People seek me out because they have eating problems—overeating, undereating, binge-eating, or some combination. Or they want help lowering their weight. Most clients recognize that they need to focus on and change their eating if they want to attain and maintain a healthy weight. What’s harder for them to acknowledge is that even if they didn’t have eating problems, they’d still lack critical life skills to enjoy a better life.
I know that dysfunctional eating habits are what you’re focused on changing. But, think: If you were a “normal” eater at your target weight—changing nothing else about yourself—would you be mentally and emotionally healthy and living the life you want? My guess is that you wouldn’t be, even if that’s hard for you to acknowledge. Eating problems (other than metabolic, biochemical, or genetic based ones) don’t develop in a vacuum, but spring from irrational beliefs, trauma, stress, poor coping skills, inability to relax appropriately, low self-esteem, difficulty self-regulating, and other life skill deficits.
One of the major reasons that diets fail is because many eating problems are not really about food. Sure, there are food dependencies, maybe addictions, sensitivities, and allergies. Yes, the food industry should be ashamed of themselves for how profit means more to them than people’s health. Of course, chronic dieting disregulates appetite and promotes disregulated eating. But, as with other destructive patterns, it’s not the activity so much as the reason for engaging in it that makes it dysfunctional. There’s nothing wrong with eating, betting on horses, or drinking—in themselves. The issue is how we use these activities because we don’t possess more effective ways to manage our lives.
So, back to you. If you didn’t have eating or weight problems, what would you want to change about yourself—your perfectionism, all-or-nothing thinking, inability to care for yourself well, insecurity, unhealthy relationships, or fear of trusting and depending on others? Can you see that the lack of these skills preceded and underlies your eating problems? No use berating yourself for not having these skills either. You didn’t learn them in childhood because your parents couldn’t teach you. But you can learn them now. You can fix the broken parts of yourself in adulthood and, by becoming healthier, I promise that you will be mending your eating problems as well.
Shift the focus off eating “better” to becoming emotionally healthier. Decide which skills you need to learn to function better in life and then start to practice them. You’ll be fostering a win-win situation.