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Eating Is Not a Life Skill

A client who’s recovering from alcoholism mentioned in a session that when she was anxious, she really, really, really craved a drink. We talked about how having a drink would affect her afterward—the shame and remorse she’d feel—and how, by drinking, she’d really, really, really be missing an opportunity to practice crucial life skills. Addictions do that: they not only make you wish you hadn’t engaged in certain behaviors, but they prevent you from learning and practicing effective skills. And when you don’t have life skills, you’re at a loss to manage, well, life which makes it more likely that you’ll turn to behaviors which harm you and don’t teach you anything useful.

Life skills are strategies and behaviors which we all needed to learn in childhood, but didn’t because our parents were teaching us from their own often dysfunctional histories, distorted perspectives, limited knowledge base, and imperfect abilities. Specifically, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines them as "Abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.”

The life skills I write about in my book, Outsmarting Overeating: Boost Your Life Skills, End Your Food Problems, aren’t just useful for improving your relationship with food. They include skills for: 1) wellness and physical self-care, 2) handling emotions, 3) living consciously, 4) building and maintaining relationships, 5) self-regulating, 6) problem-solving and critical thinking, 7) setting and reaching goals, and 8) balancing work and play. Think of how much better you’ll feel when your physical self-care is top notch and taking care of your body is a pleasurable priority. When you handle emotions better, you will be using them to enhance your life by moving toward long-term happiness and away from generating pain. Living consciously, you’ll be connected to what you’re feeling and thinking most of the time and will make mindful, informed choices. No longer will you act impulsively or ignore consequences. And, rather than ruminate about the past or worry about the future, your focus will be on getting the most out of life in the present.

By building and maintaining healthy relationships, you’ll enjoy deep friendships, love and intimacy and will have other people to turn to when you need to be taken care of. You won’t choose people who hurt you or don’t have your interest at heart, but will find those who’ll support you when you’re stressed rather than be the cause of it. By practicing self-regulation, your life will be more in balance and you won’t get whiplash boomeranging from overdoing to underdoing or from feeling overwhelmed or emotionally numb. And, balancing work and play will feel more natural, so that you neither sink into boredom or get overly stressed. By learning how to set and reach goals and problem solve successfully with your head as well as your heart, you’ll learn how to take better care of yourself. A crucial part of this process is developing critical thinking skills which include cultivating skepticism and looking for evidence to support decisions.

So, remember the next time you reach for food when you’re not hungry that what seems like a small, inconsequential momentary choice is really linked to the behaviors that produce the best—or worst—outcomes for your life. You can do either mindless eating or learn and practice life skills, but you can’t do both.