3 Steps to End the Downward Spiral

If you struggle with emotional eating, you know about the downward spiral all too well. Picture this…it is Monday morning and you are fresh off a weekend of self-sabotage and into a new plan. You are feeling hopeful and confident. Hopeful and confident…until you encounter some stress and your favorite food to eat when you are stressed. You think, one donut or cookie won’t hurt. Suddenly, you are flooded with self-defeating thoughts (they might be so automatic that you don’t even know they are there). You call yourself all sorts of names and annihilate your character. You feel shame, guilt, hurt, defeat and anger at yourself. Then, you eat two more. You pile on more negative self-talk and shame. This, my friend, is the spiral. I refer to this pattern as a shame spiral because it inevitably ends up with you feeling a tremendous amount of shame and an urge to eat to take the shame away. It numbs the discomfort temporarily but ends up feeling worse in the long run. So, try this instead next time:

Breathe. It might sound trite. However, focusing on your breath can calm down your stress response and allow for more clarity in how to handle the situation in a balanced way. Try breathing in your nose for about 5 counts, holding for 2 and breathing out your mouth for 10-12 counts. This engages your parasympathetic nervous system and shuts off the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system.

Focus on facts. When it comes to this cycle of self-sabotage, we are usually so focused on emotions that we lose sight of the facts. When we keep the facts in mind, the experience is less likely to snowball into and emotional avalanche. So, you ate 3 cookies, or a tub of ice cream. You didn’t murder anyone. Why are you punishing yourself so harshly? What do you get out of that? What are you hoping to accomplish? If it is some attempt to keep yourself from making the same decision in the future, think back and see if that has helped previously. My guess is no.

Try self-compassion. The antidote to shame is self-compassion. Have you ever had someone you care about share something they feel shameful about? When you treat them with compassion, you can see the shame start to melt. They become more relaxed and begin to let go of the shame. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes people are so rooted in the shame response, they may need way more reassurance to work through their pain. Contrast that with you making a judgmental statement about what they have said and notice the response. Definitely not relaxed, right? When we can treat ourselves with compassion, we are far more likely to get out of the downward spiral. When we treat ourselves with judgment, we are guaranteed to stay in it.

If you still need help getting out of your own way, contact me today to learn how my therapeutic approach can help!

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.
Michelle Lewis

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