Focusing Tip #402 – Obsessive Thoughts About Eating

Focusing Tip #402 – Obsessive Thoughts About Eating
October 29, 2013 Ann Weiser Cornell

“It is so annoying to have so many obsessive thoughts about eating.”

Melissa writes:
Can Focusing help with obsessive thoughts?  

I grew up with an eating disorder and although I am better, I am still recovering. Most of my recovery now is centered around how to get rid of obsessive thoughts about eating and wanting to eat and what will I eat and how much I eat and not eating this and eating that, and OMG, it is so annoying. Yesterday, I tried counting the thoughts, and it was ridiculous.  They just kept coming and coming.

Dear Melissa,
I am so glad you wrote, because your situation is a perfect example of a point which is pivotal:How we talk about what is happening to us is quite important in how easily it can change.

When we frame the problem as “getting rid of obsessive thoughts,” and even count the number of thoughts, we are treating thoughts as things. Of course I understand why you would do this, and it’s very common, including in the mental health field! But look what happens… thoughts become things, and are divorced from meaning, purpose, and agency. They just happen, and we throw up our hands and wonder how to get rid of them. The same is often done with emotions such as “fear,” “anxiety,” “anger.”

Treating thoughts and emotions this way is like standing in a yard with a high fence around you, and finding that basketballs are coming over the fence… and fussing about how terrible it is that there are so many basketballs in the yard instead of looking over the fence and finding out who is throwing the balls!

Again… very understandable… but let’s see if we can find you an alternative.

I would suggest starting by saying: “Something in me is having thoughts about food.” This brings a shift in relationship. You begin to get curious and compassionate… not toward the thoughts themselves but toward the one in you who is having those thoughts.

“Something in me is thinking about eating… I’m saying hello to that… I’m sitting with it with interested curiosity.”

Notice what a big shift it is, from wondering how to get rid of obsessive thoughts, to turning toward the one in you who is having the obsessive thoughts and starting a kind and compassionate relationship with her.

Something in you might object: “I don’t want to have a relationship with it, I want it to change!”

But actually, what we are in real relationship with is MORE likely to change, not less likely!

What might happen next

Once you are able to be in an inner feeling contact with “something” that is bringing up those “obsessive” thoughts, there is likely to be a really experience that emerges, something we cannot predict from here.

Someone I know was working with an issue around eating, and in Focusing discovered that the part of her that pushed to be able to eat whatever it wanted, actually wanted to make sure she had really “yummy” experiences in her life. It didn’t want her to have a life that felt barren and constricted. When she was able to really hear what it wanted for her, it relaxed and no longer pushed for a certain type of eating.

So be sure to say “something in me wants…” and turn toward that part of you with interested curiosity, and surprising shifts will occur!

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