Thought Storms: Accepting Unwelcome Thoughts

September 2, 2014 in Uncategorized


I have a food plan.  And my food plan does NOT include eating off of my food plan.

Today I want to eat things that are NOT on that plan.

I felt that way yesterday too.

Why is this happening? Here are a few reasons:

I’ve been working hard at detoxing (once again) off sugar and I truly believe that at least 50% of obsessive food thoughts come from the cravings that sugar produces and the equally hellacious experience it gives you in leaving your system once you no longer feed it.

That’s not all of it though.  For me, food also works as a cure for any unwanted emotion.  I have a deep attachment to it for that reason which makes it hard to resist in stressful times.

Regardless, though, of why the thoughts are coming—they are there.

And trying to rid my mind of them or actively trying to avoid them only seems to make it worse.

Suffice it to say it’s junk food.

I started thinking about it as soon as I woke up at 9 am.  I slept late today because it’s a holiday.  I guess I can count myself lucky for that at least!

Had I woken up earlier it would have just added more time to how many hours I’ve been trying to resist eating it.

So I woke up around 9 am and it is now noon.  That means that I have been actively fighting off eating this food for 3 straight hours.


Do you know how hard it is to do anything consistently for 3 straight hours?

I mean maybe if it’s something you ENJOY doing then that’s one thing. But something I hate??

Try doing something you HATE for 3 straight hours with no break.

It’s awful!

I wonder if people even begin to understand how much time those of us who deal with “food issues” spend trying to NOT EAT?

It’s virtually ridiculous to me when I think about it sometimes.

I actually wonder what it would amount to if I tallied up all the hours I have spent in my lifetime trying NOT TO EAT certain foods.

The amount of hours over my lifetime I can almost guarantee you would add up to a full time job with no holidays or vacations off.

At the age of 42 ,I easily would have already put in so much time to this “career”of trying to avoid eating these things that by  now I surely would be able to retire from it!!

THAT is how many hours I have put into actively trying to NOT eat things in my life.

And by that I mean avoiding eating when I am NOT hungry.

Even that is hard for me to say because it has taken me decades to really even differentiate between real physical hunger, head hunger and sugar cravings.  The point,though,  is that I’m talking about eating when I shouldn’t be.  When I do not need it.  When it is clearly eating for the sake of eating.

Or rather eating for the sake of putting myself out of the absolute misery that the nonstop food-thoughts are putting me through.

When I am going through one of these episodes of obsessive food thoughts—it seems like they just won’t leave.

They  are just always there in the back of my mind like a dull headache that never goes away.

You try to distract yourself with other things.

You use self talk to try and “pull yourself together”.

I turned on the television.

I got on the internet.

I went for a walk.

I told myself that I needed to just hold off for an hour.

I asked myself to go ahead and get a protein shake.

Drink that first.

If I still want the junk food in an hour from now then I will just give myself permission to eat it.

(I’m sure most of you recognize THAT bargaining tactic we often use with ourselves)

All of these things I did with the full intention to distract myself from the thoughts.

To make them LEAVE.  To replace them with something else so they’d GO AWAY!!!

It’s been an hour.  Two hours.  Three hours.  I still want it.

A lot of people think they know what this is like.

They say things like “Yes I want to eat junk food too sometimes.”

I wonder if they really want it though to the degree that I want it.

Because when I say it’s been on my mind, I don’t mean it’s something that I think about occasionally.

I don’t mean I think about it often or even a lot.

What I mean is that when I DO think about it—when those thoughts DO come—they flood over me in such a way that it feels like I’m drowning.

During times like this—If I tracked it— there would probably be 5 minutes MAYBE out of 60 in that hour where it was not in my head.

And those 5 minutes of freedom were only due to constant effort on my part to distract myself.

I can’t describe to you the unbelievable effort that is involved in trying to avoid eating.  It is really exhausting.  It takes massive effort.  That is what a lot of people probably just don’t understand.  It’s not like every now and then this annoying thought pops in my mind like some fly that I swat away.

It’s not like that.

Unless the fly was some kind of SYFY channel fly—some freakishly massive insect with terrorizing powers and it landed ON ME and never ever left.

