Through my decades of experience with dysregulated eaters, I’ve concluded that the #1 problem in a stalled or slow recovery is that you don’t struggle hard enough with your food demons. You make efforts here and there to not eat when you’re not hungry or to stop when you’re full, but more often than not, you’re sporadic in your thrusts, give in to food abuse urges too easily, then wonder why you’re still stuck in unhealthy behaviors.
In my March 9 and June 1, 2007 blogs, I wrote about the value of struggle, the process which, along with insight, curiosity, and self-compassion, is essential in developing skills for “normal” eating. When you’re trying to overcome a longstanding eating disorder, you can’t just tilt at recovery half-heartedly. Any and all encounters which might lead to food have to be a pitched battle. If you want to learn to eat sanely, each time you have the urge to nosh when you’re not hungry, every instance of deciding what to eat, any time you want to eat past full must turn into a full-blown debate with yourself. If you simply have the idea, Gee I’d like some Nachos even though I just finished a huge dinner 20 minutes ago, and give in immediately, you’re doomed to dysfunctional eating. No amount of therapy, reading, group sharing, or journal writing will change that fact.
Whenever food pops into your head, you must engage in a full-court press and spend time struggling to come out on the healthy side of a decision. You may spend 10 minutes arguing with yourself about whether to have that third chocolate chip cookie or deciding if you should finish the other half of your egg salad sandwich because you’re approaching full. You need to go back and forth about leaving one donut—even one-half of one--in the box or one spoonful of ice cream in the bottom of the container. You need to feel big time discomfort, agonize, and fight the good fight with yourself 24/7.
You don’t have to win each skirmish to win the war. The act of struggling—reflecting, consciously considering options, and giving the healthy part of you opportunity to be heard—is what develops decision-making skills and good judgment. The goal is to quit acting impulsively and giving in right away and to build emotional muscle. If you debate with yourself for 15 minutes about whether to finish the leftover lasagna because it’s midnight and you don’t want to go to sleep and go on to eat it, that 15 minutes had value because you put in a valiant effort even if you didn’t make a healthy choice. You are in a war between the unhealthy and healthy parts of yourself and war is serious business. Don’t let one eating opportunity pass without bloodying yourself. Down the road, when the war is over, you can sit back and enjoy the spoils of “normal” eating.