism, put-downs, when we are disrespected by ourselves or others, or when we are simply ignored and treated as unimportant. Lastly, our sense of belonging can fall when it seems like our problems, joys, and values differ from the people around us.

When these psychological needs are threatened... we get upset. We feel unsettled, unwell, and prone to do SOMETHING to try and feel better. All too often, that something is eating. 

If you think about Nicole’s situation, leaving one job teaching to go out on her own as a private tutor, you can see she is feeling several types of threats to her psychological needs. She doesn’t feel safe and secure because she’s worried that she might not bring in enough income down the road.  Since this is her first time running a business, she has doubts about her own capability to manage the finances, marketing and billing. Nicole also signed up students to tutor, but hasn’t yet begun to see the fruits of her labor, like student’s grades going up, happy parents, and clear improvement as a result of her influence. Until she gets to witness these things, she might feel unsure of her personal value and like she still has to prove herself. Lastly, her sense of belonging to a group of colleagues is gone. She’s left one group and not yet formed a new group, and in her personal life she’s working so hard that she isn’t really socializing at all. This lack of connection can produce a sense of loneliness and isolation. 

The one area Nicole doesn’t feel threatened, thankfully, is autonomy. This transition is giving her complete freedom to steer her own ship and not be controlled by anyone, but in the face of all the other threats to her psychological needs, she’s not feeling incredibly comforted by that liberty. She is doing her best to escape all this distress with eating compulsively every night. 

 But it doesn't have to be. Nicole is in a uniquely distressing situation which is threatening 4 out of 5 psychological needs, but often my clients find a shortage of one or two causes enough discomfort to spark unnecessary eating. But if we catch these threats early enough, we can prevent the eating, and start feeling better sooner. How we catch things early is by self monitoring. 

The exercise I recommend for building this skill takes 7 days and I do it right along with my clients. Each day, we score ourselves from 1-5 on how we feel in each area. When we are high (a 4 or 5) we notice what gave us that feeling. And when we feel low (a 1 or 2) we'll also practice noticing what gave us that feeling and how to respond to it. 

As people learn how to self-monitor these 5 needs, and simply pay attention to them on a daily basis, dramatically positive things start to happen. 

First: Since you've likely never paid such close attention to these factors, you'll probably learn a lot right from the start! 

Second: Noticing how they can fluctuate in a very short time span can be revealing and guide us in how to take better care of our mental health. 

Third: By tuning in daily, you can notice early on when one of your particular needs isn’t being met and work towards reducing your distress before it overwhelms you or results in self-harming behavior. 

And fourth -- but possibly most important -- you can begin to see that violation or threatening of your basic psychological needs are the thing behind much or all of your distress. It’s not you being “too sensitive”, "too anxious", or "insecure". In fact, these sorts of “there’s something wrong with you” explanations invalidate a person's experience, causing harm to your self esteem. (Sometimes other people say them to us, or we say them to ourselves but either way, they cause equal hurt).

I believe It’s far more helpful to look at things from a needs-being-met perspective, which leads more naturally towards finding solutions. After all, if we have a need that’s not being met, the natural question is how can I meet that need? What needs to change?

Just noticing at times that I felt less personally valuable less valuable when I couldn’t work out, and writing that number 2 down, I gravitated towards considering what ways I am valuable (other than my athletic performance). 

So if you want to do this exercise at home, write down somewhere the following :
safety, competency, autonomy, personal value, and a sense of belonging. Then, check in with yourself once at day, at any time, and record how you presently feel about each of those needs being met. I use a 1-5 scale, but you can use 1-10 or any scale you choose. 

If you notice that you’re logging a particularly high or low number for a given moment, note down what might be contributing to that.  

I guarantee you’ll learn something. The idea isn’t to self monitor in writing forever, just to write things down in the first stage. After some practice, it becomes more natural to have an awareness of your emotional and psychological state as you go about your life, and notice when something feels a bit off.  Next week we’ll continue talking about these psychological needs, and I’ll share specific actions to take for each of those needs when it’s not being fully met. When you have proven action steps you know you can rely on, you won’t need to turn to food.