Using Problem-solving in Eating Disorders
Whether you’re a chronic overeater or undereater or yo-yo between the two, you need to harness your problem-solving skills to make progress. Some of you are probably terrific problem-solvers—the go-to people in your company, the family decider and planner, the friend who knows how to clean up everyone’s messes. In that case, you’ll be able to use skills you already have to resolve your eating issues. However, some of you may not shine at problem solving in general. You may not recognize or be willing to acknowledge this deficit and wonder why other people are happier and more successful than you are. If you don’t have terrific problem-solving abilities to begin with, it will be harder for you to resolve eating issues.
The first step in problem-solving is, of course, to identify the problem. Pick one aspect of eating that is plaguing you—snacking on high calorie foods as an afternoon pick-me-up, eating at night to avoid going to bed, fear of eating in front of others, weighing yourself every day though you know doing so is compounding your eating problems. Now put the problem in a simple, declarative sentence. Leave out words like “and” and “but.” Keep the problem short and sweet. Examine whether what you’ve written is really the issue or whether it’s only a symptom of something deeper. For example, if you wrote, “I eat before I go to bed,” you might realize upon further thinking that the problem is, “I don’t want to go to bed.” Or if you wrote, “I hate eating in front of people,” the issue really might be, “I am afraid of being judged by people for how much or how little I eat.”
When you’ve pinned down a problem, take time to understand its roots. Do you fear being judged while eating based on suffering through constant comments on your food consumption from your parents in childhood? Do you avoid bedtime because your thoughts race the minute your head hits the pillow and you become so anxious that you can’t sleep? Understanding the cause or history of your problem will help you figure out how to resolve it.
In the case of fearing being judged eating in front of others, work on eating with friends you trust, not personalizing comments, reducing negative thinking, being less self-conscious, and pushing through your anxiety to enjoy food in social situations. In the case of avoiding bedtime because of anxiety, create strategies for a more healthful sleep such as relaxing before hitting the sack, using cognitive-behavioral self-therapy to reduce irrational thoughts, and allowing yourself to stay up without eating. Remember, every problem has a non-food solution (except hunger!). It’s time for you to find it.