Flipping Fear

Darcy is afraid to give up the comfort and security food has given her. She can’t even THINK about what stopping overeating might be like.

She is overwhelmed by fear. Fear is generated by that ancient, reptilian part of our brain, the amygdala, affectionately known as your “Inner Lizard.” It’s an awesome response when we truly are in imminent physical danger. It was extremely useful to our ancestors when they were under attack by a Sabre-Toothed Tiger. It triggered their fight-or-flight response, and, as my historical reference “Clan of the Cave Bear” suggests, they were then able to perform heroic (and eerily modern) acts to save their lives. In these times, most fear is generated not by imminently dangerous external circumstances, but by our minds–our thoughts to be specific.

You can see this with Darcy. She is not in any kind of physical danger, yet her fear feels no different than what our primal ancestors felt. Until she’s able to flip that fear, she won’t be able to successfully stop overeating.

Here’s how to flip this kind of thought-generated fear.

Face the Fear
Darcy’s main problem is that she’s resisting the fear, and by refusing to look at it and what’s driving it, she intensifies it. You can’t push fear or any emotion away, the key is to face it and see what is really there. Which will lead you to…

Disprove the Thought
What thought is causing the fear? How does that affect you? And, of course the infamous Dr. Phil question, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” If you decide it’s not working, now that you’ve wiggled that thought loose in your mind, you can find one that feels more true and helps you create the kind of outcome you want.

Darcy’s thought that is causing her to feel afraid is “I need food to give me comfort and security.” When she believes this thought, she feels — you got it! — afraid, and perhaps hopeless and anxious. And, when she contemplates stopping overeating food to lose the extra weight on her body, she becomes paralyzed at the thought of losing her “friend.” Yet she desperately wants to be free from the food obsession. As long as her mind believes this thought, she will not be able to consistently eat the amount of food her body needs because when she feels this fear, she binges. Here is the ultimate irony–food is NOT giving her comfort and security, overeating food brings her discomfort and insecurity. This thought she believes is a lie.

Flip to a Better Thought
Thoughts that bring you fear and pain are always lies. I know this is a big pill to swallow, but even in the darkest of circumstances, there are multiple stories (thoughts) you can tell yourself about what’s happening. Think about it. Right now Darcy wants to lose weight. But she’s telling herself a very scary story of deprivation and loss of comfort which is preventing her from doing that. There are multitudes of stories she could tell herself instead. What she wants to find is a thought that feels better and also feels true. Many people fall down here because they find a thought that sounds better, but it does not feel true to them. That won’t work. It is vital to keep brainstorming until you find a thought that meets the better AND more true criteria.

Here’s what that better-thought finding process might look like for Darcy:

Thought 1: I am a pretty pretty princess and all will be well.
She doesn’t believe it for a second–not better, not feeling true.

Thought 2: I don’t need food to give me comfort and security! I can do it on my own!
Sounds nice, but Darcy can’t quite buy this yet–doesn’t feel true for her.

Thought 3: Food is food, it does not provide comfort.
Hmmmm, interesting, Darcy says. This one gets her mind clicking–getting warmer…

Thought 4: I give me comfort and security.
Again, very interesting, but Darcy can’t quite get there. That’s ok!

Thought 5: I’m only giving up the parts of food that don’t bring me comfort and security.
BOOM! Darcy’s got it. She feels a shift inside, a relaxation when she thinks this thought. It’s just right for her because it doesn’t ask her to totally give up her beliefs about food, just the part that isn’t working for her. This new thought causes her to feel relaxed and even excited about the idea of fueling her body and honoring it rather than overeating. She can start to see how doing that would bring her more comfort and security than overeating does. She knows she still has more thoughts to work through, but she’s up for giving it a go.

The next time you feel that tingle of anxiety or gut-wrench of fear, instead of pushing it back down with rationalizations or food, check it out, find the thought that’s fueling it and flip it.