This is how I’ve spent much of the past seven months.
While leading six crazy-courageous groups of women through reading and implementing Intuitive Eating, and many of those women through an additional 10-week alumni intensive, I have become a professional jailbreaker.
At the heart of this work is illuminating something I call The Pendulum and then shepherding the participants to often hard to find off-ramp.
The Pendulum is the seemingly never-ending ride between some form of a restrictive state of mind and overconsumption state of mind. A say ‘state of mind’ here and not ‘behaviors’ because we need only psychologically restrict or overconsume to experience the tortuous ride. That is to say that feeling restricted or believing we have overconsumed is far more significant than behaving either way. The mind is a tricky thing. Certainly, we can (and often do) behave these ways, but it isn’t necessary in order to perpetuate The Pendulum and feel the inevitable mental distress that comes with the back and forth swing.
And back and forth we swing.
These two phases of the cycle manifest in a broad array of ways, but all with the same two flavors.
On the one side we feel in control, high even. Above our hungers and with a sense of calm.
On the flip side we’re in chaos, often experiencing some level of shame and self-loathing. We feel out of control.
You probably already know much of this. After all, this is human nature.
We’re hard wired to react to one swing of The Pendulum with the other. (Read: this is not your fault.)
I’m talking about food here, but this is a universal law of energy and applies to many other aspects of our lives.
Back and forth. Restrict. Overconsume. Feeling like we’re being ‘good’ only to be feel that we’re ‘bad’.
Sometimes minute by minute, hour by hour, or month by month. The time between swings isn’t important. What matters is that we can’t cheat The Pendulum. We can’t game the system. As human beings we’re wired to swing one way if we swing the other.
Unless we step off the ride.
The Off Ramp
Every pendulum has a center point. We must pass through this point on our way from one swing to the other.
We can stop the ride if we can only just slow the momentum and rest in that center point.
We do this by meeting the ride with compassion and nonjudgmental observation, this makes it much easier to slow the swing.
We do this by meeting the moment post-overconsumption with a conscious choice to return to the center (i.e. reject restriction).
We do this by returning to our body. The Pendulum swings are perpetuated by an override of our body’s preferences. The off ramp is found when we decide to cease the override.
Again, the polarity of the ride is hard wired into us. We often think that it is our own failing that leads us to over consume, but rather it is our beautiful and human need to both find soothing and avoid famine (real or psychological) that leads us to the ride.
So what does this look like in real life?
It looks like getting clear on your own unique tendencies toward restriction and overconsumption. It looks like getting to know your triggers and the fears and stories that fuel your ride.
Do you tend to restrict certain types of food? Do you restrict eating at certain times of day? Or is it about limiting quantity?
Where do you find yourself most often past the point of comfortable fullness? When do you find yourself feeling like you need to ‘recommit’ to whatever ‘plan’ or ‘program’ or ‘rules’ you identify with?
Identifying our patterns can be tricky as they are often subtle and entirely socially condoned. You can usually sniff them out by following the thread of where you feel guilty around food.
Draw Your Pendulum
Take a piece of paper and a pen. Draw your pendulum. On the left half write out all the ways you see yourself restricting. On the right half write out all the ways you find yourself overconsuming. Again, these can be restrictive or over consumptive thoughts and fixations, not just behaviors. Track your own pendulum swings. Use arrows. Note your flow. Observe how one sets off a chain reaction that leads back to the other.
If you’re tired of the back and forth, commit to returning to center as often as it takes. (It took me a solid two years of practice) Commit to taking the off ramp as often as you’re able to. Commit to paying loving attention. Commit to not blaming yourself for The Pendulum and accepting that it’s part of how our species operates. Commit to restrict nothing but restriction itself. Commit to using common sense instead of sensationalism when it comes to what to eat. Commit to choosing happiness over thinness. Commit to choosing real life instead of chasing perfection. Commit to being smarter than the false promises of restriction. Commit to breaking yourself out of jail.
Freedom is possible and it’s worth committing to it’s pursuit.