On this podcast, author and expert in developmental psychology Karly Randolph Pitman teaches us how to heal the emotional roots of eating disorders through unconditional self love, a path she calls, “Growing human kindness.”
Karly struggled with bulimia, binge eating, sugar addiction, emotional eating, body hatred, and weight obsession for over 20 years. A speaker, coach, and workshop leader, her passion is practicing, teaching, living and spreading the message of unconditional love.
In today’s show, we chat about:
- How to confront and defuse rabid sugar cravings
- What to do when you encounter a cookie in the conference room
- How to come to terms with a history of eating disorders and body image issues
- And the no willpower way to build impulse control
Karly Randolph Pitman: Overcoming Sugar Addiction with Unconditional Love
Abel: Alright folks. Today we’re here with a fellow Austin transplant, Karly Randolph Pitman. How’s it going Karly?
Great. Thanks for having me Abel. I’m so excited to be here.
Abel: Thanks so much for stopping by. So, you’ve struggled with basically every kind of imaginable form of eating disorder as I understand. I saw on your website: bulimia, binge eating, sugar addiction, emotional eating, body hatred, and weight obsession for decades.
Those are difficult waters to navigate, but it’s something that’s very important to you and your experience has helped so many other people.
So, why don’t you share your story where you started, and where you are now?
I joke that I’ve kind of ridden every ride in the eating disorder amusement park.
I’ve experienced it all. And it started for me primarily when I was in high school. Although, if I look back to my childhood, I was definitely using food for emotional comfort and to care for myself as a young child, I just didn’t have a name for it or know that’s what I was doing, because as a child. I didn’t have a weight problem. I just assumed that’s what everybody did with food.
But I became conscious of it when I was in high school. I was a runner. I ran cross country and track, and we joked about being a little bit of a type A personality, and I was definitely that.
I’ve been a lifelong over achiever, but I’m also really, really sensitive. And so I had a lot of insecurity about being sensitive, looking at it almost like it was a character flaw or something that I needed to eradicate.
I had a lot of insecurity about always proving how tough I was, and how strong I was, and how much better I should be.
So, here I am running in high school, and as a woman too, once you hit puberty, that was the time for me when I really, really became conscious about my body and wanting to be beautiful and wanting to be skinny and wanting to be accepted.
The thought that came in my head was, “Well, if I just lost some weight, I’d be a faster runner, and I’d be more beautiful, and people would like me more.”
And so it started out pretty innocently as a diet, but very quickly it morphed into bulimia.
And then when I went to college, it became very, very problematic, because in the beginning I was a little arrogant and I thought it was something that I could control.
I thought I actually had found like this magic weight loss trick, where I could just eat whatever I wanted, and then throw up.
I quickly lost about 15 pounds, and I got all this attention, and it just fed something in me that I so much wanted to be seen and wanted to be appreciated, both as a runner, and then as just as a woman.
Then in college of course, that really exacerbated it. I also happened to go to a university where there were a lot of girls with eating disorders. So it was like a ripe environment for me.
My college years were really overlaid by this bulimia.
I remember every morning waking up feeling like, “I’m gonna be on top of this, and I’m gonna quit, I’m gonna stop today.” And thinking that, “I’m just gonna apply myself to it.”
But it had a life of its own.
So I was bulimic all through college. I honestly don’t know how I studied, and how I got through school, because it was such a roller-coaster of binging and purging or recovering.
I don’t know how I had the brain power to even focus. But somehow I did.
And I look back to that time, it was an incredibly painful, painful time, because of course, I felt so ashamed of what I was doing, and I was always trying to hide it and isolate it.
So I was isolating a lot from people, whether it was roommates or friends, or boyfriends. It was an excruciating time.
And then after I graduated from college, and I got married, and I became a mom, that was honestly the turning point for me of recognizing, “This is not just about my body anymore. This is about someone else.”
And that was what encouraged me to start to get help. I’d seen a therapist in college, but I really, really started looking into it, after I became pregnant.
But then I spent all of my 20s and into my 30s vacillating between other eating disorders.
