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I was having lunch with a friend who is also a therapist a while back. We shared professional chit chat, but mostly we talked about how are our private lives were going—the latest developments in some ongoing family situations and how we were bearing up. She really got my attention when she said quite casually, “I wish clients saw the ups and downs of life as just that, rather than as exceptional high drama.” How true, I thought, how could our lives be any other way.
Life would not be life if it didn’t have ups and downs—a health problem, a house or car that needs fixing, tension with neighbors, family dissent, conflicts at work, or a kerfuffle among friends. There are two ways to look at these events. Either you assume that this makes up the meat and potatoes of life, the way it will pretty much always be because we have so little control over our environment or other people, or you expect that life will burble along smoothly and are shocked, dismayed, or get in a snit when it doesn’t.
Many disregulated eaters (and many “normal” eaters as well) fall into the latter category. Rather than have the usual troubles, they have disasters, rather than riding over bumps in the road, they struggle up hill and backslide back down, rather than suck up the bad with the good, they assume there’ll be only good and are put out by the bad. No criticism is meant, but if you’re someone who’s in the habit of catastrophizing, you will benefit from developing a different take on life. Such a change will make you less anxious and upset. And, consequently, less prone to abuse food.
Most unfortunate things that happen are part and parcel of living in this imperfect world with imperfect people like ourselves. We’re annoyed by them or they’re annoyed at us, they profoundly disappoint us or we do the same to them, we have times of loving closeness and periods of awkwardness or uneasy emotional distance. However, this need not be the stuff of high drama unless we let it be. Rather, it is life. True drama involves fatal illness, sudden death, job loss, eviction, war, major trauma, or permanent estrangement from loved ones—unexpected, exceptional occurrences unlike the petty grievances of every day existence. Most of life simply consists of better and worse days.
Try on this way of thinking—expecting ups and downs, small tensions and conflicts, things not going your way—and see if it doesn’t help you obsess less about eating or weight. Make smaller deals of life’s trials and tribulations, stop catastrophizing, take things in stride, and you’ll be surprised at how your relationship with food improves.
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