For the better part of last week, I'd found myself eating a whole bag of gluten-free "healthy" cookies every day.
(And if you've had gluten-free "healthy" cookies, you know that they usually don't even taste that good!)
I couldn't understand why was I doing this. And I couldn't seem to stop myself.
I tried to stop by using willpower—after all, that's the first thing everybody tries—but that didn't work.
Willpower worked until I was in the store, at which point my feet walked me to the cookies, and I bought them, and sat in the car and ate them.
Thanks a lot, willpower.
I have to tell you, it was humiliating. After all, I'm supposed to be the guy who has this stuff under control! Eating whole bags of cookies is most certainly not how I want to be living.
So after about five days of this, I finally accepted that this behavior wasn't going to change on its own. I realized I had to deal with it. So I walked myself through the process I often use with clients.
Here's what I did, and how it worked:
Step 1: What action do you want to take?
First I asked myself, what do I really want with food?
When it came to food, what actions did I want to take?
After some introspection, I realized:
I want to interact with food in a way that supports my body, and that powers me to create the life I want to live.
And just for the record: eating a box of cookies every day was not supporting my body or giving me the life I wanted.
Step 2: What circumstance is discouraging you from taking that action?
Second I asked myself to finish this sentence:
"I would eat in a way that supports my body and supports my future, except that _______________________."
My clients often have difficulty with this step. We often have to brainstorm for a while till something just feels like the real reason.
This was one of those times for me. I couldn't seem to put my finger on the circumstance that led me to give up on heathy eating. It didn't feel like I had given up on my health. It didn't feel like I was using cookies for emotional support. It was baffling.
Finally I asked myself to imagine being about to buy cookies. I asked myself, "How am I feeling right before I buy and eat cookies? What is my experience of life leading up my taking that action?"
That was when I finally started to see this truth I had been avoiding:
I would eat in a way that supported my body and my future, except that I had been feeling tired all the time.
I had been ignoring it, but I had been feeling fatigued. I simply didn't have the physical energy to do the things that I needed to do in a day.
My cookie-eating behavior wasn't driven by my trying to get emotional support from food during difficult times. And it wasn't an attempt to make myself feel better because of hopelessness about my health. I wasn't medicating my emotions in some way.
I started to see that, the circumstance that led me to eating cookies was that I simply felt exhausted.
And I was eating cookies to give me the physical energy to get through my day.
And so the answer to:
"What circumstance has been seeming to stop me from eating foods that are healthy and supportive to me?"
"I would do that except that I'm so tired. I don't have enough energy to make it through doing everything I need to do."
Step 3: What heartbreaking way of acting do you accept because of that circumstance?
In the face of feeling so tired every day, I started to accept that I'd have to keep eating a bag of cookies every day, just to make it through.
Once I saw that, I was able to see how that belief had been controlling me. And how discouraged I was when I was believing it.
Step 4: Feel compassion for the part of yourself that is accepting that way of acting
I could see how hard it was to have bought into the idea that I had no choice but to eat cookies if I wanted to have enough energy.
And my heart really went out to that part of me. I started to feel like I was starting to be with myself, in compassion, rather than ignoring the fatigue and hoping it would go away.
When I let my compassion speak, it said,
"Wow, I see you are having a hard time. It's really rough believing you have no choice but to eat cookies. I see that you're having a really difficult time, and I'm here with you. I see that you are feeling fatigued all the time, and you don't know what to do about it. And I'm here with you. I'm not gonna push you, I'm not gonna beat you up, I'm not gonna give you advice you're too discouraged to follow—I'm gonna take you by the hand, I'm gonna sit with you for as long as you need, and then, when it's time to take action, I'll take that action with you."
And I really felt that compassion, the same way I would feel it for someone else—for a loved one, for my wife, for my godchildren, for my clients. I felt the same compassion I'd feel for anyone who believed they had no choice but to keep up a self-destructive behavior because it was the only way to get enough energy to overcome their exhaustion.
And so I sat with that compassion. I felt a lot of relief just knowing that I was no longer alone with my difficulty. It felt good.
The next day
Then the next day, an email came to my inbox from a medical provider I follow. The email was about fatigue and the thyroid—and I realized that some of the symptoms he described I've had for some time. So I found myself calling my naturopath, whom I hadn't seen for several years, and making an appointment to talk with him about my fatigue and these possible solutions.
Making that call was easy to do, when in the previous days I wouldn't have even thought to do it. Because I came to my own aid, and was connected to myself in love, I was carried forward into taking positive action.
Instead of automatically buying and eating cookies, I instead found myself noticing a possible way forward (through an email I probably wouldn't have even opened before), and automatically taking wholesome action toward better health.
And one other thing—since going through this process I've had absolutely no need to eat cookies. I've gone into stores that have "healthy" cookies, and not bought cookies. I haven't even been tempted.
For me, the best part is that I'm not using willpower. Once I brought compassion and love to the part of me that had given up, I simply didn't feel the need for cookies anymore.
I hope that this will inspire you for the kind of transformation that is possible. I always think it's kind of funny when people tell me things like, "Dmitri, you've changed your body so much, you've improved your health so much, you've helped people—you must never get it wrong." The fact of the matter is, I get it wrong quite often. What I'm good at is returning to the love, healing my discouragement, coming back, and getting it right again. You can do the same.
Next week: More about how to do it.