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Fighting Food Compulsions

On my Food and Feelings message board, members have been talking about what it takes to struggle in the moment to resist unwanted eating (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings). There’s no easy formula that will make it happen, but understanding why you fail to struggle, struggle harder, or struggle until your rational self beats out disordered thinking will help you make wiser decisions.

Along with learning essential life skills and reframing irrational beliefs, there’s nothing more valuable in overcoming disregulated eating than struggling in the moment with food decisions. What do I mean by “struggling”? I mean using your best self—the cognitive part of your brain that knows what is healthy, the memory of all your unhappy experiences with unwanted eating, the incentives of your personal goals for fitness and well-being, the wise self-mother who wants to nurture you, your commonsense that knows you’re hurting yourself—to battle disordered thinking that so seductively and manipulatively tries to con you into eating in a way that isn’t beneficial.

Some people don’t struggle at all, others struggle a bit then quickly back off. Those who succeed in conquering their food demons struggle most of the time and hard enough that the urge for unwanted eating subsides. If it comes back, they grab their combat boots and return to battle. Although I don’t generally care for “war” analogies, they seem right on target for marshalling the forces of rationality around food to overcome those of irrationality. Call it what you will, you will have to come down more times on the side of sanity than on the side of insanity to recover from eating problems.

So, what stops you? What words run through your head that make you cry uncle right away? What do you tell yourself when you’re struggling that makes you throw in the towel and consume food you really don’t want? What are you failing to remind yourself of that would spur you on and help you make healthful decisions? Maybe you tell yourself the following: it doesn’t matter what I eat, just this little bit won’t hurt, I’m fat anyway, even if I say no now I’ll eat it later, I deserve it, no one can tell me what I can eat, I don’t want to struggle with food, this is too hard. Sound familiar?

Overcoming food compulsions—any compulsions, for that matter—is arduous, ongoing work that is facilitated by having a set of beliefs that says you can do it. Make what you say in the moment of food struggles affirming and encouraging and you’ve won half the battle. Remember, you will do what you tell yourself to do—for better or for worse.

Diet-think versus Health-think
Weight-loss Surgery

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