I used to use the acronym STAB as a way to help people through cravings and out-of-control feelings surrounding food. I would explain that taking a STAB at the challenge would involve the following steps: stop, think, accept, breathe. I am not so sure anymore that thinking will be helpful before a little internal peace has been restored. That is why I have modified the acronym to SOBER: stop, observe, breathe deeply, exhale completely, reflect.
STOP – Stopping, in other words becoming aware, is the critical first step. If you are able to notice that you are feeling out of control, there is an opportunity. It is not even so important that it happens before you reach for food. It can be just as valuable if you notice it during or after. The awareness is perfect – passing judgment won’t help! Awareness creates a pause.
I realize that stopping will probably be the most difficult step. The momentum of habitual behavior is already in motion. Realize that it is normal to feel very little confidence at first. Realize that this first step is a simple leap of faith. Take it!
OBSERVE – At that point, just observe – again with no judgment. Ideally, this observation does not involve thinking. This is a good time to watch thoughts pass through without paying much attention to their content. It is too early in the process to produce positive, helpful thinking.
Take this time to just be there, observing whatever there is to observe at the moment. Feel any agitation, anxiety, whatever – feel it without thinking about it. Is it as uncomfortable as you thought it would be? There is usually a belief, perhaps not conscious, that the feelings are unbearable and food will soothe them. Try feeling it, and see what it really feels like.
BREATHE (deeply) and EXHALE (completely) – While you are observing, begin to breathe deeply, and notice your breath. Feel it move through parts of your body. When you cannot take in any more air, pause for a second or two. Now exhale slowly, every last bit of air. Use this time to remember that breathing is inhaling and exhaling. Think of taking in fresh power and exhaling stale habits.
We tend to breathe shallowly when we are stressed. Did you know that deep breathing can actually relieve stress? Keep breathing and observing. You may begin to feel a little glimmer of calm emerging through the panic of earlier feelings. You are taking control! You are feeling your power return.
Remember that creating this space and openness takes practice. Most people are well-practiced in judging themselves, and failing themselves. This accepting approach can feel unnatural, but it is just because many of us have learned that “self-discipline” in the sense of “cracking down” on ourselves is the only responsible way to keep ourselves in line.
REFLECT – OK, if you are still breathing (in and out) and observing, you WILL calm down. Now, and only now, are you ready to truly think (reflect) productively. Only now can your brain really help you. What did you learn about yourself? What can you do to set yourself up for success – not keep tempting foods in the house or take a walk when you feel that way? The solutions that make sense for you will come to you if you feel calmer. Is there any action you want to take now, other than reflecting about plans to put in place? Now you can truly move on. Whatever you do at this point will be based on conscious productive thought, not emotion. You can choose to eat something, or not – it will be less of a “life or death” decision.