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Talking with a client recently, I realized that there are a trio of emotions (that all happen to start with D) which may be felt about an eating problem that can get in the way of recovery: disgust, denial, and despair. Understanding how they inhibit progress can go a long way toward helping you reach your eating and weight goals.
When you feel disgust at your body or your eating, you are turning against yourself—thinking less of yourself because you are sick of how you look or how you act. You may believe that if you’re disgusted enough (or disgusting enough), you’ll change. Well, if that transformation strategy was going to work, wouldn’t it have happened already? Instead, being disgusted causes you to feel worse about yourself (and may drive you to abuse food more). The opposite of disgust is compassion which is a loving emotion that says I don’t necessarily like what I’m doing, but I understand why I do it and refuse to hate myself for it. Usually when we choose disgust over compassion we’re afraid that accepting “bad behavior” means we won’t try to change it. Au contraire, it is only when we understand why we do what we do that we have a chance of letting behaviors go.
Another detrimental emotion is despair. Some people walk around 24/7 feeling desperate to stop over- or undereating and this constant erosion of self-acceptance and frustration leads to seeing no way out. You want to throw in the towel or resort to yet another magical cure. Hopelessness often accompanies despair: no one can help, you’re not up to the job of recovery, you’re all alone with your problems, you’ll never change, what’s the point, etc. Living in despair leads to depression (and vice versa), and when you’re depressed you have little energy, psychic or physical, to focus on doing things differently. The way to reduce despair is to keep on problem solving and avoid getting caught up in how hard it is. Yes, it’s hard, okay, but hard does not mean not-doable. Force yourself to stay positive. Getting support from others is the best antidote for despair; many hands can lift you out of even the worst of moods.
If you sink deeply enough into despair, you may end up in denial. After all, you only can feel hopeless and despondent for so long. When despair begins to overtake you, you may automatically try to feel better by denying your eating problems (another way of giving up). You might reason that you’re doing fine and are okay the way you are. Yo-yoing between despair and denial wear down emotional resilience. Better to remain neutrally upbeat about your recovery without giving thought to whether you’ll make it or not. Put one foot in front of the other, and the journey takes care of itself.
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