Then THAT would be a similar analogy I think.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you have experienced these overwhelming, invasive, food-thoughts as well.  And maybe you have also spent hours upon hours trying to rid yourself of them.  Distract yourself from them.  Only to seem deeper in them than before.

So here we all are.  Trying NOT to think about Doritos.  Or Big Macs.  Or whatever it is that you want which you know you should not have.

And trying to not think about something is exactly the way to ensure that you NEVER EVER STOP thinking about it.

The more we try to control our thoughts….the more we try to actively remove those thoughts….the more we actually think about them.

The ironic thing is that in the outside world (the world that does NOT reside in your HEAD) trying to “remove” things we don’t want in our life is actually a very useful and effective strategy.

I had a clock once that had a really loud tick.  It drove me crazy so I got rid of it.  I removed it from my life. Problem solved!

You see, removing something objectionable to you works in real life for a lot of things.

You don’t want that couch anymore? Sell it!

You don’t like that show on TV.  Change the channel!

But inside your head, there are different rules.

Inside your head–trying to remove thoughts that you don’t want only seems to give them more power.

The more we try NOT to think about them…the more we do.

This phenomenon is actually called Ironic Process Theory.  How is that for the perfect name??

The irony here is that the more you try NOT to think about something—the more you think about it.

The more you attempt to avoid the thought—-the more you keep running into it.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky said the following:

Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind


This is definitely true for me when it comes to food.  The more I actively try to AVOID thinking about eating, the more I think about eating.

The more I attempt to remove thoughts of food—the more they seem to flood my mind!

Hence the 3 straight hours of torture I’ve endured this morning!

And that, my friends, is what Ironic Process Theory looks like to me in action.

Here is yet another irony for you.  I know all this! I’ve learned it all before.   I know for a fact that the more I try to rid myself of obsessive food thoughts the more they increase.  I know that the more I try to stop thinking about them—the more I WILL think about them.  And yet for some reason I spent 3 hours doing exactly that.  Trying very hard to not think those thoughts.  Trying excessively hard to make them go away.  You see, I have better strategies.  Yet many times I “forget” them and fall right back into old patterns.

The longer I progress on the weight loss journey the more I see how very often I must travel around the same mountain again and again.  It’s almost as if I learn 80% of the lesson only to find myself having to repeat the course all over again because I didn’t learn it entirely well the first time.  With deeply engrained patterns and lifetime habits we must simply accept that often times we will have to repeat the same lessons again and again.  It might take days, months and even years with some things. And yet isn’t it better to keep going anyway? Even if it does take years?

 I could certainly say to myself:

Forget this! It’s been 3 years since I started this blog and I still haven’t arrived!  I still have to go back and re-learn some of the most basic concepts all over again.  I have to return to the start once again.  I have to lose weight I had already lost.  How long will it take me to just GET IT?? How long will it take me to finally figure all this out?

Frustrating as that is—it is still far better than laying in the recliner at 417 pounds utterly hopeless balancing a pizza box on my stomach with a 2 liter Pepsi in one hand and a box of Krispy Kreme donuts in the other.

I’d take THIS day over THAT day ANY DAY of the week!

Yep—acceptance is the answer it appears.  Accepting how long it takes.  Accepting that we often have to learn the same things again and again.  Even lose the same blasted 20 (or 50…or 100) pounds 3 or 4 more times in a row before we get past whatever is tripping us up.

Acceptance is even the antidote to what ails us now.  I know it is because it’s exactly how I’ve managed to lose weight in the past.  To move past the thoughts.  To move on from them.  But only because I first accepted them.

Have I so quickly forgotten what has worked for me in the past?  Have I so easily forgotten how important acceptance is?  It’s frustrating to me that I must reteach myself the basics once again. But you know what? I guess I’ll just have to accept even that!  Even the fact that I must re-learn and re-train myself again and again in some of the same areas.  Yes, Acceptance is the key.  Accepting everything that is thrown our way.

EVEN the obsessive thoughts of food.