I healed the bulimia, but then I was going into binge eating, and sugar addiction, and where I’d be either starving myself and trying to eat as perfectly as possible.
I was still exercising so I’d use exercising as a form of making up for my overeating.
So, if I overate the night before, then I’d run 2 extra miles and run 6 miles the next day, or these weird mathematical formulas.
It was a lot of pain and a lot of suffering, and what finally turned the corner for me was realizing that for the previous decade I’d been trying to lose the same 20 pounds.
Looking in the mirror and just wondering who I even was. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I felt bitter and resentful. This was not who I wanted to be and I also saw that my eating disorders were starting to impact my girls.
I had two girls and then I had two boys, and I didn’t want to pass down my food stuff to them.
What turned the corner for me was, I stopped running from my pain.
Because during this time, I just kind of kept running from it and thinking that, “Well, I know a lot of women who kind of hate their bodies and are really uncomfortable with themselves. I know a lot of people who say, ‘This is just the way it’s gonna be.’ Maybe I just need to accept that I’m one of those women now who’s had a couple of kids and doesn’t really like herself.”
I thought I was just hurting myself, but I realized I wasn’t. It was impacting everything around me and was greatly affecting my life.
So, instead of running from that pain, I turned towards it.
That experience of turning towards my pain was revolutionary, and it’s what changed my path.
Because instead of being this source of shame and self-loathing, it became the doorway that I walked through where I returned home to myself.
How to Turn Towards the Pain, Confront & Treat It
Abel: Wow. So, how do you do that? How do you turn toward the pain and actually confront it and treat it as something useful perhaps?
Everything in us, in my experience, wants to be loved and wants to be seen and wants to be felt.
And the thing about pain and emotions is you can’t run from it. You can try to suppress it, you can stuff it underground, you can use any kinds of ways to compensate it from, you can work, you can eat, you can fixate on, you can go on the internet, you can do all these different strategies that we have of running from pain but they never work.
They’re false refuges because, trust me, I ate and ate and ate and ate and ate. It never fully satisfied. It never gave me what I was truly seeking.
So, as scary as it sounds to turn towards your pain, it’s actually not the demon that we think it’s going to be.
It meant, instead of reacting from my feelings, actually sitting with them and actually feeling it. If I’m feeling lonely and I’m wanting to eat or I’m feeling sad, it’s an emotional attunement. It’s that sense of, “Can I be the unconditional loving best friend to myself?”
During this time when I was healing from my eating disorders, I was also having children. And what really taught me how to love and care for myself was that recognizing that the same skills that I was using to be an attuned, available mom to my kids was exactly what I needed to do for myself.
So, here I am learning how to be present for my children, to validate their experience, to give them compassion and empathy. And it was like all the light bulbs went off.
It was like, “This is what I need to do for myself.”
Looking at that pain that I experienced, all the stuff that was underneath all the food. What that literally looked like for me was, I went for a lot of “walks and cries” is how I described them.
I’d go for a walk and at the time, I lived in a rural state so I had a lot of great places to walk, and I’d put my sunglasses on or my winter hat on depending on what season it was, and I would go and I would just actively touch the pain itself.
Now, our fear is, if I touch that pain, it’s going to overwhelm me. That’s going to take me under and it’s going to be too much.
But, in my experience, the opposite is actually true.
When I’m fully present with whatever it is, that hurt or that loneliness or that anger or that sadness, when I fully offer it my compassion and in so many words just say to myself, “I care. I care about this hurt,” in the same way that if you called up your best friend and you had a really tough day and they’re like, “Wow, I’m so sorry, and we’re really emotionally there for you.”
It’s healing, and that is what I was truly seeking underneath the food.
What I became was someone who unconditionally loves myself, and all my searching, whether it was the quest for the perfect body, whether it was the quest to be the perfect student, the quest to be the perfect mother, whether it was the quest to be the perfect wife, all my life was trying to conform myself into these boxes of perfection. And my mind was never satisfied.
