Karen's Blogs

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Making Commitments, Not for You

A few months ago, a client was complaining about her fear of making a commitment to exercise. She realized that she was so terrified of failing (again), that she couldn’t even get started. In spite of what many self-help gurus say, if you’re a person with mixed feelings like my client, making a serious commitment to new behavior can be the worst thing you can do to recover from eating problems. Surprised to hear that? Well, read on.

Commitment is the promise to adhere to long-term hard work. It’s one of those words like discipline, control, will power and all the “shoulds” that make some people just want to run out and do the opposite. Diet plans and exercise programs are based on the idea of commitment—identifying goals and going all out to reach them. To be sure, a multitude of people find setting, monitoring, and ardently pursuing health goals effective and beneficial. They thrive on this process and keep at it until they succeed.

Then there are people for whom making a long-term commitment simply does not work. It’s too all or nothing, there’s too much at stake, the only outcome they foresee is total success or total failure, they’ve been there and done that and commitment has only made them feel like a loser when they’ve given up along the way. If you tend to rebel against structure, you’re probably better off not making long-term commitments to eat better or exercise. I know that when you first commit you hope that this time you’ll stick to the program, but if the evidence says you won’t, trust your experience.

I get that you want to do something, so instead of committing, experiment. Add more fruits and vegetables for a day and see how you feel. Exercise to a video one night and notice how you like it. Go to the gym for a week, then stop and consider how the experience worked for you. Don’t watch TV while you eat for one meal. Eat only when you’re hungry for a week or two. Commitment can seem like an external pressure, as if you must adhere to an outside force. Experimenting puts you in control without feeling as if you’re shackled to a decision for life. Experimenting is an internal process—making a choice and seeing where it takes you. Experimenting is intuitive and liberating: today I feel like doing this and tomorrow I might feel like doing that. Take it one day at a time.

Develop short-term experiments that last from a few minutes (feeling an emotion) to a day (riding your bike) to a few days (eating foods you enjoy) to a week (going to the gym), and keep assessing your experiences. By not making a commitment, you may end up doing the behaviors you want over and over—just because they feel good.

Emotional Dysregulation and Reregulation
Weekday and Weekend Eating

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