Many disregulated eaters are highly focused on goals, not just about eating or weight, but about many aspects of life. Unfortunately, frustration with not meeting goals or not meeting them fast enough, may trigger unwanted eating. Some thoughts about how to use goals effectively.

Troubled eaters can get caught up in their heads thinking about their goals. There’s a difference between setting goals, planning for them, then going on to think about other things and obsessing and constantly focusing on goals to make them happen. If you’re working toward a goal, say, getting a college degree, you would want to do a great deal of research and exploration, make a loose plan, then start taking steps forward.

Using this example, you would want to consider whether you could get a decent job in the field you’re studying, but don’t need to plan out where you’re going to be living and how you’re going to decorate your new office. You want to avoid locking yourself into a future that is many years away. Which brings me to two points: one is flexibility. In terms of evolution (as you know, one of my oft-cited underpinnings of human motivation!), people who were the most flexible flourished better than their cohorts who were more rigid. Questions to ask yourself: When I make goals, do I go all perfectionist and does everything has to be as I plan along the way? Do I hate to waver from the game plan and often refuse to do so when it’s in my best interest?

My other point refers back to decorating your new office in your head when you’re first applying to schools. Not only does effective goal-setting include flexible thinking and problem-solving, but you don’t want to put too much energy into planning too far ahead. Some people truly have their entire lives—or the lives of their children—mapped out mentally and then are totally bummed when things don’t turn out as they’d expected. It’s fine to have a general long-term plan, but you don’t need to nail down specifics that are in a future that may have its own twists and turns.

Disregulated eaters get into trouble when they try to control the future, which no one can do. They over-plan in order to reduce anxiety that something might go wrong. But remember, just because things don’t go according to your (very detailed and long-term) plans, doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that your life is now a wreck. Reduce frustration and anxiety—and unwanted eating—by being in charge of your goals, not having them be in charge of you.