I was never good enough because the mind has no shame. You lose 10 pounds and it’s like, “You can lose three more.” You graduate magna cum laude, “You should graduate summa cum laude.” You just keep ante-ing up the bar.
All the research that they’re doing with self-esteem and self-compassion is so interesting and what they’re showing is that true self-esteem is not that, “I’m the best.”
True self-esteem comes from self reliance and that is the sense of, “Come whatever happens in my life, I can handle this.”
Abel: I like that.
My worth is not based on what I do or what I achieve or the size of my butt, or how clean I ate today, or what I look like, or how many books I sell, or how great my kids are. None of that.
My true worth has to do with my just being a precious human being.
And so, when I disconnected my worth of who I was from what I was doing, or what I looked like, or what I was achieving, the rest that I found there, it’s the unconditional love we want from everyone.
What we all want at the deepest, deepest level, is to be loved and accepted for who we are.
And, I gave that to myself. And, from that space, I deeply and completely love you exactly as you are.
That was the ground floor from which I was able to change. It’s a paradox and it’s a little bit ironic.
And, Coller Roger said, “As we accept ourselves exactly as we are, that’s when we can change.”
What that does, this is so fascinating to me on a brain level, what that does is it moves you out of fight or flight and it moves you into the parasympathetic nervous system.
And, we all know what fight or flight is. Fight is when we’re feeling tense and rigid and stressed. And, what I learned in developmental psychology is that your brain can only do one or two things at a time. It can protect you or it can grow.
You are in perfection mode if you are focused on being perfect, if there’s no room for error, if your love for yourself is conditional, which is, “I have to meet all these standards in order to be lovable and okay.”
Your sweet brain is in protect mode. It is in fight or flight. You can’t access the higher regions of the brain.
Letting Go of Perfection
You’re stuck in the limbic system and you’re stuck in the amygdala. You’re not able to go to the higher regions of the brain where you’re able to access the areas of your brain that can actually grow.
So on a concrete level, if you’re staring at a cookie, having that craving at 4:00pm because maybe you had a tough day at work, or maybe your children are really pushing your buttons, whatever’s going on in your life, you’re sitting in traffic and you’re late for a meeting, right?
And, that impulse hits you, bam, “I really want a brownie right now,” or whatever it is that you’re feeling.
If your brain is in that fight or flight space, you’re not able to access those higher regions of the brain where you’re going, “Okay. This is just an impulse. I know that you’re really feeling this strong desire for a cookie. I know you can handle it. It’s alright. You can be with it,” you can’t do that.
So, when we’re stuck in that place of, “I have to be perfect to be okay,” we’re not able to go to those places because we get hijacked by shame.
We get hijacked by shame and that feeling of, “I’m not good enough and I’m not okay.”
And then, you get that whole spiral where it proliferates, where you make a mistake and then you feel like you’ve totally fallen off the bandwagon and then you feel like, “Well, just forget about it.”
It’s the “what the hell” effect, “Well, I can’t do it. I had a cookie, I might as well have cake too.”
You feel bad about blowing it and then it spirals and spirals. And then you feel ashamed about who you are, “I have no willpower. I’m a slug. I’m never going to be able to heal. I’m never gonna be able to change.”
And, you get caught in that muck.
Abel: Yeah. It’s almost like the more perfect that you are, the more you set yourself up for failure.
I’m going to make a tee-shirt that says, “I’m lowering my expectations.”
And the reason is because people who are attracted to this work in general are people who are really trying to care for their bodies and find that optimal health.
The shadow side of that is that we can turn it into this quest for perfection. And my favorite quote about perfection is that, “Perfection will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.” That’s from Anne Lamott. She calls it, “The Voice of the Oppressor.”
When you’re trying to eat perfectly, what you do is you make eating into this tight rope that you’re always trying to walk.
And, so then, there’s all this tension and rigidity and it feels like there’s no room or margin for error. Sounds counterintuitive, but the more you relax about changing your eating habits, the more you have available to actually respond. You’re not so reactionary.
