In yesterday’s post, I started talking about a teleconference with author and licensed clinical social worker Karen Koenig I listened to the other day in which she discussed seven potential areas behind the unconscious conflicts that stop us from turning our healthy intentions into lasting behavior change. Today, I’ll give a brief overview of those areas:
Create lasting change. When change is happening, it can feel uncomfortable and frustrating, but that’s OK. Don’t treat frustration as an end in itself, a reason to quit, but don’t just tolerate frustration and delay all gratification until the end. Find a middle path.
Make conscious choices. Many people tell themselves they “should” do something, then end up rebelling. This is a mirror of old child-parent dynamics. Talk in terms of “want” instead of “should,” and realize that most things in life are just choices and consequences…there are very few absolutes. 
Feel deserving. Disregulated eaters generally don’t love and take care of themselves. When you love yourself, you feel that you deserve the best in life, no matter what you do. When you don’t love yourself, you feel you only deserve the best if you’ve been “good.” Either you feel 100% deserving, or you don’t. If you don’t, it’s important to work through those feelings and get to the point of feeling deserving.
Learn how to comfort yourself…without food. Feelings are value neutral. There are no “good” feelings or “bad” feelings…they are our internal guidance system. We may like some feelings better than others, but they are value neutral. Talk yourself down from your anxiety, remind yourself that you will get through your sadness. Find other ways to comfort yourself, such as deep breathing, yoga, relaxation, being in nature, losing yourself in activities you love, physical activity, mindful eating. When you learn how to use these techniques, you can set aside using food as comfort. Koenig said none of her patients who have swapped food for another coping mechanism ever said they missed the old days! She quoted Maya Angelou: “When you know better, you do better.”
Know what’s “enough.” There can be real confusion about what’s enough for yourself. It takes trial and error. When you diet, you know exactly what’s enough…relatively speaking, as it may not really be enough for you. Sometimes you might have a little too much to eat, sometimes a little too little, but that’s normal. You keep making small adjustments, and you will figure it out.
Manage intimacy. Many people want intimacy…yet fear it. Some people have fears about their bodies, and may desire to be both visible and invisible. In other words, people who are overweight want to be seen and noticed (because isn’t that what we all want as human beings?), but on another level they don’t want to be seen because then their weight may be criticized. Turning to people, and not to food, is one way of moving away from disregulated eating, but this is difficult for those who fear intimacy.
Develop a healthy identity. Weight can be a red herring to keep people away from other issues you are experiencing, like depression. On the other hand, some people use weight gain to demonstrate that they are having a hard time, because how else will other people know? Some people who identify with their identity as an overweight person have a hard time giving that up, because what if they lose weight and then are rejected…what will they be able to blame that rejection on?
She also gave some suggestions for how to uncover and overcome these conflicts:
  • Cultivate mindful curiosity. Instead of judging yourself, be curious about why you are behaving the way you are. 
  • Reflect. Ponder your actions (again, non judgmentally) and see if you can make any insightful connections. 
  • Be honest with yourself. It’s not easy to be honest about your feelings and fears but the payoff is huge. 
  • Practice self-compassion. Disregulated eaters don’t have enough self-compassion, even when they have compassion for others. 
  • Embrace experiential learning. When one thing doesn’t work, tell yourself, “OK, don’t need to try that again. Let’s see what else works.” 
  • Ask for help. You don’t have to go it alone. 
If you want to know more, I encourage you to get her upcoming book, Starting Monday: Seven Keys to a Permanent, Positive Relationship with Food. I haven’t read it yet, since it won’t be released until next month, but The Rules of “Normal” Eating is great, and I have high hopes for her new book.
I’ll end with a great quote by Winston Churchill she mentioned: “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”