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The Past and Overeating

Posted Oct 19 2012 8:44am

Many disregulated eaters spend entirely too much time ruminating and talking about their binges and bouts of overeating. Honestly, think how much energy you waste on an event that is long gone. In order to recover from eating problems, you’ll have to extract what you need from the experience and move on almost immediately. Here’s why.

Everything we think about gets encoded in our brains, imprinted in memory. The question is why you’d want to imprint the memory of a binge. Is there a purpose in returning to the scene of the “crime” again and again (and again!), or are you on automatic pilot without even thinking about the harm you’re causing yourself?

There are only two reasons that merit recalling previous events: to revel in pleasurable memories or to improve life in the present. It makes sense to enjoy positive memories of, say, receiving an award, getting married, attending your child’s graduation, enjoying a class reunion, cruising foreign ports, seeing a great movie, hearing a terrific concert, listening spellbound to a lecture, hanging out with your best friend, or walking the beach at sunset. You recall these events and feel good. That’s how memory works: think about something wonderful and you feel wonderful.

We also often troll the past to improve the present. If you’re retaking a test on which you did poorly, you’ll want to consider what went awry the first time to improve your score. If you were involved in a car accident, you’ll want to examine how it happened so you don’t total another car. If you nearly fell on the ice a minute ago, figuring out why is important so that you can continue to walk with safety.

Now let’s take a binge and see whether it deserves the attention you give it. Was it so enjoyable that you wish to keep extracting pleasure from it? Ha! Might examining it help you not repeat it? Yes, but only if you’re recalling it to assess what to do differently. Is there any reason to recall the binge if you’ve already mined it for information? No.

So any memory reruns of bingeing beyond learning from them are intentional torture and promote voluntary misery. Why would you choose to continue experiencing your shame, guilt and disappointment? That’s like whacking yourself over the head with a mallet. It hurts and bears no fruit (pardon the mixed metaphor). You can stop your thoughts. They will go away if you cease engaging with them. And you’ll feel a whole lot better. You can’t change your past actions, but you can change your present thoughts.



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