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Fantasy versus Reality

A message board member (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) posted that she spent a great deal of time fantasizing about being a “normal” eater in a thinner body. Fantasizing is a tempting, common activity for many disregulated eaters, but it can be more destructive than constructive. Truth is that reality is the only game in town.

Of course, there’s fantasizing once in a blue moon, say, when you’re invited to a swanky bash where you may be meeting lots of cool people or daydreaming about lying on the beach in Aruba on vacation without a care in the world. Then there’s fantasizing as a way of life—to avoid reality, feel better, or escape how painful and unhappy your life is. Obviously, the first kind of fantasizing is pleasurable and adds to your happiness. Musing about the big gala gets you excited, while visualizing yourself basking in the sun is a mini-break from reality that can help refresh and relax you.

However, fantasizing to replace life, not to add to it, is a withdrawal from reality that can become dangerously habit forming because pleasurable fantasizing releases dopamine in your brain, creating and reinforcing behavior. By escaping the hard work of changing in the present, your life can’t improve. When you’re fantasizing about better eating and having a “better” body, you’re not experiencing the discomfort that’s required to actually be different. By avoiding pain and escaping into pleasure, you get exactly nowhere.

Moreover, there’s a big difference between fantasizing and visualizing, which is a valuable tool in changing behavior. In the former, you’re unconsciously seeking pleasure; in the latter you’re consciously envisioning doing things differently. Habitual fantasizing is an unconscious, escapist process. Visualization is an intentional process of rehearsing stretching yourself. The most effective visualizations involve imagining yourself doing difficult activities with ease. Imagine them often enough, and they become easier in real life.

If you spend a great deal of time fantasizing rather than working on your eating problems, be honest and ask yourself what you get out of this practice. In the long run, is it beneficial or harmful? The way out of this unproductive habit is to prohibit yourself from doing it. As soon as you start to drift onto fantasy island, stop and bring yourself back to reality. This may be an uncomfortable shift, but it’s the only way to break the pattern. Wean yourself away from fantasizing, and put your efforts into changing in the real world. Soon you’ll be making progress and your fantasies may even come true!

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