Doing that is, of course, the exact opposite of thought suppression.  It’s the exact opposite of what would seem to make sense.  It goes against what our rational mind would find to be a reasonable solution to this problem.  And yet acceptance is actually the beginning of what we MUST do to cure ourselves.

But facing and accepting these thoughts can be scary.  It can be frightening.  Because acceptance does not mean performing any action to try and fix the situation.  It doesn’t mean acting on the thought.  And it doesn’t mean resisting the thought. It doesn’t mean running out and eating whatever is in my head.  But it also doesn’t mean trying to actively resist the idea of eating it either!

Acceptance means very simply….accepting the thought however intense it may be and doing nothing about it.  Nothing to satisfy it.  But also nothing to make it go away.   How very simple and yet complicated all at once does this idea of acceptance seem to be!

 I acknowledge it and I do nothing about it.

 I just exist with it.

Me and the thought.

Like two people at the same bus stop waiting and going no where.

But what if in accepting the thought of it, I end up at McDonald’s?

What if in accepting the thought,  more thoughts come??

What if in accepting these thoughts, I lose total control?

Well then accept those “What If” thoughts TOO!!

Accept every ridiculous thought that comes your way.   And know that accepting them doesn’t mean agreeing with them.   It doesn’t mean acting on them.  It means accepting they are there and doing nothing to try and make them leave.  Like you accept the rain when it falls.  Like you accept the sun when it shines.  If it’s going to rain, then let it rain.  If the sun is going to shine, then let it shine!  It’s going to anyway, isn’t it?? So accept it.  And do the same with these thoughts.  Because this is the start.  The first step to finding your way.

But whatever you do just resign yourself to total acceptance.

You would think that this sort of nonsense could only lead head first into that bag of candy, right??

But the reality is that in facing the very thing we are running from—we turn the tables on it.

We actually begin in that moment to tame the bully.  It is only in looking directly at the very thing we are trying to avoid that we begin to finally remove from it the very power that it holds over us.

I started writing this blog post yesterday morning.  That is why I told you in the beginning that it was a holiday and I had slept in.

 It was a holiday when I started writing it because yesterday was Labor Day.  And as I began writing about the frustration I had been feeling for the first 3 hours of my morning, I began in that moment to face and accept those thoughts instead of trying to run from them.  Instead of attempting to make them go away, I began instead to look at them.   Write about them.  Explore them.

We often believe that we have only two options in these moments.  To try desperately to avoid thinking about food.  Or simply to eat it. To just eat it and get it over with.  Put an end to the misery.  But there is a 3rd option.  And that option is to face those thoughts.  To face them and accept them.  To feel every last ounce of what they are making us feel.

Right there.  That is where we begin to finally have a chance at progress.   But the dilemma of course becomes—what do we DO with ourselves?  How do we cope and survive looking directly into the monster’s eyes?  How do we handle the emotions that it brings when we stare it square in the face?

There are ways to handle it.  There are strategies for that.  I’ve learned some and I’ll learn them again.  I plan to share them but today I will just share the one that got me through yesterday:

I started writing about it.  

I worked on this entry off and on all day.  When I first started writing I was very frustrated. (I’ve since edited out some of those paragraphs!)  But I continued writing anyway.  Exploring every inch of how those thoughts were making me feel.    The very ones I had previously been trying to NOT think about.   I was no longer trying to simply distract myself or run from the feelings.  I was just living with them.  They were my constant companions like it or not and I allowed that.

 I did other things.  I cleaned the kitchen.  I did laundry.   I watched movies with my daughter.  Amanda stopped by and we chatted for awhile.   I responded to some emails. And I wrote this post.  I read up on how thought suppression doesn’t work.  That’s how I stumbled upon Ironic Process Theory so I read about that.  I watched the kids play basketball for awhile.   And then I’d go back to writing. And I did not do any of those things with the mindset that I was trying to distract myself from the thoughts of food.  I did it in the same way that I do anything else when I’m not alone.  I did it in the same way that I finish writing this now in a Starbucks.  With the full knowledge that there are people surrounding me.  I know they’re there.  And I am not trying to make them go away.  I won’t lie.  Some of them are rather annoying! Some talk louder than others.  But they aren’t going anywhere and neither am I. We are all here existing in the same space and I might as well just get used to it!!

