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True Grit and Success in “Normal” Eating

When I say “true grit,” I’m not referring to the movie of the same name. I’m talking about a quality that is essential to success which many dysregulated eaters need to cultivate. Although I haven’t read the book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, I did read about it in an article on parenting and fostering grit which is a central component to achievement (“The vital role of grit” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, p. B4, 9/13/16).

Grit is what used to be called “stick–to–itiveness,” the trait of not giving up until the job is done. It’s also been called perseverance, doggedness, determination, persistence, diligence, being driven, and even stubbornness. It’s when people remain focused on a task until it’s completed, whether they’re trying to untie a knot in a shoelace, learn to make a soufflé, or plug their way through night school to earn a college degree.

Dysregulated eaters often confuse grit with perfection, but they’re not the same thing. Grit is about sticking with something even though you may not be doing it perfectly because you’re doing a good enough job to make it to the end. If you’re an Olympic figure skater, perfection (or receiving many 10s) certainly figures into the equation. Ditto if you’re playing a piano concerto at Carnegie Hall. But what if you’re learning Spanish as a second language or to parent a child? Grit works better than perfectionism.

Stahlmann and Hagaman maintain that grit begins with a passion for something and is followed by a “long term commitment to a higher goal which is fueled by a daily commitment to the smaller goals that it takes to get there.” If the higher goal is “normal” eating, the smaller goals are eating mostly only when you’re hungry, choosing satisfying foods and not calorie counting, eating mindfully and without distractions with an eye toward enjoyment, and putting down your knife and fork when you’re full or satisfied.

A fervent desire to be a “normal” eater won’t be realized unless you have the staying power to spend every day moving toward that goal, never taking your eye off the prize. Grit comes from wanting to be comfortable with food almost more than anything else in the world. It develops from ignoring and not even thinking about easy answers or quick fixes. It springs from having a vision of success that drives you forward and from making mistakes, then moving beyond them. Stahlmann and Hagaman quote Duckworth in Grit, who writes, “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” Be a rarity, someone who goes the whole nine yards so you can say, “I used to have eating problems, but no more.”

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