Try this simple question: Where does change happen—in the past, present or future? Of course, it can only happen in the present. Here’s a more complicated question: If change happens only in the present, why, then, do we spend so much time thinking about the past or the future which we can’t change in the present?
Your reflections on and response to this question may be the key to your becoming a “normal” eater. In order to do things differently that will help you develop new, healthier behaviors, you need to be anchored securely to the present moment. You can’t learn how to practice new eating behaviors when you’re ruminating about the past or agitating yourself about the future. I don’t mean to imply that mental time travel happens only in the food arena; these unconscious shifts out of reality and into memory or anticipation may happen any time.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say it’s driving home from work without stopping at a fast-food restaurant to pick up low-nutrition dinner as they usually do. While driving, instead of focusing on the act of doing so or intentionally driving a different route so that they don’t pass their go-to restaurant, they’re remembering how their supervisor criticized their work progress or the disagreement they had with a colleague about changing the office thermostat. Or, they’re dreading doing the laundry that’s been piling up because they’ve been putting off doing it for weeks and worrying about whether they have enough money in their checking account to pay the cable bill.
See what’s going on? If this was you on your way home from work with the intent of avoiding the fast food restaurant, what do you think of your chances of driving straight home? Dysregulated eaters have difficulty staying in the moment while they’re eating, and also live outside of the present much of the time, then wonder why they’re unable to change behaviors. A good example of this is when clients come into my office and we begin talking about one topic, until they switch to another and then another. While I’m trying to engage them in a conversation about what’s been happening in their present life, they’re reliving old memories or worrying that what happened to them before will re-occur.
The problem is that you’re so used to drifting unawares away from the present, that you don’t realize when you do. One way to check this unconscious slide is to frequently ask yourself, “Where am I now?” and ground yourself in the present. This habit will alert you to when you drift off and bring you back to the moment at hand, which is the only time in which you can do active problem-solving about food or anything else.