The same is true of these thoughts. When they are there—they are there.  No amount of huffing and puffing will make them leave.  We can cover our eyes and plug our ears but it won’t make a difference.  They’ll leave when they’re good and ready.   And the sooner we are willing to share our space with them the sooner we can get on with the unwelcome visit and closer to their departure!

It won’t always be this way.  The obsessive food thoughts will lessen.  They will grow weaker especially as I continue doing the things that make me stronger.  Eating on plan.  Exercising.  Putting one foot in front of the other and not giving up.  But it takes time.  It takes practice.  It takes day after day of simply accepting and moving forward.

So yesterday I chose to accept my feelings.  And I looked at them.  I wrote about them.  And I explored them.  Not running.  Not being afraid of them.  Just allowing them to spend the day with me.  They weren’t going anywhere anyway so nothing more I could do than make a cup of coffee and let them wear out their welcome!

Do you know I made it through the whole day without eating off my plan?  I will tell you that by about 5 pm I started to feel stronger.  I could feel it rising up in me.  It was almost as if I had passed the test.  As if those obsessive thoughts got good and tired of hearing me talk about them!  As if I had suddenly turned the tables on them and now they were the ones wanting to get away from me!

Today is a better day.  A stronger day.  But do you want to hear one more level of irony to all this?

When I got on the scale this morning, it said I had gained 2 pounds.  That is what it said!

 After all that I went through yesterday, it’s as if the forces against me said “Doesn’t matter if you stuck to your guns.  We still win!”

But I’ve learned this lesson before too.  I’ve learned it more than a few times.  Because I have had entire weeks where the scale registered nothing even if I followed everything according to plan.  Entire weeks where in spite of perfect adherence to the food plan and exercise—the scale seemed to act as if I’d failed to even do one thing right!

Once again—acceptance is the key.  Let the scale say what it will.  Keep moving forward.  Keep doing what you’re doing.  Eventually the scale will reflect reality.  Eventually you will wake up and out of no where it may seem you’ve lost 5 pounds.  That is just how it works.  But in the meantime, we must accept all of what this journey throws our way.

Accept the thoughts.  Accept the ironies.  Accept the waves as they come.

Be reminded of the disciples who suddenly encountered a storm that they surely thought would break their boat in half.  There they were unable to control the storm.  The waves crashing all around them.  And what was Jesus doing?


That’s exactly what he did during the storm!  Because Jesus wasn’t bothered by it.  He had the power to calm the storm but He also knew they would survive it.  And while He did wake up and calm the storm, his response to them was NOT-

“See it is all going to be ok now!  The storm is gone so NOW we can finally relax

No way!!!  His response was ,”Why were you so afraid? Why do you have so little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)

In other words….why were you freaking out during the storm? Why didn’t you have faith that we could survive it?

I guess it’s hard the first time you encounter a storm.

You don’t really know if you can make it until you’ve weathered one.  Maybe even more than one.

But once you do it, you probably can look back and see that each one is less scary then the one before.

The same is true of this scenario.  The “thought” storms.  The obsessive food cravings.  The uncomfortable emotions.

If we work on acceptance, we will eventually see there is less to fear.  We eventually find they have a beginning and an end.

Because all things have a beginning and an end.  It may not seem that way but it’s true.

Some storms are longer than others but they WILL end.  And whatever happens in the middle of all that—we CAN survive.

But the key is acceptance.

Accept those waves.  Don’t fear them.  Don’t resist them.  Ride them out and look towards the shore.

Because that is where you’re heading.

And that is where we’ll all be soon enough!!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine September 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm

YES! I obsess about food all day long! I know sugar and simple carbs just make me crave more sugar and simple carbs, yet I keep eating them. Sometimes, I will even panic if I don’t have something sweet and sugary in the house. I will HAVE to go buy something, and usually, I don’t even like it. My addiction runs deep :(.
Christine recently posted..Disney Half Marathon rambling recapMy Profile


Natalie September 2, 2014 at 11:55 pm

I don’t experience this nearly as strongly as you, I think, but I do still experience some of it. A lot of people/diet gurus say you just have to resist a craving for 5 mins and it will go away. That is such a lie! For people like us, anyway. You resist for 5 mins and you still want the food, and you resist for an hour and you STILL WANT THE FOOD. The craving doesn’t just magically go away. Maybe it does for them.
Natalie recently posted..High carb dayMy Profile


LuckyMama September 3, 2014 at 2:12 am

Awesome post!!!! Facing those thoughts – not letting them win, not ignoring them, but FACING them. Bang on!


