While listening to an NPR program on changing our thoughts about death and dying, one of the experts interviewed encouraged listeners to become proactive in their lives, wisely admonishing that “hope is not a plan.” I couldn’t agree more. How often do I hear clients and Food and Feelings message board members express their hopes without strategies to transform them into reality.
And how do you think that turns out? Without a plan, outcomes are generally poor, and disregulated eaters feel like failures. For example, say, you’ve been eating relatively “normally” for a couple of months and are about to visit your family for a week. In the past, when you’ve gone back home, you’ve fallen into unhealthy eating behaviors—snacking mindlessly, making mostly unhealthy food choices, and gobbling up everything on your plate. Rather than develop a plan to avoid these behaviors, you simply hope things will be different because you’ve been eating better.
Therefore, you don’t brainstorm solutions to potentially difficult eating situations ahead of time: bring along a book (like my RULES OF “NORMAL” EATING) to remind you of how you want to eat, write out pointers to guide you around food, figure out how to take time outs to be by yourself and reflect on how you’re feeling, talk to family members about how they can be helpful with your eating problems, or come up with ways to get support from other people who are also moving toward “normal” eating.
Are you a hoper with food or a hoper-planner? Perhaps you don’t understand the nature of change and want it to happen without consciousness and practice. Perhaps you don’t wish to put in effort because you tell yourself you have so many other things to think about and do—and that nothing will work anyway. After all, if you just hope you’ll do well with food and don’t, you can always tell yourself that if you’d had a plan, you would have done better. Or perhaps you’re not acknowledging your deep fears about and discomfort with changing your eating. In the family visit example, maybe it feels uncomfortable to assert yourself, eat differently than family members, talk openly with them about your food problems, or show them that you’re taking good care of yourself.
When you find yourself merely hoping to change your eating without a plan, be wary and recognize that you’re engaging in wishful thinking and self-deception. Worse, that you’re setting yourself up for failure. Hope is great, as long as it comes with a strategy for turning it into success.