I was going to write today about body image, but I’m going to push that off till tomorrow because there’s something else I want to share today. Plus, I want to do some paintings to illustrate the body-image post, and this will give me more time for those!
Recently Erik and I have been hitting the trails in the late afternoons, right before dinner. The fresh (and chilly!) air, the companionship, and the movement make this a really lovely “happy hour.” It’s also a great time of day to get me out of the house: if I’ve been working hard since morning, then this is the time to stop, and if I haven’t been working, around 4:30 or 5 PM is when I start to panic and self-flagellate. So it’s the perfect time for a mindfulness break.
Yesterday was one of the unproductive days. I did morning pages, two loads of laundry, some tidying, and some online shopping for necessities, but after that, I basically spent the whole afternoon playing a computer game. By the time Erik fetched me for our walk, my shoulders were sore, my head hurt, and I was feeling cranky about not getting more done in the day. But out in Alvarado Park, shivering and puffing my way up the gentle uphill trail, I could see my day with a bit more perspective, and I recognized my behavior as a recurring pattern.
The pattern goes like this:
- I spend time at the computer doing something I consider unproductive, like gaming, surfing the web, or online shopping.
- Because it’s “unproductive,” I don’t take breaks. It’s as if I’m afraid that by leaving the computer, I won’t be allowed to goof off anymore when I come back, so I simply don’t leave. Moreover, I feel like I don’t deserve a break, because I’m being “bad.”
- So I keep at it, and pretty soon my head, eyes, neck, shoulders, back, and hands are all hurting.
- I can’t rest, because of #2, but I can’t concentrate on work, because of #3. Not having any other option, I just continue what I’m doing, because it’s mindless and easy.
- I only leave the computer, finally, because I have to. My body hurts, and my inner critic is going wild about the wasted day and what a lazy ass I am.
Usually, #5 happens when it’s time for a meal or bed, but yesterday it was the walk that got me up from the computer. My inner critic was mollified because I was outside walking, and that made room for the other voices that told me, “Hey, this isn’t the first time you’ve felt like this. Why don’t we take a look and see what’s happening?”
Last week I listened to an interview with Dr Anita Johnston, who has been working with eating disorders for more than 30 years. (To hear this interview and several other good ones, register for free at bodyloverevolution.com.) She said that in her experience, disordered eating is not just about eating; the patterns that are reflected in a person’s eating habits are also patterns that show up in other parts of her life. When I recognized the computer-use pattern I explained above, it was familiar, because it’s a problem I also have with food.
Generally speaking, I eat healthily. I avoid processed foods, I regularly eat fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and I drink lots of water. But I also have a very long list of trigger foods that I tend to gobble down as if there’s no tomorrow. And like many people, I never eat alone — the food police are always beside me at the table, assigning value to everything I eat or don’t eat. (In the past year, this has gotten even more complicated because I’ve started eating meat again and have mixed feelings about doing so.) So while the foods I consume are good foods to choose, my relationship to them is problematic.
A couple of years ago my friend Lisa (who has her own long convoluted history with food, as you might remember from her Open Mic post) recommended the book Intuitive Eating, which says the key to healthy, sustainable eating habits is to ditch dieting and listen to our bodies. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it, but it’s often hard for me to follow the instructions, because the first guideline is no foods are off-limits. This goes against everything the food police stand for, and they won’t go down without a fight!
When I was walking yesterday and thinking about my computer-use pattern, I realized that I’ve been policing my activities the same way I used to police my food, with the same results: bingeing, guilt, feeling powerless, self-judgment. My unconscious, weirdly desperate urge to online-shop for hours without stopping is the exact feeling I get when presented with a chocolate layer cake: “I’d better go, go, go and get through all of this right now, because later I might not get the chance! Do it all now and hide the evidence before the food police shows up!” In the cold light of day, this attitude makes no sense, but hidden in the unconscious, it’s a powerful motivation that does a lot of my decision-making for me.
It always fascinates me how much the various areas of our lives overlap. I had thought this bingeing pattern was just a food problem, but now I see that addressing the problem could really help with my work/not-work habits too. Listening to my body helps, self-nurturing helps, and writing these things out (as in this post!) also helps. This is all a part of cultivating a more balanced, happy life, and it’s all important.