Abel: This is kind of a common problem, and it’s becoming more common as Paleo and ancestral eating goes more mainstream, as people start this lifestyle. It’s going great for them. They’re losing all this weight. They’re feeling better.
But what starts as a quest for health oftentimes ends up as a quest for the perfect body. And that’s when it gets to be a minefield.
Yes. And I see that in particular with women.
You’ve talked about this a little bit there, and that’s so interesting that you bring that up, because after I went through my whole healing journey, I really thought I was at that place where I’d done all my inner work, and I thought I’d arrived.
I’m laughing because, then what happened was I went through the hardest three years of my life, where everything fell apart on pretty much every layer of my life, relationships, finances, health.
It was an incredibly difficult time and this was after I’d written Overcoming Sugar Addiction where I’d talked about how I’d stopped eating sugar, and during this hard time I went back to eating sugar.
That was very humbling and it was very challenging for me. I felt embarrassed. Here I’d written this book, people knew me as ‘The Sugar Lady’ and then I’m going back to eating sugar.
I had some health challenges during that time and I definitely felt like a failure. Like, “Wow.”
And what that period taught me that was so important, and I ended up taking Overcoming Sugar Addiction off the market, and I rewrote it.
I rewrote it and I added a whole new chapter at the end, and the reason why I rewrote it was because I realized that I had thought that I had really been coming from not eating sugar from a place of love and compassion, doing it from a place of, “I love you so much and I wanna take good, good care of you.”
I had recognized that for me sugar was highly addictive, for me it was like cocaine.
And I have a pretty sensitive nervous system and a pretty sensitive body that reacted really, really strongly to it. So I recognized that I needed to stop eating it and I thought I was doing it from this place of love and compassion and acceptance.
Well, when I went through that hard time, it’s like, be careful what you wish for because, that showed me all the ways that I was still trying to control and turn it into that quest of all the externals.
And when all the externals were eliminated, what I came to at the ground floor level is, “Can I do this just to be kind? Can I do this without any attachment to results? Can I do it just because this is a kind, loving thing to do for my body because it does give me greater health?”
And as a woman, because let’s face it, I’m a woman, I love beauty, most women do. And most women, we love to feel seen and appreciated, and for a lot of us that’s directly tied to what we look like.
And I get that, and I’m not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with it, but if it becomes our primary focus and if it’s how we define our worth, in my experience that’s just a recipe for suffering.
So I had to detach how I was caring for myself from any expectation of, “Because I should look this way.” Or, “Because I want to be more together.” Or any of those reasons, just to do it because it’s kind.
Which when you think about it and really look at what that is, to me that is unconditional love.
I mean, if I am giving someone a gift, am I giving it because I expect them to react in a certain way? Am I doing it because I expect to get something back? Or am I doing it just because I want to give to that person?
So I was doing that for myself, and that was a fundamentally healing moment in my life.
I remember sitting on my yoga mat with just tears dripping down my face, and I had my hands on my heart and this expression came to me this year that… When I noticed that that voice of self judgement, because what came up in that hard time was incredible self judgement of, “You should know better. You shouldn’t have allowed yourself to get to this place. You should’ve been able to handle this better. You should’ve been able to prevent this. You shouldn’t have gone back to sugar.”
I mean, I was basically blaming myself on every level for this hard time that I was going through.
And instead I just found that self forgiveness of, “It’s okay.”
And I let it go, and the phrase I used for myself was, “I will not make war against my own heart.”
Abel: Yeah, that’s great. Sugar is a pernicious, pernicious substance.
It can really ruin lives in a lot of cases I think, the hard times that you went through are an example of that.
What is it about sugar for you that always seems to become addictive, and kind of override all of those mechanisms that are in your head, that you know it’s wrong but you still kinda go for it, that cookie, say.
The “Sugar Mama” Theory
That’s a great question.
For me, I think it comes down to sugar was my mother.
In my intellectual brain, intellectually, I know that sugar’s bad for me. Intellectually, I know that when I eat sugar, I can see the chain reaction of exactly how it makes me feel. How it makes me feel terrible emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, every area of my life.
