Starting out on the path to “normal” eating, you may be uncertain about what the journey entails. You expect you’ll be changing attitudes about and behavior around food, and may think that’s all you’ll be doing. The truth is that going from disregulated to regulated eating is a long, complex, process that requires a shift in numerous aspects of your life, and no one achieves complete recovery without undergoing an enormous, positive transformation. Conversely, without such an overhaul, you will never reach your eating goals. Here are some changes which lie ahead.

You will have to acknowledge that moving from chronic dieting and/or overeating to “normal” eating is a lengthy process. It will not happen overnight. Plan on many months to a few years. It will not be an easy process. For many, it will be the hardest thing you ever do in your life. Changes are not only behavioral, but demand that you modify your beliefs about food/body/weight/eating and about many other facets of life. This reformulation is not optional—no brain change, no behavioral change. In terms of alterations in non-eating/weight aspects of your life, you’ll need to re-examine your intimate relationships which will lead you to getting closer with some folks and distancing yourself from others (including family members, friends, romantic partners).

You’ll need a new set of life skills, many or most of which you lack: self-compassion and self-curiosity (rather than self-judgment), the ability to say both “yes” and “no” to yourself comfortably and easily, the capacity to see life in gray not merely black and white, an attitude of self-forgiveness and eschewing perfection, a balance of being dependent and independent when appropriate, a new concept of what being strong means (not toughing it out, but having sufficient inner resources and a willingness to turn to people for support), an ability to rebound and grow from mistakes and failure, assertiveness and the will and words to stand up for yourself, the capacity to care for yourself as much as you care for others. Those are some, but not all of the life skills you’ll need.

Moreover, you’ll have to learn how to comfort yourself without food or obsessing about weight, which means developing self-soothing techniques and being okay with seeking solace from people not food. Again, not optional work. The bulk of the job ahead is identifying and managing emotions better which involves exploring your past and tolerating painful feelings and dealing with them appropriately. If you don’t know how, you will have to learn. There is no short cut for you or for anyone. But, if you have faith in the process and take it slowly, you will get there and be very glad you did.