When we first started working together, a client of mine—I’ll call her Nicole (not her real name)—shared a painful story.
Ever since Nicole was little, she had taken care of herself. Her parents were busy, never home and emotionally unavailable. Growing up, Nicole not only cared for herself, but also her younger brother.
Her mom used to tell her: “This will make you strong and independent—like me.”
And it did. But sometimes Nicole longed for her mother to just play with her, cuddle her and tell her: “I love you, Sweetheart.”
When she told me this story, Nicole was age 40 and lived alone. She was very successful at work and had a packed schedule—was always “on the go.”
She checked up on her younger brother each week, making sure he was doing okay and didn’t need anything. No one checked up on her.
She was strong and independent.
Nicole’s needs were not being met—and, more than that, she didn’t even remember what those needs were.
Needing one thing, feeding another
At work, Nicole kept busy and so didn’t feel her loneliness. And at home, in the evening, when lonely, sad feelings began whispering in her ear, she would head to the kitchen.
A frozen pizza, bag of chips and chocolate bar later, she’d still be lonely—and feel ashamed and awful.
Thing is, trying to fill a need or a wound with something other than what’s needed leaves the real need unmet.
Nicole was “feeding” something, but not what was wanting—needing—nourishment and care.
As a result, she felt even more lonely and even more unloveable.
Choosing change, pressing pause
By the time Nicole got started with Alchemist Eating, she had repeated this pattern day after day, evening after evening, for a very long time. Years. Decades even.
But, at some point, she decided something had to change. She was strong, independent, successful…and absolutely miserable.
Where did we start? Well, believe it or not, it wasn’t with “doing” anything.
Rather, it was by not doing.
You see, when Nicole and I began our work together, her first “homework assignment” was to practice pressing pause.
Step 1 = not “doing” anything
Changing patterns around food and eating is a process. One that takes persistence, patience and time.
But the starting point is pretty much always the same—and, though seemingly simple—is tremendously powerful.
As with many Alchemist Eating clients, Nicole’s change process unfolded over several months.
It involved supported exploration not just of what she was eating, but also bigger questions she’d never really considered. Questions like: What was really hurting? What was she really needing? What—or who—truly nourished her?
But the first step was learning to stop. To press pause.
This powerful step goes this way…
First, just stop what you’re doing.
Hold off on calling for pizza. Don’t reach for that bag of chips. Leave the ice cream alone.
You do get to do one thing though: Note the time and hunker down for 5 full minutes of well, stopping (perhaps even set a timer).
Wow, I’m feeling especially down today. A little angry, kind of lonely and definitely sad. And definitely time for ice cream. In fact, I think today calls for an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Maybe a bag of chips too.
Oh wait—this means it’s time to pause. I think I’ll sit down on the couch to do it. Just sitting down, stopping what I’m doing. Checking my watch. Five minutes start now—go.
Second, just notice.
What are you feeling? What are you wanting? What are you needing?
There’s no right answer here, and no right way to do this.
The idea is to just notice what it’s like to interrupt your usual pattern—to take a conscious, intentional break before “doing what you always do.”
Oh yeah—this part’s easy. I’m noticing that I want chunks of fudge brownie scooped up with gobs of chocolatey ice cream goodness. My belly is grumbling and my mouth is watering.
Yep. Wanting ice cream. That’s what I notice. Nailed it. Still have 4 more minutes to go though…
Hmm—this is strange—but I think I feel a little on edge too. Anxious even. Seems weird to say, bit it’s like the wanting is almost stressful. Curious…
Okay, 5 minutes up. What now?
Well, you might decide ice cream isn’t what you really need after all.
And…you might still reach for ice cream.
By pausing, you take a powerful first step.
Sounds simple, but it creates a break—however small—in the usual course of things.
Over time, the more you manage to take this simple pause, the more you expand awareness of your patterns—of your places of choice.
How’d it go for Nicole?
Changing patterns isn’t easy. And Nicole’s work with Alchemist Eating involved more than “just” learning to pause.
Over time though, pausing played a pivotal role in her healing. Starting from that place, Nicole learned to check in. To give herself space to explore what she was truly needing.
Space to recognize—in her words: “I didn’t even want pizza that night. I wanted care. I wanted to be cared for. I was lonely.”
We’re not going to lie—this is big work. (It can also be much easier with support, like the sort we offer clients in our Alchemist Eating program.)
And yet, pressing pause before reaching for that pizza is a solid starting point. One that, with repetition, repetition, repetition, can help us identify—and ultimately care for—our true needs.
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