Sometimes when I hear about someone going on yet another diet or notice a “revolutionary” new weight-loss book topping the best-seller list, frankly, I feel a little blue. I’ve been teaching the “normal” eating model for 30 years and it often seems as if very little has changed in our culture in all that time regarding sensible eating (in spite of Weight Watchers new no-diet spin). I wonder and wonder when people are going to wake up and smell the coffee.
Then I have an experience like one I had recently with a teletherapy client I’ve worked with for nearly a year. After decades of dieting and bingeing, he’s finally turned the corner and started to “get” what he needs to do to become a “normal” eater. He always thought weight loss was just about food and that he was a failure because he fell off the OA wagon repeatedly over 20 years. Yikes—20 years of white knuckling it. Now he understands that he’s a success because he gave up obsessing about and depriving himself of foods he loves. We’ve been working on self-compassion, increasing positive self-talk, managing distressing emotions, stress reduction, what’s enough, decreasing all-or-nothing thinking, eliminating a “perfect” eater attitude, and how to measure real progress. I knew after the first minute of our recent session that something had shifted for him: he sounded calm, more in charge of his eating. Food was no longer the enemy, but not quite friend. He has a ways to go before that happens, but he’s getting there.
Or I have a session like one I had last month when a long-term client announced she’d lost 25 pounds. We hadn’t talked about eating in a while, but had been focusing on her relationship with her husband and mother, overcoming her traumatic childhood, how to find more joy and passion in life, and feeling okay about herself no matter what. I could also feel the shift in her attitude. She didn’t sound miserable because she wouldn’t let herself eat the whole box of chocolate when one or two would satisfy. Instead, like my phone client, she sounded in charge, as if the sensible part of her had gently won over the wild child. Of course, she’s not sure she’ll be able to stay in adult mode, but she recognizes that she’s in a different place with food than she’s ever been before—more trusting of and far less hard on herself, more satisfied with and excited by life, with more reasons to get up in the morning. She’s living more and eating less.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, becoming a “normal” or intuitive eater takes any where from many months to a few years. Of course, that’s with therapeutic help. It takes longer without it. But it is possible, doable, a worthy and reasonable goal for everyone.