For some people, losing control over their eating can be like watching a nightmare – over and over again. A segment on the morning news about this topic (nightmares, not overeating) got me thinking about the similarities. Children often have recurring nightmares – the same sequence played over and over again in their heads, night after night. In extreme cases, these can make it difficult for a child to sleep well, leading to sleepy days and poor academic performance. Understandably, if a nightmare is a nightly event, high anxiety begins to creep in as bedtime approaches.
There is a method of working with these nightmares that seem to help – “rewriting” the script for the dream. By adding a different, more positive, ending, the nightmares often just go away, along with the negative consequences they create.
I have talked a lot about habits and how they are just sequences of actions that become linked in our minds. They become unconscious and play out without needing our attention. Closing the garage door after pulling out the car, brushing your teeth, driving to work – these are activities we do without thinking much. Overeating can be like this – stopping is simply not in the practiced script!
I hear people say things like “I am going on vacation next week, so I know that won’t be good.” Wait a minute! How do you know it won’t be good? Because you know the way it always plays out – lots of mindless eating, tuning out, not paying attention. This may not be your situation, but you may have a different one like this – restaurants? birthdays? after work?
The anxiety before these times can be similar to dreading an approaching nightmare. For many people, overeating feels like a nightmare! Unfortunately, anxiety is not helpful. It is uncomfortable thinking “Oh no, here I go again.” The anxiety usually doesn’t stop until after it all plays out and the nightmare is over – for now, until the next time.
What if you could rewrite the script to make the ending more positive? If it works for nightmares, I suspect that it could be helpful in changing habitual overeating problems. Visualize yourself doing something else. Practice the new sequence in your head daily and see what happens. Breaking habits involves practicing different ways of doing things, but it certainly cannot hurt to practice those changes in your head before the actual challenge presents itself. If this can just ease some of the accompanying anxiety beforehand, that is a huge success! Let me know.