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Control is a major issue for us all. We want to control our environment and people’s behaviors to help us survive and thrive. Although we have little control over either when we are children, we become more empowered as we mature. But, fact is, we will never have complete power over our lives, even as adults, and this is a crucial fact to remember so that we don’t keep questing after something that is unattainable.
We cannot control the forces of nature or the actions of others. Accidents, life upheavals, and catastrophes occur no matter how hard we try to keep them at bay. The best we can do in these situations is whatever is possible to empower ourselves and accept our fate. Knowing that we are neither totally powerless nor all powerful is a platform for effective life management. For disregulated eaters, it may mean the difference between obsessing about food and weight or not.
Say, you’ve just moved to a new city and have taken a new job. Your life feels topsy turvy and you have little sense of control over what happens to you. You get lost going to the supermarket, are still getting the lay of the land with your work duties, and don’t know friends and co-workers well enough to ascertain the impression you’re making on them. In this situation, you can only do your best and patiently wait for outcomes. You can’t learn your job more quickly, feel more comfortable getting around the city, or press for close relationships.
Feeling out of control, you may become obsessed with your weight, certain that if you take off a few pounds, you’ll feel better. Rather than put effort into riding out the waves of uncertainty, you stop eating according to appetite, focus your energy on reducing your caloric intake, and start weighing yourself daily, something you haven’t done in months or years. Immediately you feel less anxious about your situation. Of course you do—all your anxiety is being misdirected toward your food intake and weight, when you really weren’t anxious about these things to begin with.
Your unconscious motivation is to feel in control of something, even if it’s not what you were feeling out of control of to begin with, so you create a non-existent problem in order to fix it and feel more secure. Consider whether you do this when life is unsteady or uncertain. Does it really help you learn to cope better or, instead, does it reinforce your food and weight problems? What can you do proactively to handle uncertainties more effectively? Manage anxiety better and food will be less of a problem.
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