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How Are Eating “Normally” and Therapy Similar?

Many people who seek therapy to resolve their eating problems become rapidly and easily disappointed and frustrated that the process takes longer than they expected. This is the exact same problem they have with food: the quick “fix” desire for whatever ails them. Fortunately, helping them respect and value the slow pace of therapy provides equal instruction on how to manage “gotta have it now” feelings around food.  

Here are two problems and ways to deal with them that arise in both eating and therapy.

  • Urge to control: Although some clients enter therapy without the desire to control the

process, many dysregulated eaters come in wanting to focus exclusively on eating and weight loss. They could spend an entire session telling me everything they ate—and didn’t “allow” themselves to eat—since the last time they saw me. Whenever I veer off to inquire about other issues, such as how their life is going and the stresses in their lives, it’s difficult for them not to want to yank me back on (their) track.

They want to control therapy similarly to how they want to control their eating, but what they find is that neither lends to controllability. A better approach would be to create the appropriate response in each situation by staying in the moment and finding out what is needed. Whether a client wants quick answers in therapy or craves food to help them feel better, the best action they can take is to relinquish the desire for control and, instead, attend to what they’re feeling that’s causing anxiety and impatience.

  • Seeking perfection rather than wholeness: Around food and in much of life,

dysregulated eaters often quest for perfection. They want to eat “right” yesterday, today and tomorrow. If they didn’t do so yesterday, they’ll beat themselves up today. Or they’ll spend today agonizing about how to do it better tomorrow. They want to know what life choices to make now to lock things going swimmingly for the rest of their lives as if their journey is going to be a razor straight line from here to there.  

What a fruitless endeavor with food or life. Rather, “Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life,” says On Being columnist Parker Palmer (The Pause, accessed 12/15/18, https://us4.campaignarchive.com/?u=c4ce343e5cb83e8b16dffbf08&id=132d9bf644&e=86e0f38a5b). And to become whole, we must eschew perfection, not try to erase our mistakes or live as if more of them won’t happen down the road. Therapy and eating disorders recover both involve picking up the broken pieces of our lives or our eating as we stumble along and integrating them into the mosaic that is us. We cannot turn away from our mistakes or failures (past, present or future), but must constantly fold them into the selves we have become and are becoming.

Best,

Karen

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