Our relationship to excess when dealing with our relationship with food, intuitive eating  and more


Last week we talked about patience in this new series of episodes and posts in which we’re using little one-word mantras to help us on our journey. Today it’s finally time to talk about the little word that inspired the series: excess. I told you a couple of weeks ago how when a little Japanese woman on Netflix helped us declutter our home, I had some pretty massive realizations about my relationship to excess.

In case you don’t know who I’m talking about, I’m referring to the wonderful Marie Kondo and her Netflix show Tidying Up. A wonderful woman who turned our January into the ultimate “spring-clean-in-winter” fest. As you heard me talk about here, this process of donating bags and bags of those belongings that didn’t spark joy, was very meaningful. Not because we had the relief of having the tidiest closet we’d ever had (although that was part of it too), or because we could feel the breath of fresh air that naturally comes when you put away the last stack of unopened mail (even though this certainly happened), it was mainly because I had some pretty big realizations about my relationship to excess that had less to do with external things, and more to do with that internal world we love to talk so much about here at Brownble.

This was a big source of insight because you would have never thought that excess and me go way back from looking at my closet prior to Marie Kondo’s method, or after. I’ve never owned a lot of shoes, my collection of bags holds right around 4 or 5 plus the little clutch I take to each and every wedding I go to. I’ve never been a huge shopper although I do love buying things that are special (or anything in a flower print or with polka dots, or in a bookstore). I’ve even been able to tame my kitchen gadget obsession through the years, just because my love for an organized kitchen came first in my list of priorities. In spite of all of this, we donated bags and bags of stuff which left so much space, literally and figuratively.

As soon as we were done with the main part of the tidying up sessions, I started feeling slightly uncomfortable. To top that I was getting very judgemental over some of the people I saw in the show, making me realize that something about excess was bothering me. Getting rid of old clothes or objects that didn’t spark joy was actually really easy for me, so what was it? What was it about excess that was putting me on edge that first week of January?

Well, I have since stopped judging those folks who had enough shoes to fill a whole department store, or those with enough Christmas decorations to trim three full houses next December. As it turns out, I had a problem with excess that didn’t go away with the piles and bags we were about to donate. I didn’t have 500 mugs that were still in their original packaging, but I had excess just the same. Those strange feelings that were bubbling up had so much to do with noticing patterns I was not aware of, that took their steady hold during childhood, some of which became even more powerful in adulthood.

How many of us…?

How many of us have a relationship with excess when it comes to worrying?

How many of us have a relationship with excess when it comes to working?

How many of us have a relationship with excess when it comes to shopping?

How many of us have a relationship with excess when it comes to saying yes to everything and everyone?

How many of us have a relationship with excess when it comes to drinking or to using drugs or self-medicating?

How many of us have a relationship with excess when it comes to negative thoughts?

How many of us experience excess when pressuring others to meet our expectations?

How many of us experience excess when putting such high expectations on ourselves?

How many of us experience excess when eating?

Excess when dieting?

Excess when exercising more than is healthy?

Excess with our amount of cel phone use?

Excess when it comes to the amount of social media we consume?

Excess when it comes to negative self talk?

Excess when it comes to negative body image self talk?

Excess when it comes to judging others?

Excess when it comes to doing things for others before we’ve even taken care of ourselves?

Excess when worrying about the content of certain foods?

Excess fear of foods that have previously been labelled as “bad”?

How many of us experience excess when it comes to perfectionism? To never meeting the higher and higher standards we set for ourselves, while we forget about our own self care?

Trust me this list could go on forever. Practically everything we do can be taken to a point of excess and can be so much more damaging than having too many scarves or pretty necklaces. I can tell you I was guilty of many of these. It began with an excess of food to self soothe as a child, and then an excess of dieting, restricting and over exercising to counteract the overeating. Then it became excess of worrying, excess of a severe lack of limits, excess when it came to fear, work, perfectionism. I had felt uncomfortable and judgemental about the people on the show because I was noticing patterns that I hadn’t wanted to see before and that were certainly true about me too, no matter how small my closet was.

