Practice the "So Far" Technique
1. S is for Stop.
Whenever you're anxious, when you hate your thighs and you've just eaten dinner for four and your canary is sick and the obvious next step is to inhale a pie—freeze. Stop doing anything. If you're with other people, shout "Nature break!" and head to the bathroom. No one will ask why.
2. O is for Open.
The physiology of your fight-or-flight response is very tight: tight focus of the eyes, tightening of the muscles, short, tight breaths. Once you're alone and still, toggle over to your R & R nervous system by opening up. Widen your visual field by softening your eyes. Open your muscles by stretching. Open your lungs with deep breaths. Open your mouth in a luxurious yawn (no one yawns while fighting or fleeing).
3. F is for Forgive.
This is the most important step. Since you can't create a relaxation response while attacking and being attacked, you must forgive yourself, and your body, for all supposed imperfections. It helps to make lists of things you've done right (raising a healthy cat, posting on Facebook, not stealing many cars...) and ways your body has served you (letting you sing, laugh, hug, read...). Please, make such lists. Make them very long. You'll eventually reach self-forgiveness—however grudgingly—and the "calm observer" part of your brain will then be online.
4. A is for Accept.
If you've gotten to the point where you're able to forgive yourself, it's time to drop all resistance to things as they are right now. You don't have to love or sustain what's happening, you simply have to allow it to be as it is. You can live with that. Want proof? You are living with it. Breathe that in.
5. R is for Renew.
From a place of stillness, openness, forgiveness, and acceptance, you can renew your commitment to any eating plan you like. Go ahead, stay on the Key lime enema program—though I doubt you'll want to. Such diets are unnatural, like throwing that porpoise through a hoop. A relaxed porpoise often jumps for pure joy. A relaxed human eats healthy foods in healthy portions, and stays active because it's more fun than lethargy. The result? Healthy weight, with little effort. It's that simple.
Having written this, I feel a surge of fear. What if I fail myself and you? What if I start bingeing again and expand like an inflatable mattress? The anxiety tugs me toward the fresh brownies in the kitchen...but then I Stop. I Open up. I Forgive myself, Accept the moment, and Renew my commitment to my personal dietary rules (eat only what you truly enjoy, and truly enjoy whatever you eat). The appeal of brownies evaporates. Sure, I could eat the entire pile of them, though I'm not hungry. I could also pack my cheeks with 400 cotton balls. But why would I? It would be pointless, uncomfortable, and funny looking.
Anxiety diminished, I pick up a favorite book, stroke my dog's silky ears, and offer a small prayer of gratitude that peace talks are still prevailing over the war I once waged with my weight. So far, so good.
Please, join me.
Martha Beck is the author of six books, including The Joy Diet (Crown) and Expecting Adam (Berkley). Her most recent is Steering by Starlight (Rodale).