But in the face of my emotional pain, it would override that. I see this over and over with people that I work with, sugar was my substitute caretaker, it was how I comforted myself, it is how I gave myself empathy, it was how I cared for every “negative or painful feeling” whether it was loneliness, sadness.
It’s kind of like those experiments they did—I don’t know if you studied it in your experience in psychology—with monkeys, where they would take baby monkeys and remove them from their mothers. They would substitute with the wire monkey.
Abel: Yeah, it was so sad.
Yeah, the stuffed animal monkey with the bottles.
But they would attach to those wire monkeys because we’re mammals, we are social animals, we are social beings, we cannot survive without each other.
And that feeling of belonging, a feeling that we’re attached, and connected, and safe, and secure, I attached to sugar, sugar was like my wire monkey.
Abel: Interesting. Despite how it made you feel.
Despite how it made me feel. I didn’t care.
One woman described it as like, “A bad boyfriend I can’t let go of.”
What I learned in that very difficult time, and what blew me open… It was such a powerful experience for me that then I began sharing with others was, it was an attachment.
Can I find that secure attachment in something other than sugar? At the most baseline level with myself.
Abel: And where did you find that?
So for me that was in my relationship with the divine, but it was also finding it in myself.
People have different names for it, “Your true self.” “Your core healthy self.”
Some people call it, “Your inner parent.”
It’s that part of you that can’t be hurt by the slings and arrows of life, it’s that core that no matter what our experiences are, that it’s still there. That is what I came home to, and what I touched.
And it’s that part that I talk to myself from, because the thing about that scared little girl who wants that sugar mother, it’s still there, it’s not like that part of me went away. It’s rather how I heal that part is I care for her.
She still shows up. So when she shows up, I care for her with those other parts. The way I talk to her is the same way I talk to my kids.
So it sounds kinda of silly, and some people, when I explain it, I’m like, “I get it. I know it sounds kinda ridiculous.”
But the way I talk to myself is, “Sweetheart, I know.”
So if I’m craving sugar, because it happens still. And this is something I like to explain to people that, “Yes, when you stop eating sugar the physical cravings absolutely do diminish.” Night and day, for me anyway.
But the emotional cravings can still pop up, and it doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong, it doesn’t mean that you’re failing, it just means that you’re human.
Those things come up.
So, instead of looking at cravings as something for me to fight against, or as the enemy, or the bad guy that I have to fight against, I invite them in.
It’s that same befriending process.
If I were inviting them in for tea like, “It’s okay, come on.” And then I talk to my cravings.
So the cravings might say something like, “I’m really overwhelmed.” I’ve got four kids. My life is really full. I feel overwhelmed a lot.
So if I’m feeling really overwhelmed that day and maybe I’ve had a really challenging day with my children, or there’s some challenges with work, or different things, I’ll talk to myself from that core healthy space.
Where it’s like, “I know sweetheart, this is really challenging for you. I’m really sorry. I know you can handle this.”
And it sounds counterintuitive, because we’re afraid that if we actually validated our feelings and honored how we’re feeling, like when we’re feeling bitchy, or when we’re feeling exhausted, or feeling overwhelmed, or feeling jealous, or feeling angry, whatever it is, we’re afraid that if I actually touch that feeling and validate it and acknowledge it, that all hell’s gonna break loose. That I’m just going to get lost in the feeling.
But when I come alongside that feeling and just validate it and say, “Yup, okay, you’re feeling really angry right now.”
Or, “You’re really pushing your buttons.”
It’s like my whole body softens and relaxes.
How To Beat The 4PM Cookie Binge
Abel: Yeah. Wow. So Karly, it’s 4pm, you were late to a meeting, you’ve had a really rough day, and there’s a cookie in front of you. What happens now?
I have something I call, “rock your cravings to sleep.” This is the exact process that I use.
So first of all, you want to just acknowledge it. Beause when most of us have a craving what we try to do is we push it down.
And we intellectualize, we go to the intellectual brain, and we go to those places of, “You know how bad that cookie is going to make you feel.” Or, “You know that if you eat that cookie you’re going to want to eat five more.”
