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Sustaining Motivation

Many disregulated eaters who strive to eat “normally” can’t sustain their behavior over the long haul. In order to change for good, you have to perform a new behavior more often than an old one, but many troubled eaters have difficulty practicing “normal” eating for a long enough period of time to make real progress. They do it for a while, stop, try again, stop, etc. The culprits once again: all-or-nothing and victim-mode thinking.

As you know, disregulated eaters are awfully hard on themselves. You beat yourself up mercilessly for food binges, not losing weight, regaining it, obsessing about food, and for returning to dieting and starvation even though you know it’s unhealthy and ineffective. You’re not very skilled at making mistakes without judging yourself harshly and it’s slow going to ease up and become more self-compassionate. Alternately, when you’re not dragging yourself over hot coals because of your food failures, you often swing to the opposite extreme and all too easily let yourself off the hook as if you can’t help abusing food, as if it makes no difference to your recovery if you continue to engage in dysfunctional eating behaviors, as if there’s no consequence for eating abnormally. You often blow off engaging in unhealthy behaviors as beyond your control.

Learning self-compassion is one thing, but you can’t give up accountability. Unless you’re accountable to yourself for your actions, sustaining motivation will just slip away. Acting as if life is conspiring against you causes your dysfunctional eating—you were sick, the kids were sick, your car broke down, you didn’t get the promotion you expected, you failed your final exam, the basement flooded, you had a spat with your spouse, your parents were visiting and only wanted to eat out, it was your birthday, you didn’t have a date Saturday night, you can’t stand the stress. Well, you get the picture: you have a million reasons for why you can’t eat “normally.”

The key is to strive to eat “normally” no matter what is going on because something is almost always occurring that could yank you off course. Don’t fall into the trap of saying you engaged in disregulated eating “because.” The real reason is that you stopped paying attention to what was important, didn’t work hard enough in those moments of stress, found an out, and gave up too easily. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or defective or hopeless so, please, don’t beat yourself up for your actions. But you won’t progress if you simply shrug and say, Oh, well, life made me do it. You will have to develop a better way to view your eating errors other than brow-beating yourself or acting as if they don’t matter a whit. Make yourself accountable to you—no matter what.