The little key that was missing

I’ve mentioned before in many episodes what my relationship with food has been like through the years, going from excessive emotional overeating, to over-dieting. I’ve also told you how practicing a mindful and intuitive approach to eating saved my life. How I had to look internally for cues on what my body needed as opposed to getting yet another diet book with a prescriptive diet. I’ve told you how loosening the reigns of food rules actually made me healthier, not less healthy. I’ve told you how beginning to listen to those internal cues of hunger and fullness, of which foods bring you delight and which don’t make you feel as good, can create such a mind-blowing change in our relationship with food.

If you’ve ever tried an approach like intuitive eating, or like practicing mindful eating, you might have encountered two little “voices” or cues that pop up when you sit down to eat. One that notifies you of the physical sensations of hunger, and another that gives you the physical sensations of being comfortably full. If you’re anything like me though, there is also a third side to this equation, that little impulse to still continue eating in spite of being full. This third cue set up house thanks to years of restricting food in the form of dieting, in which foods that caused joy and pleasure were restricted, and this created a fleeting thought every time I sat down to eat that said “dig in, you never know when this food might be taken away”.

Since I started practicing intuitive eating I’ve been trying all sorts of things to help this side of me understand that food will no longer be taken away, that those horrible dieting days are long gone and that therefore I can have more of this meal I love so much at a later time when I’m hungry and I’ll enjoy it even more. That I don’t have to reach a place of physical discomfort, that I can enjoy my meal until I’m comfortably full and put the rest away for a later time. I’ve tried many things when this little rebel side of me comes out (especially when I’m tired, stressed, anxious or worried), but nothing has worked as repeatedly and with consistency as shining a light on my relationship to excess.

I noticed that excess was the way I related to the world by default because of my life circumstances. I grew up in a family system that could change at any moment, so I developed a “take it all and take it now” mentality. This applied to schoolwork where only straight A’s were ok, to work in a way where perfectionism and double and triple checking everything was mandatory, to exercise where I used to come home from ballet class and repeat the entire class in my barre at home “just to practice” as a kid. It appeared again later when joining exercise programs. It appeared when trying a new diet, in which calorie limits were pushed even further by an overachieving mind. Where it was most present though, was in my relationship with food. No matter how aware I became of my issues with food, that early unsettled child mentality would always come out and tell me to eat well past fullness, just in case I couldn’t have it again. Just in case the world changed overnight.

A mantra appears

This January, thanks to the beautiful heart warming presence of Marie Kondo in our closets and cupboards, I noticed this very clear pattern for the very first time in my life. Because I knew habits take consistency and hard work to shift into new ones, I decided to have a little mantra. A mantra that became my number one New Year’s resolution for this year:

“I’m committed this year to a life without excess”.

This was so powerful.

It was a simple sentence I just reminded myself of whenever I recognized that that little girl in me was asking for more and more to self soothe. “I’m committed this year to a life without excess”.

I would remind myself of this when I felt the impulse to eat past fullness, or when I was denying myself something I loved because of old food and dieting rules. I would use this when I wanted to exercise harder when what I really needed was a nap, or when I found myself going over a conversation or argument with someone in an endless loop in my head. I would remind myself of it when I was worried about a situation at work or at home. A commitment to a life with no excess. It still sounds like sweet relief when I say it.

Powerful words that I had needed for years and didn’t know it, and since food is the reason you’re probably all reading and listening to this, these were powerful words that were missing in my intuitive eating and mindful eating journey. I needed just that, a reminder I could pull out at any time that was associated with relief and not fear, so that I could actually listen to it, and soothe myself with the simple use of this phrase. Like a mantra in a meditation, or a little bell that brings you back to the present moment when your mind has drifted. One little phrase to bring you back down to Earth, back into your body and the present moment.

Feel free to use it if you think it might be helpful, and I would love to know what your relationship with excess is like, so leave us your stories in the comments and I’ll be right there to answer any questions or as a friendly ear. Is there another little mantra that would be better suited for you to find a calmer relationship with food? One that doesn’t remind you of lack or restriction but that is stemmed from self care? Leave it below!