But when you’re feeling that emotional craving, it’s like telling a three year old child whose favorite toy just broke, “Well, toys break sometimes.” That child doesn’t want to hear that at that moment, that child wants to hear, “Oh, I’m sorry. You must feel so sad right now, your favorite toy broken.”
So think of yourself as a four year old child, in general, when you’re feeling that emotional craving, is a great way to look at it.
Because those parts of you that are craving and wanting are actually very, very young. They are those younger parts of you.
So, acknowledge it, just validate it. Don’t intellectualize, just recognize it.
So whatever it is, it’s in so many words saying, “I see you.”
So okay, you’re craving that cookie, then dive right into it. What is that craving saying?
And this is when it sounds like a small child, “I’m just… I’m in traffic and I’m late and I’ve had a tough day, and I tried on my pants this morning and they’re tight and I’m so sick of trying to do this Paleo thing.”
Okay, whatever is going through your mind, it’s like, just let it run. Let it go with it.
And your job is to just say, “I know, I know, I know. I understand, that makes so much sense. You’re validating, you’re mirroring. Yeah, I get it, I get it.”
And then you might ask your craving, “Okay, what do I need from you?”
Because often when you’re craving something, we don’t crave because we have no willpower, we don’t crave because we’re these undisciplined slugs.
If you’re needing, maybe you’re just exhausted at that moment. Maybe you’re just needing some support. Maybe you’re needing that empathy and compassion.
But sometimes it’s an actual physical thing. A lot of people get cravings at 4pm because they’re physically exhausted and they’re giving themselves a cup of coffee… It’s the caffeine and sugar lift at the end of the day.
So that might be a sign of, “Well, you just need to rest.”
So you’re validating, you’re letting that craving speak. So it’s like you’re giving it a voice.
Give it a voice, feel the emotion of it, truly feel it, offer it compassion. And then if you need to actually act to care for it, do so.
And then keep that process going.
So, imagine that you’ve got a small child in your arms and you’re rocking that child, and that child’s just crying out its tears of whatever sadness it is, until that child is soothed.
And eventually a little child will get to that place where they are crying, and they’ll kind of sigh. It’s when things are integrated for them and they’ve come to terms, and they’re at peace.
With your craving you can do the same thing for yourself.
We think that when we’re in a craving it’s going to last for 30 minutes. We think it’s incredibly intense. I get that it’s painful. It will pass.
And the more you actually allow it and truly feel it and rock those cravings to sleep, the more you’re able to be with them instead of be caught in it. Does that make sense?
And one of the things that I see these days that’s really interesting, is that the further away we get from real food and tasty food and fresh food… I mean, there’s no denying that a fresh baked cookie is delicious, right? In pretty much all circumstances.
But what seems to happen is people go for the stale conference room cookies at 4pm, right? The ones that weren’t very good to begin with and now they’ve been sitting around all day. And it doesn’t even taste that good.
They’re not enjoying the moment of it, and I think that’s a huge issue because you can’t be satisfied when you eat a crappy cookie and then you feel like crap, too.
Yeah, that’s a great point.
And what that brought up for me is how much we often use sugar or crappy food as a substitute for true, genuine pleasure.
I see that over and over in my work. Are you truly allowing yourself to fully enjoy your life?
Because if you are skimping on true satisfying joy and pleasure in your life, then often you use sugar or that crappy food. Because it’s cheap, it’s readily available, it’s socially acceptable as a substitute.
It’s almost like you’re using food as your voice.
So what you want to do is you want to be more authentic and truly speaking up for what you’re really wanting.
What are you really wanting when you go for those stale cookies? It might be just that you’re pissed off because you’re not allowing yourself to truly allow yourself to open to true pleasure.
Abel: Yeah, and you’re so right about it being a fleeting thing.
It reminds me of how I found a way to work fasting into my lifestyle and it seems to work pretty well for me. And one thing that happens with hunger, especially when I was eating a lot of carbs, I felt like hunger was something that was there and I needed to address it immediately.
