I attended a lecture a while back given by a social psychologist on assessing teacher performance which included a set of simple criteria which are surprisingly relevant to recovering from eating problems. Although we know that recovery is a complex process, a point I can’t underscore strongly enough, using these criteria will provide you with excellent tools to gauge your potential for success.
The factors that impact and can be used to measure performance include 1) motivation, 2) ability, and 3) constraints. Obviously, we’re not measuring your success as a long-distance runner or a professional educator here, but we can still say you’re working to perform at a certain level, ie, as a “normal” eater. That is your motivation. Without a doubt, you need to have unilateral motivation to succeed. Said another way, mixed feelings (conscious or unconscious) about eating more intuitively or losing weight, will derail success. To achieve optimum motivation means identifying fears and conflicting feelings about eating better and getting fit, resolving them, and holding only positive intent. Fears include losing the use of food as your main comfort, dealing with intimate or competitive issues when thinner, shifting to a more positive identity, and eliminating the ambivalence you have about deservedness and taking good care of yourself.
Now, let’s look at ability. You may have unconflicted motivation and still not succeed if you don’t possess the skills necessary to manage life without turning to food or a weight obsession. These competencies include, among others, skills for: strong, intimate relationships; setting and maintaining boundaries; kicking back and turning off your thoughts; balancing work and play; using only evidence-based problem-solving and critical thinking, and excelling at emotional management. When you have competence in these areas, it’s far less likely that you’ll abuse food or obsess about it or weight.
Finally, it’s vital to assess constraints on performance. Are there people close to you who are unsupportive of your “normal” eating goals or trying to sabotage your progress? Is there so much true stress in your life (not simply the perception that you have a lot to do) that it’s nearly impossible for you to break the habit of turning to food to unwind? Do you have unrealistic expectations of the change process, including the time and effort it takes? Do you have all-or-nothing or perfectionistic thinking?
Assess yourself using these three criteria and see which ones you can beef up to improve performance. No, self-judgments, please. Just evaluate and get to work.