Living, Not Self-evaluating
One of the tendencies of people with eating disorders is to constantly evaluate how they’re doing—not only with eating, but in many aspects of life. Whenever clients frequently comment that they’re “doing good” or “had a bad week,” I know that they likely need to back off from a harmful habit of self-evaluation.
We all need to assess our behavior. But there’s a world of difference between reflecting on how you manage an occasional crisis or celebrating a personal triumph and putting every action you take under a microscope. Maybe a judgmental mindset comes from years of living with the good/bad diet mentality, or perhaps folks who need to constantly know if they’re doing well are drawn to the all-or-nothing, angel/devil rigidity of diets.
Although it’s useful to observe and monitor your behavior, it’s unhealthy to keep on judging it. Mental health does not mean walking around thinking you’ve had a “good” or a “bad” week unless something highly unusual—really great or really awful—happens. Better to assume that some days will be better or worse than others, bob along the currents of life, and avoid using self-evaluation to calculate if you’re okay or not. Instead of evaluating, feel pride when you do something well and disappointed or shame when you don’t. Here’s the key: assume that you are okay all the time no matter what and you won’t need to keep judging your okayness.
For example, if you eat “normally” all week, why not feel proud rather than determining that you had a “good” week? Why can’t a Saturday and Sunday of bingeing on junk food generate disappointment, frustration or shame rather than morphing into “a bad weekend”? See what I’m getting at? By judging your actions, you’re reinforcing what was done to you in childhood: making yourself “good” or “bad”—not merely in your actions but involving your entire personhood. This is an externally-based value assignment that is detrimental to mature, inner-directed emotional health.
I know you feel better slapping a label on how you’re doing, but giving in to judging yourself only distances you from a better way of monitoring your behavior. Aim to stay in the moment, feel pride when you do well and disappointed or a pinch of shame when you don’t, and avoid judging yourself as if you’re still a child who must be watched carefully every minute of the day. Work on striking the words “good” and “bad” from your vocabulary. When you find yourself turning to them, find a substitute immediately. Better yet, live life deeply rather than assessing how you should or could be doing it differently.