16blessingsmom September 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Holly, thank you for being so totally honest. As a fellow member of the Think About Food All Day Club, I am strengthened that I am not the only one. I am encouraged because hey, you lasted all day! I plug along, seeing other people just eat things or casually say, “no, thanks.”, as if it isn’t even killing them to pass up that birthday cake, they just don’t want any. Every event in life involves food. I have 9 kids still at home, and they have to eat! Shopping is sometimes like torture. I see it, I want it. But I am fighting, and will not give up. I may have regained some of that 70 pounds I lost, but I will not give up. Thank you so very much for your perseverance. Your victories are your reader’s victories, we totally rejoice with you when you stay the course!!:)



stacey d September 3, 2014 at 1:50 pm

All I can say is WOW because I am speechless…I NEVER imagined someone goes through exactly what I go through in my head….Thank you for writing such a well thought out explanation of this battle we go through…Thank you, thank you and thank you…I am hooked on this blog and thankful that I found it
God Bless you


Joanna September 3, 2014 at 3:14 pm

You go, Holly! When I tell friends I’m quitting sugar, often they suggest to just eat less of it. Apparently they don’t understand the possibility that I actually think (and think only) of punching somebody in the face for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s! Thanks for writing your blog , I love reading it!


Beth M September 3, 2014 at 5:09 pm

I know this struggle all too well, and yet there are days when I still cave in, eat something sugary, and start the cycle all over again. I love the analogy of the storm, as usual you’ve managed to perfectly capture something so many of us experience.
I wonder if you’ve tried amino acids to moderate the struggle? Sometimes they work for me and sometimes not, but there seems to be a growing understanding by some obesity specialists that imbalances contribute to sugar and carb cravings.


Beth September 3, 2014 at 5:24 pm

This…”I wonder if people even begin to understand how much time those of us who deal with “food issues” spend trying to NOT EAT?” <3
Beth recently posted..Slow & SteadyMy Profile


Doug September 3, 2014 at 8:54 pm

First I want to say I Loved your initial YouTube message and how u lost your wait that took faith in God and yourself . You fought against demons to lost the initial wait now u must first fight to keep them away and fight against your old nature (flesh) from creeping back in. Pray pray pray for God to help u against your will power and satans devices. Pray for continue victory . You can do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens You !!!


Pam Holmes September 3, 2014 at 9:21 pm

I do understand. The obsession with eating is always with me. Sometimes I win over it, sometimes I don’t. But at least we’re trying, and isn’t that better than when we were morbidly obese, giving into the temptations without even thinking about it? I like how you used writing as therapy. I do the same thing, in my own blog. Even when I’m not writing, I think about a situation or a concern, and get my thoughts organized in my head before I head to the computer to write. I know Sean Anderson is doing the same thing.
He lost over 200 pounds, before gaining back over 100 of those pounds. When he was originally losing, he blogged daily. Of course when he got off track, he also ignored his blog. Now that he is actively losing again, he is back to blogging daily, and like you and me, he deals daily with food addiction. To me, reading of others’ problems which are so similar to mine helps me with my own fight. I hope you find some assistance in other blogs, I know you always reach for your Bible, where you find much guidance. We need all the help we can get in fighting the addiction, I hope you know that I am here for you Holly, just as you and your blog are always here for me. Thanks!
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Kerstin September 3, 2014 at 11:31 pm

