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Emotional Eating When You Want People to Change and They Won’t

Many dysregulated eaters are in relationships where they want another person to change. When he or she doesn’t, in frustration, these eaters turn to food to momentarily feel better. Of course, that feeling doesn’t last, nor does the strategy of trying to change the other person work. If it was going to work, it would have happened already.

It doesn’t matter who we want to be different—a parent, lover, child, boss, colleague, spouse, friend or whoever. If we’re channeling our energy into believing he or she will change if we try hard enough or do exactly the right thing, we’re bound to end up feeling frustrated and hopeless. We’ve all heard it before: We can’t change other people; we can only change ourselves. Although we all know, on some level, that this is true, why then do we keep on trying to make people be different than they are or wish to be?

We might view our disappointment as proof that we’re not lovable, capable or valuable (“If you really loved me…”). We might see someone’s refusal to change (stated or unstated) as affirming all that is wrong with us, including our inability to change others or to choose healthy people in our lives. We might fear what accepting that someone won’t change means, most often that we will need to drastically alter or sever a relationship—seek another job, dissolve a work partnership, divorce a spouse or partner, maintain distance from a parent or an adult child, end a friendship, or fire a subordinate.

Sometimes we will do almost anything to avoid taking these actions. Often we get so mired in helplessness, hopelessness, despair, disappointment, and anxiety that we tell ourselves we can’t face a different future, so we return to trying to bang that door down to reach someone or find the perfect key to unlock change. We shout louder, say the same things over and over, and keep returning to food when none of our actions work.

We think it’s a bad thing—a terrible, unforgivable thing—that someone won’t change, but the truth is that we’re the ones who refuse to make the adjustment, to alter ourselves to create a better situation. What right do you have to feel that someone must change? Why not you? What’s holding you back from changing? After all, what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

If someone won’t change, please stop eating your heart out over it. Change yourself and open the door to a better life and a healthier relationship with food. Stop waiting for him or her to change and take that first step which you’ve been avoiding doing by engaging in emotional eating.