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Ying and Yang

As a dysregulated eater, you be convinced that instead of eating one way, you’ll recover by doing its opposite. So, instead of eating impulsively, you straight-jacket yourself with perfect self-discipline. Or instead of being hyper-vigilant around food, you make no judgments at all. Both extremes are based on compulsivity and rigidity, which are antithetical to “normal” eating. Flip flopping is not growth: instead of undergoing authentic change, you’re simply bouncing from one end of the spectrum to another.

Eating problems are exacerbated by trying to be one way or another. Both endpoints boil down to the same fears about food and a similar lack of self-trust and body confidence. Although some people never move out of overeating or undereating, many yo-yo back and forth between the two. Of course, the chronic nay sayer might be “acceptably” thin in this culture so that her eating habits are positively reinforced, while the habitual yea sayer might be “unacceptably” fat and her habits discouraged. But both are playing only half the notes on a musical scale, painting with only half life’s colors. The idea is to become so fluid that you can call up discipline when you need it—say, when you know that eating another bite will make you feel ill because you’re already full—as well as enjoy an eating impulsive when the spirit moves you—say, when grandma is serving your favorite cake that’s like swallowing a slice of heaven.

No one is meant to be any one way all the time, eating or otherwise—lax or in control, cautious or rebellious, passive or aggressive, empty or all filled up. It’s important to know how to work and play, look outward and inward, take care of ourselves and other people, be accountable and be able to lose yourself. To be healthy, you have to know when to move toward and away from food more or less in balance. Moreover, you have to honor each yes or no action without judgment and without believing that one is better than the other. This means finding value in saying both yes and no.

You may have lived at one end of the eating spectrum for so long that you don’t believe you can change and eat within a comfortable range. If you rarely refuse food, you may find it incomprehensible that you could learn to reject it and feel okay; if you struggle to say yes to food, you may doubt you’ll ever savor and enjoy it. It takes guts and patience to learn to stretch your personality to accept unfamiliar parts of yourself, but you’ll never become a whole person or a “normal” eater without your missing self-half. Start by examining the beliefs that keep you stuck in yin or yang, then create a belief system that embraces both of your halves.