It really is all about learning to feel the feelings, isn’t it? Thank you for this post, it was really timely for me to read this today as I am struggling with a lot of resistance to getting back on my program after about 4 weeks of free fall. I am fighting this resistance tooth and nail and you reminded me to just try and accept it and let it be. If you are interested I posted a vlog on my blog in response because it really meant a lot to me today 🙂 Thank you, as always! xo
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Dagny September 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Did you ever read my book because I write A LOT about this. My primary focus is that being fat does NOT mean there’s “something wrong” with you. Some of us are simply wired to have brains that connect food to EVERYTHING and having thoughts we do not want to have PROVES IT. I am never going to be someone who can “think like a thin person” or convince myself that I hate the foods my brain loves to make me crave. That is simply not who I am. I have to acknowledge who I am to be able to deal with it and I do it WITHOUT shame! Because I have a “Food Brain” does not mean I am broken, weak-willed, have “issues,” or that I am an addict.

In my forthcoming book, I will discuss what I call the Four Truths. Number one is “I alone experience my body and mind.” So when someone tells me just follow this diet, don’t eat this or that, eat less and move more—they do not know what I deal with in my head.

Each of us on our own must determine how we’ll deal with the unique functions of our body and mind.
Dagny recently posted..A Medical Weight Loss Plan in America is Just a Fad DietMy Profile


John (Daddy Runs a Lot) September 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Ack, the food obsessions! I hate the food obsessions.

Oh my, how they suck.

To fight them, I have a series of steps — almost always, the craving is for something specific (like a good crumb coffee cake) — and, most of the regular & specific cravings, I don’t keep in the house, which means having to leave the house & find something – which is a decent first step in keeping me from indulging. But, if the obsession still persists (note that I have two four year olds at home, so I anything I do has to be able to be done while actively parenting):

– At least two supersets of my bodyweight circuit (pull-ups, dips, pistol squats, chin-ups). My theory being that, if I do, eventually give in, at least let there be muscle that needs to be rebuilt by the horrible food that I’m obsessing about.

– Chug water/green tea until I can’t drink any more. Try to tell myself if I’m still hungry

– Write (if the kids might allow it) just to get to thinking about something else . . . even if I start by writing about how tasty coffee cake it, when the powdered sugar hits your lips and the first crumbs melt into your mouth (can you tell that I’m fighting cravings, myself?), eventually, I start writing about something else – usually character-driven, and it replaces the obsession for a little bit.

– Plan out the food for the day. If I plan the food, my brain starts organizing what needs to be done, when, and how things need to be done if I want to “eat right.” Because a meal worth eating, when you make it yourself, takes time & effort. I can get LOST in cooking.

– Play video games or watch movies with the kids . . . though that doesn’t last long

– Take the kids to the park. Do more strength training.

– Start cooking healthy food. Ignore the fact that the kids are demanding Doritos and candy and all of the food that I enjoy, but am not currently obsessing over . . . somehow (and I don’t know what black magic I’m incorporating by doing this, but I do it), tell myself that “no, I want x, so eating y, even if it may be yummy, will not be the same”.

– Sadly, every day that I fight this obsession, there is wine and/or dessert in it (though I made a from scratch pumpkin pie with a plantain crust that was just about PERFECT for battling sweet cravings . . . issue is that, since it’s from scratch, it doesn’t keep more than a day or two)
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Startingoveragain September 9, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I am new to this blog, so first-congratulations on your achievements. Your writings are so articulate and detail the difficulty of food obsessions. I would like to say this: I realize we all have our own journeys, but I continue to deal with sugar obsession for over 50 years. I eat very healthy foods until it comes to sugar products. I am grateful that the whole foods keep me somewhat healthy, but the thoughts that accompany this sweet obsession are relentless. I have tried diets, hypnosis, eating sweets in excess, not eating them for over 1 year (my longest run), journals, counseling, etc.
I never keep anything in the house because I would eat every last morsel of whatever it is. I end up bingeing and feel panicked when I don’t have anything to binge on or am about to run out. Then I begin healing once again until the next binge. I think your comment about riding out the storm and facing our fears is very valid.
I would add this to all the comments-I have spent too many hours, even years, with this obsession. I experience depression, allergies, skin issues,weight gain, etc. because of it. I would urge all of us to keep seeking solutions such as those suggested until we stumble on whatever will penetrate this behavior.


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