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Use Behavior to Reinforce Positive Choices


My clients with dysregulated eating get a big kick out of my describing a way I avoided unwanted noshing way back when: by hooking my finger into the collar of whatever I was wearing and dragging myself away from the refrigerator while repeating, “If you’re not hungry, you don’t want food.” The action comes from vaudeville shows where a performer who was doing poorly would literally “get the hook.” Picture an oversized cane hooked around a performer’s neck yanking them offstage into the wings.

Silly as the behavior sounds, it reinforced my intention not to eat when I wasn’t hungry. I’ve suggested a combination of self-talk and physical action to prevent clients from emotional or mindless eating. Here are some word-action combos you can practice. Better yet, come up with some unique pairing of your own.

Many clients feel defective because this was how they were raised to feel about themselves. Believing there’s something wrong with you is not only based on a false premise but works against you becoming a “normal” eater. So, I tell clients they need to install new “software” into their computer-like brains. Each time they think about something being wrong with them, they must make a fist and rap three times on their forehead while saying, “I’m fine and I always was.”

Here's another one. When you catch yourself ruminating about something you did or didn’t do the way you wish you had, stop and turn your whole body around and face backwards. Ask yourself is this where you want to focus, on what’s behind you. Assuming your answer is no, as you turn back around to face forward, say, “Onward and upward.” I know this sounds corny, but corny is better than self-destructively dragging yourself through ancient history and ruining a perfectly good now.

One more. I learned this behavior through someone I knew decades ago, and clients have found it useful. When you sense you’ve eaten enough, literally push your chair away from the table, cross your arms over your chest, and proclaim, “I’ve had enough. I’m done now.” Moving your chair back is key to success. It’s also worth a shot when you’re full or satisfied to cover your food with a napkin. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” 

I’m serious about you devising actions that will reinforce the thoughts and behaviors you want to have. Adding physical movement to thought makes your intention whole body, not simply a decision of the mind. Take a minute right now to come up with a mind-body combination that you can easily do, then take it on the road.