Will New Behavior Last?
When disregulated eaters with long histories of dieting and bingeing begin to engage in new behavior for a few days or weeks, they often panic that it won’t last. Along with this fear is a fierce desire to know that the future will be better. Paradoxically, focusing on whether new habits will continue or not, may end up ensuring they won’t.
While the months and years ahead look foggy, memories of our painful eating histories are all too sharp and clear. We recall how we’ve struggled with food, deprived ourselves, obsessed about weight, binged our hearts out, and let food rule our lives. These memories become a problem, however, when we cannot imagine that our future will take a different course than our past. The minute we consider that we might repeat the past, we’re already merging with it and failing to be present to the only moment that counts—the one at hand.
If you’ve been practicing the rules of “normal” eating for a while, worrying about whether or not you’ll continue to do so will only throw you off course. When this happens, your attention shifts from what you’re doing in the present to what you might do in the future—which inevitably leads to focusing on what you did in the past. Constantly looking over your shoulder waiting for past to catch up with you does nothing but heighten your anxiety, making it harder to feel relaxed and make effective decisions about eating in the present.
Which isn’t to suggest that you avoid reflecting on your relationship with food to date. To ignore your history is foolhardy. Instead, value your past as a teacher, but not as a predictor of the future. What you did yesterday brought you to today and what you do today will bring you to tomorrow. Your focus always has to be on your attitudes and behaviors now, this minute, this second. It’s likely that you’ll fall back into old behaviors even when you’ve been doing the new ones for a while, but this isn’t because you’re doomed to repeat your eating history. It’s because you’ve stopped attending to your emotions, food decisions, and self-nurturance in the now.
When you start to wonder if “normal” eating behaviors will continue, turn off that worry by re-anchoring yourself in the present. Pull yourself back into the moment by centering yourself in your body and tuning into your surroundings. Focus on your senses and neutrally observe your feelings. Only by staying in the now with food and your body will you avoid repeating your past mistakes and create a better future.