What’s happened now, especially as I’ve cleaned up my diet, I eat fewer carbs and certainly fewer crappy carbs and sugar and all of that, is that the moments of hunger are fleeting and once they pass it’s just a minute or two, and then you’re fine.
And you almost feel better not eating in some cases, and that’s certainly true if you’re craving sugar and then you decide not to eat it, because everyone knows what happens when you do eat sugar… the dreaded crash.
I know, and for me I could never eat just one cookie, it was always 12 or…
But what I think what I hear you’re saying is you’re finding that pause button of really slowing down.
Whenever anything painful arises it’s our natural human reaction to want to make it go away.
And so, building your tolerance for discomfort muscle is, I think, definitely a part of the process.
And that’s why one of the areas where I think self compassion is so helpful.
The question I get most often from everyone is, “If I am kinder and more compassionate to myself, I’m going to turn into a 300 pound slug that eats cookies all day and never gets off the couch.”
In my experience the opposite is actually true.
What compassion does is make you responsible, and it makes you able to respond. You’re more responsive instead of reactive.
When we’re reactive again, we’re caught in that fight-or-flight.
So, feel that impulse of stale cookie, “I need to eat it right now.” And then you find that pause and you’re able to step back a little bit and say, “Okay, this is uncomfortable, and I can handle that.”
What you’re doing is you’re building that tolerance for discomfort so that you realize, “Okay this isn’t the end of the world. I may not like it, it may be uncomfortable and it’s okay.”
And self compassion is what enables me to do that.
So when I go exercise, and I love to do Vinyasa yoga, it’s pretty vigorous, it’s pretty intense, I love it. It’s what I love to do. But I’m often in yoga class and they’re making you hold a pose forever and you’re like, “Oh.” And you’re holding, and it hurts and your body is shaking and it’s like, “Okay. What helps you stay in the pose when you want to get out of the pose?”
And for me, it’s compassionately talking to myself like, “I know this is challenging. And you can handle this.”
That phrase “you can handle this” is what gets me through so much, because our minds will have us believe that whether it’s a craving or whether it’s sadness, or whether it’s loneliness, or whether it’s fear, whether it’s anxiety, whatever it is. Our minds will tell us, “You can’t handle it.”
Slowing this process down, finding that ‘and’, that is one way that you can build the impulse control.
So another idea, another tool if you are craving that cookie at 4pm, and you’re feeling that real impulse, or let’s say you’re driving home and this thought flashes through your mind of, “I need to stop at Amy’s and get ice-cream.” Or whatever.
Whatever it is, when you have the impulse control, everyone thinks that it’s a matter of willpower.
But instead of looking at it as, “Okay I just have to tell that craving to be quiet and I just have to reason with it.” Instead of doing that with an impulse, try this on. And this was taught to me by one of my mentors, Dr. Gordon Newfield, who is an attachment theorist and developmental psychologist. What you want to do is you want to move to the part of your brain that can integrate. And integrative functioning is the ability to hold two contrasting thoughts or feelings at the same time.
So, let’s say you’re driving home and you’re wanting that cookie, and it’s like there’s a little devil on one shoulder going, “I wanna eat the cookie.”
And the angel on the other shoulder’s going, “You don’t wanna eat the cookie.”
So instead of just going towards one or the other, what you do is you hold that tension of opposites.
Now holding the tension of opposites is incredibly uncomfortable, which is why we don’t like to do it. It’s all or nothing thinking, which is the opposite of integrative functioning.
“I have to eat the cookie or I don’t have to eat the cookie.” That feels more comfortable because you’re not holding that tension.
But if you can stay with that tension, what you will find is by mixing it up together, that part of you that’s like, “Oh, I know it would taste really good, I’m feeling really hungry, I’ve had a tough day, I want some comfort, I wanna eat that cookie.”
That other part of you that’s saying, “I don’t wanna eat the cookie.”
What that part of you is attached to is actually your deepest core values.
So, it might be something like health, it might be something like love and compassion, it might be something like patience, it might be something like beauty.
