Out of all the ideas I heard at Green Mountain*, one that really sang to me was the floodlight and twinkle lights.
“The truth of the matter is that nothing will do it like food… Eating in that way lights up the pleasure centers of the brain. It’s like a freight train pounding into the reward centers of the brain, lighting them up like floodlights at a football stadium. But then, it crashes down and shuts off those lights…
The downside is that at the end of eating in that way comes guilt, shame, disgust, pain. The food works… until it doesn’t. Somewhere along the way, those floodlights came crashing off.”
So if the floodlight is ultimately unhelpful, what is the alternative?
Twinkle lights. Lots of twinkle lights. (That’s fairy lights to us UK folks!)
When we string together loads of twinkle lights in our life – small pleasures that gently light up our senses – they’re collectively powerful. And unlike the floodlight of a binge, if you lose a light bulb or two you’re not left in the dark.
Apparently front-loading pleasure is hugely helpful for binge eating recovery. When we engage the senses purposefully and mindfully it can really impact our mood. Also, humans are wired to seek pleasure and connection. If we get a good amount of twinkle lights happening, we’re less likely to hit that food floodlight switch in an attempt to get what we need.
Haica, our therapist, had us make lists of our favourite everyday pleasures. We focused on each sense in turn, naming all those little things that make us feel good. That was fun to do, but I noticed that even after two years of Operation Foxy By 40, I still wasn’t really doing much of the stuff on my list.
I realised I was on a pleasure pendulum. No, that is not a kinky adult contraption! Rather it’s a tendency to swing between very little pleasure to huge bursts of pleasure, with often little time spent in the middle.
Like the hunger pendulum – hitting the snooze button on one’s hunger signals – I tend to do the same thing with pleasure. Looking back at my periods of bingeing over the years the pattern is there, over and over. In most recent years it’s looked like:
work work work → neglect movement, regular meals, socialising etc → hit Floodlight A: Overeating/Bingeing
work work work → neglect exercise, regular meals, socialising etc → hit Floodlight B: Awesome Vacation or Social Event
Both Floodlight options feel fabulous in the moment. After all, they usually involve a lot of waiting, planning and plotting, scrimping and saving – I admit, I love a slow burn! But after the high, the pendulum always swings back to the Cave o’ Neglect.
So I appreciated that adding some twinkle lights could be helpful to break this pattern. The first step was to understand why I still resisted the idea. Pleasure seems such a lame thing to struggle with. Who doesn’t want to feel good?! I have low barriers to entry. I set my own schedule most days. I have a roof over my head and the privilege of leisure time. I have no kids and answer only to one surly cat. Also, I enjoy my work but work is not something that really drives me – so why is it my go-to excuse for putting off the fun stuff?
I got specific about my resistance and it was a mess of contradictory thoughts:
- Suspicion – what is the point? How could doing a few pleasant things possibly make a dent in the almighty binge beast?
- Cynicism – putting pleasure in the same box as “self care” – scented candles and all that marketing malarkey.
- Farmer DNA – one doesn’t rest until all the work is done. If you’ve got time to sit around painting your nails, you could be shearing a sheep or putting a crop in! 😉
- Equating it with diet culture – “If you think you want chocolate, take a bubble bath instead!” which fills me with rebellious rage… let me tell you where you can shove your bubbles!
- Fear of overindulgence – what if I start doing nice things and I won’t be able to stop, like I did with the food? What if my feelings are too big and I want too much and I won’t get back to work and I’ll end up living in a cardboard box?
- Feeling overwhelmed – when one gets into that really dark and shitty place, finding the oomph to even take a shower feels near impossible, let alone the other stuff.
- Old unpleasant experiences – a tangible fear of getting in trouble, coming from a time when leisure equalled laziness and you did not want to be caught idle. Even now, if I’m reading a book when Gareth arrives home, sometimes I still jump up and start babbling, “I was just about to do the dishes!” (and the poor lad looks very confused).
With all those reasons written down it made sense why sometimes it felt easier to scoff a big old bag of crisps.
However, understanding the resistance has made it easier to take action this time round. My Green Mountain motto has been, “Just give it a go and see what happens”. If I have any hope of stopping this bloody pendulum swinging, I need to try something different.
So I’m all about adding in the twinkle lights – creating more moments of pleasure, but also keeping my eyes open and appreciating the small delights that were already right before my eyes (hello mindfulness).
Since getting home I’ve added in some stuff from the list I made at Green Mountain. Reading an analogue book in bed for ten minutes in the morning (instead of picking up my phone and lurching straight into the day). Actually bothering to moisturise after showers. Switching back to paper and pen for my morning writing instead of the computer and actually doing the morning writing. Getting rid of all my sad and faded knickers and buying cheery new ones! Playing music in the kitchen while chopping veggies. Eating dinner at the table not on the couch (Ziggy often sits on one of the dining chairs and peers over the top of the table which is the cutest thing).
It sounds so bloody ridiculous when I write all those tiny things down. But after three weeks back home I’m starting to feel a little glow from these twinkle lights. The resistance is still there all the time, but I’ve noticed that the work/home boundaries are a little more defined, I’m getting out and about more, and best of all I’m not thinking about food half as much because there are a bunch of nice little things crowding out those thoughts. I can see how this will be a useful addition to the recovery toolbox.
I partnered with Green Mountain at Fox Run, in which I received a three week stay at Green Mountain in February 2018, in exchange for writing about my experience. The stay included the Green Mountain core program and Pathway program at the Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating. I covered my own travel expenses. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Browse all my Green Mountain posts here.
Update, January 2019 – Green Mountain has now closed down.