Recovery Works—Just Not as Fast as You Want
Many pieces of recovery need to come together to reach your goals. If you’re focused on looking in the mirror or down at the scale, you’ll miss them. You want quick change, like now! I get it. But for success, instead of measuring progress in pounds or inches, you’ll need to shift your focus to how you’re making small attitudinal and behavioral adjustments in other aspects of life that will eventually move you toward recovery.
Recently a client was lamenting the “bleepin’ lag time between learning how to have a better relationship with food and her body” and actually doing better around food and improving her health. It’s true, the lag time can be frustrating and seem daunting. That’s because there’s generally a good deal for dysregulated eaters to learn in order to manage life in a healthier manner. For the umpteenth time: It’s not just about the food.
Clients start to make major improvements and think they’re done. They go to the gym more regularly, share feelings openly and communicate better with their spouse, switch to a less stressful job, forgo fast food and eat more at-home dinners, or cut back on time visiting an unappreciative, difficult parent. They give up perfectionism, no longer weigh themselves, start (gulp!) on-line dating, or loosen ties to mentally unhealthy friends. All these are wonderful, necessary, meaningful changes.
Yet there’s usual more to do and they don’t know or want to hear that. They believe they’ve made necessary advances and should be rewarded by being happy. But, they’re not happy. They’re frustrated and angry: Food is still a problem.
So, we focus on their learning to feel proud of achievements, sitting with helplessness, learning mindfulness, and improving consistency in positive behaviors. There’s usually still plenty to learn on the recovery trail: how to accept and regulate emotions, setting better boundaries with people, choosing intimates who are healthy, confronting health issues, finding activities that are more “fun” than food, or getting out of a bad marriage.
Please don’t get the impression that you need to be in therapy forever to recover from eating problems. Or that every problem needs to be resolved before you can enjoy success with food. Not true. The challenge is that clients are doing some positive things some of the time, but revert to old, unhealthy habits often. Instead, they need to do many more positive things most of the time for all the minor shifts to come together to raise self-esteem and lower mindless food-seeking. The moment does come when achievements all fit together to make your eating and life more rewarding than it was. And, that’s because you are finally a better version of who you used to be.