Whatever it is, we all have those values, that is what we most want to be in the world. But the problem is our impulses pop up, whether it’s an impulse of, “I wanna eat a cookie.” Or it’s an impulse of, you get in an argument with a loved one and they push your buttons, and you want to lash out and say something that you later regret.
These are all examples of where our impulsive brain can kind of work against us.
Willpower and Grounding Down
So, how you find that willpower to truly live out what’s most important to you, whether it’s, “Okay, I wanna honor my body by eating a certain way.”
Or, “I want to honor the people that I’m in relationship with, with respect and kindness.”
Or, “I want to honor myself with respect and kindness.”
Whatever that is, it’s your values, it’s your values that do that.
So the way that I do that, is when I notice an impulse coming, the first thing I do, is I do something called grounding down. And what grounding down is, it’s moving your energy from your head into your belly, into your solar plexus or even into your pelvis.
It’s almost like a sumo wrestler. When you’re caught in those impulses, we’re often caught in the brain that’s in a lot of thinking.
And so by grounding your energy down, it’s almost like taking a really deep breath, and you’re centering your energy lower.
And so then after you center your energy lower in your body, you can use your compassionate self-talk if it’s uncomfortable.
Because you’re sitting with that discomfort of, “I wanna eat the cookie, I don’t wanna eat the cookie.” And just use a little mantra, and like I said the one I use is, “You can handle this.”
“You can handle this, it’s uncomfortable and you can handle this.”
Whether I’ve got a screaming child or a loved one saying something that’s really hooking me and I want to jump in and defend myself, just quieting those impulsive parts of me, it’s like, “It’s okay. You can handle this.”
That’s soothing the emotional impulsive brain.
And then almost like you’re just watching that impulse blow by, like a cloud in the sky, just let it go by and wait for that deeper value to arise.
Because it will arise. It’s that sense of, “No you really don’t want to eat the cookie, because you love and you care for yourself and you care for your body. And you know how crappy that cookie makes you feel.”
This tool is so powerful. When I do this, it’s like I’ve won the lottery.
The reason it’s so empowering to me, is that voice inside my head is telling me that when you lash out at someone you love, you feel so bad afterwards, like, “Man, why did I do that.”
Or if my child’s pushing my buttons and I snap at him, and then later I’m like, “Oh, why did I do that?”
When you practice with this tool and soothe your impulsive thoughts in this way, you are reminding yourself, “I’m so much stronger than I realize. I’m not ruled by my impulses. It’s not my fault that they arise, they rise in all of us. And I can respond to them differently, I can care for them.”
What I would tell you is that using that tool with a cookie is going to impact every other area of your life, which is what’s beautiful about the work.
As you sit with the impulse with the cookie, when you’re in an argument with your loved ones, it’s the same thing that’s going to come up.
So that when you have that comeback on the tip of your tongue, you’ll be able to pause and be like, “No, I don’t want to say that because I know it would hurt them.”
Where your love for that person is arising, “Yeah, I’m feeling angry at this person and I’m feeling hurt, and I love them, I don’t want to hurt them.”
Or, “My son is really pushing my buttons and he’s really challenging, and his behavior is really uncomfortable for me right now. And I love my son, I care for him lovingly.”
And that’s what keeps me from lashing out at him when he’s pushing all my buttons.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Where to Find Karly Randolph Pitman
Abel: Yeah. Wow. Well, this has been absolutely wonderful Karly, and I can’t believe it but we’re already at time.
For the folks who are listening. Where can they find you? And what are you working on now?
My newest program is “The 30 Day Lift.” It’s a program on compassionate habit change from sugar. So if you’re in that space where you recognize that, “I want to eat less sugar, I need to eat less sugar.” And yet, you’re in the, “Yes, but how?” question. That’s exactly what it’s about.
So, all these tools are integrated in 30 days of support to get you from intention into action, into actually changing those behaviors.
So you can learn more about that and my other sugar products, Overcoming Sugar Addiction and Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life at GrowingHumanKindness.com.
You can also find Karly on Twitter @GHKindness.
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