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It’s very common as you’re learning new behaviors to make the same “errors” around food repeatedly. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It simply takes a good deal of practice for the brain to rewire. Not being hard on yourself in the process will help you learn faster.
I call this repetition of learning experiences duh and re-duh, meaning that you realize you’ve made a choice not in your best interest yet do it again—and again. Maybe it’s swinging by Dairy Queen after work, bringing the bottle of wine and bag of chips along with you as you watch evening TV, or skipping breakfast and ending up so famished at before lunch that you mindlessly grab a donut or two when you pass by the break room. Each time this happens, post-eating you realize that the outcome is the same—the triumvirate of regret, guilt and shame. Yet, each time before the event, you turn off the part of your brain that thinks about consequences and end up in the same leaky boat.
It’s okay—really, really okay—to have these duh and re-duh moments. It’s natural and part of the learning process. What you want to avoid is berating yourself for having them. You know, the negative chatter that usually accompanies what you perceive as food failures. Instead, speak to yourself compassionately and remind yourself you’re still learning to eat better. Objectively assess what led you to do what you did and think of choice points in the process where you could have made wiser decisions. Remain objective and remind yourself of other things you’ve learned that took time.
Never ask yourself, as I hear clients do all the time, “Why can’t I learn this? What’s wrong with me?” When you ask these questions, you’re not actually asking what specifically is preventing you from eating better. You’re reinforcing the idea that you’re defective. You’re not and never were, so cut it out. Instead, ask yourself, “What could I have done differently to avoid this outcome?” Then write down the answers.
And speaking of writing, here’s an activity that will help you not repeat your learning experience. When you’ve engaged in an eating behavior you wish you hadn’t engaged in, right at the peak of the remorse and self-hatred, jot down what you’re experiencing. All of it, every ugly thought in your head and awful feeling in your body. Don’t hold back, but avoid being judgmental. For example, say you feel bloated, sick to your stomach, hopeless, and miserably disappointed in yourself, but not that you’re a stupid jerk, etc. Get the point? Then keep what you’ve written in the kitchen (or in the car) so you can read it over next time you’re heading toward another unwise food decision.
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