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To whom are you accountable? Accepting that you—and only you—are responsible for your thoughts, feelings and behavior makes a huge difference in whether or not you’ll overcome your eating problems. That is, do you take charge of yourself or do you give over responsibility for your eating to family, friends, or our culture?

For example, I counsel a wife who overeats, just waiting for her husband to say something to stop her. And her husband falls right into the trap every time as if his spouse has absolutely no will of her own. Accountability for her eating is in the wrong hands. Only when hubby refuses to be responsible for his wife’s food consumption, will she have a fighting chance to pick up the gauntlet herself. As long as he’s willing to act as her conscience, she’ll continue her dysfunctional behavior. I also have clients who sneak eat, as if the only way they’ll ever be able to stop is to be found out and punished. Rather than hold themselves accountable for their food choices, they act as if they have no control and give their power over to parents, roommates, partners, or spouses.

We learn to be accountable by having parents who model responsible behavior, by being handed age-appropriate choices, and suffering appropriate consequences. If your parents made you feel beholden to them rather than yourself, you may need to relearn who is really responsible for you. This is a huge problem for disregulated eaters, many of whom were raised in households where the approval of or punishment by a parent mattered more than their own sense of what was right or wrong for them. As adults, they carry this misperception into their current relationships.

If you’re someone who engages in “normal” eating behaviors for a while, then returns to dysfunctional habits, one of the reasons may be that you find it painfully difficult to remain accountable for yourself all the time. You can do it for a while, but then the work of it gets tiresome and you can’t imagine being solely responsible for your eating, well, forever. You want a break, wish someone would take over governing your appetite for you, blame others for not helping you out, or relinquish responsibility and give up.

It may be time to explore your beliefs about accountability, that is, whether you blame others for your food failures or wish deep in your heart that someone would take charge of making food decisions for you. The goal is to welcome and rejoice in the fact that you—only you—are accountable for your eating. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, just that in the final analysis, the buck stops with you.