People often come to see me individually or attend my “Quit Fighting with Food” workshops unconvinced that dieting isn’t the answer to their eating and weight problems. They’re scared to give up structure and being told what to eat. The first hurdle they need to leap over is understanding that dieting is an unrealistic way to eat for life and, therefore, a weight loss dead end. I know there’s been an attitudinal shift when they stop talking about whether or not to embark on another diet and start grumbling about the hard work of becoming a “normal” eater.
The second hurdle, related to dieting, is coming to terms with the fact that there are no good and bad foods. We usually have to bat this issue around for a quite while before they get it. While sympathizing with their yearning to label what’s okay and what’s not, I encourage them to look at food through the eyes of someone who eats “normally.” I know they’re over the hurdle when they stop applying words like good and bad to food, and, instead, talk about a specific food in neutral terms or describe what they eat as nutritious or non-nutritious.
A third hurdle is to accept that becoming a “normal” eater is going to be much harder than they ever dreamed. After complaining that they can’t wait forever, won’t ever get there, or don’t have the gumption to stick out learning to eat “normally,” clients generally settle down and get to work. I know that there’s a sea change when they come in and start telling me the small things they’re doing differently, or even what they’ve tried to do that’s failed. Once they begin to see that they really can think, feel and act in a new way (though not all the time, of course), they understand that change is possible with patience, focused attention, and getting their needs met without food.
Yet another hurdle revolves around self care. Inevitably clients recognize that their eating problems are not only about food, but are equally about how poorly they take care of themselves without it. They realize the need to establish firmer, tighter boundaries, surround themselves with kinder people, generate compassionate self-talk, and do less for others and more for themselves. They may still need convincing that they deserve to take good care of themselves, but at least they’ve reached the point of understanding that they’ll have food problems for life unless they do better at self care.
Other hurdles include getting over that life isn’t fair, that they can’t be universally loved, that it’s okay that people become angry with them and for them to become angry at others, and that they can bear and learn from emotional discomfort. It’s truly a thrill and privilege to watch as clients approach and jump over each hurdle. The truth, however, is that I’m rarely surprised. I knew all along they could do it!