I was talking with a client about how easily the good in life had come to him as a long-time underachiever able to get by and find success with little effort, and how this attitude was now a major impediment to becoming a “normal eater”—and to his ability to literally fight for his life. The theme of not trying hard enough in one way or another echoes throughout the histories of most of my clients and is the theme of many sessions.
Not long after this conversation, a friend described hearing some neighbors complain about how people in this country who are poor, uneducated or disenfranchised are that way because they don’t try hard enough. Missing was the understanding of the part that biology and culture play in success, the recognition that we emerge from an unequal playing field, and the compassion for how hard most people do try to improve their lot.
Which brings me back to my high weight clients striving to eat “normally.” Many come to me with a paradoxical attitude about doing enough. On the one hand, due to society’s messages and their demanding upbringings, most believe they’ve failed miserably at taking care of their bodies. They’ve internalized being diet failures and the belief that they lack will power and self-control and conclude that they simply haven’t tried hard enough to reach their eating or weight goals. The proof is desire without success.
On the other hand, they have “why bother?” feelings, in large part due to their histories of the perceived value of failing themselves. They think they’ve struggled and gotten nowhere. What’s the point if they bust their butts to eat better and end up gaining more weight? So they give up completely or don’t do all they need to do for success. And become the failures that they predicted they’d be.
Here’s an eight-step simple but not necessarily easy formula for success:
- Stop weighing yourself and focusing on weight. Focus on eating and health only.
- Learn to relax, have fun, self-soothe, reduce stress, and stop trying to fix the world. This means finding effective ways to do these things.
- Make sure all your beliefs are rational and healthy. Get rid of some and add others.
- Shed all/nothing, perfectionistic thinking, approval-seeking and people-pleasing.
- Only surround yourself with mentally healthy intimates. Detach or distance yourself from unhealthy people, even if they’re family.
- Stop being hard on yourself and practice self-compassion.
- Practice eating without distraction and with awareness and not eating past full.
- Find a therapist to help you resolve trauma, abuse, couples or family issues.
These are the areas in which you will want to work harder and grow if you intend to be a “normal” eater. If you have mixed feelings about eating less or losing weight, sort them out. Out of fear, many dysregulated eaters avoid talking about how to improve their eating even in therapy. You are fighting for your lives and you deserve long, healthy ones. But this will only happen if you act as if nothing matters more than taking care of yourself—not your family or friends or job. Make sure your 100% in, then put your foot to the pedal where the rubber meets the road and don’t let up until you get where you want to go.