What if your eating problems aren’t really about food, but are due to lacking effective life skills for coping and comfort when you’re stressed and distressed? What if eating is your best shot at taking care of yourself because you don’t know how to do so any better? By learning the life skills -- defined by the World Health Organization as “the abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life”-- which most troubled eaters lack, you’ll not only improve your relationship with food, but will create more happiness, better health, and greater success in all areas of your life.
Do consider physical well-being a top priority
Poor self-care is the #1 reason that you don’t eat well or exercise regularly. When you’re skilled in wellness and love taking care of your mind and body, you’ll take preventive measures to avoid physical problems down the road--from getting regular checkups to enjoying enough sleep, to taking care of every inch of your body to keep it functional. Once you’re taking better care of your body, you’ll be more likely to eat more nutritionally, respect how much food your body can comfortably take in, and wish to be more physically active even in small ways.
Do respect, explore, and manage your emotions more healthfully
Think of emotions as a way to tell you how to navigate life effectively. They’re not there to make you miserable. Honest. On the contrary, they teach you how you feel in your environment. Handling emotions well means knowing you can rely on yourself as an emotional resource and also recognizing that it’s fine to share feelings and depend on intimates when you’ve got the blues or the blahs. One major skill is learning when to contain an emotion (dial it down) and when to expand it (allow the feeling to be intense enough to teach you something).
Do live consciously with joy and awareness
Most of us walk around on autopilot, more or less disconnected from our minds and bodies. Living consciously means staying in the present and not drifting off into memory or anxiously awaiting the future. We have only the moment and it pays to be mindful of it. You can’t undo or redo the past and, though you can plan for the future, you can’t worry it into turning out the way you want it to. Remember, we can only make change in the present.
Do build and maintain healthy relationships
Sad to say, but many troubled eaters don’t know what constitutes a healthy relationship. They stumble in and out of friendships and romances, end up miserable, then wonder why they turn to food to feel better. Learn what makes a healthy relationship--what traits people must have--then work on developing those traits in yourself, so an emotionally healthy person will want you in his or her life. And, or course, look for red flags that people aren’t mentally healthy and steer clear of them.
Do look for ways to stay regulated
Most dysregulated eaters suffer from dysregulation in non-food areas of their lives as well. They don’t know what’s too much or too little at work, with family, at the gym. They have what I call “an enough disorder,” rarely knowing when enough is enough. Their thinking is all-or-nothing, doing it perfectly or not doing it at all, succeeding or failing. A regulated person stays away from these extremes, and looks for increments and shades of gray. After all much unhealthy eating is from feeling you can’t have a bite of food, but must eat the whole thing.
Do become an excellent problem solver and goal achiever
You can’t solve your problems by eating them away. When you’re able to think critically about decisions, give up wishful thinking, and use rational thinking to plan your life, you’ll succeed more often. Effective problem-solvers look for evidence and logic and know how to put their problems into perspective, neither regularly minimizing them nor making them into catastrophes. Effective goal setters know how to break down concerns into doable chunks, are realistic, and recognize and resolve barriers to reaching their goals. They cultivate frustration tolerance and know how to delay gratification.
Do balance work and play
So many troubled eaters never cut themselves slack, rest, or kick back. They live their lives based on the belief that they must be productive to be approved of (or to approve of themselves). And that’s why letting go with food happens. It’s the one place they allow themselves to “go unconscious.” The idea is to enjoy and value both work and play equally and not believe that one is better than the other. After all, they’re both essential to a healthy life.
Do not give up on taking care of your body because it’s not the size you want it to be
Rather than focus on how you want your body to be, focus on the things it does wonderfully well. Notice bodily pleasure other than around food. Put energy into enjoying your other senses--sight, smell, hearing, and touch. Don’t say you’ll take care of your body only when you lose weight. Instead, practice body self-care at every and any size.
Do not waste time ruminating about the past or agonizing about the future
You can stop yourself from dwelling on memories by gently bringing your mind back to the present. To aid this process, focus on relaxing your body and saying to yourself, “I am in the present now.” Alternately, don’t let worry about the future ruin the moment. If you make yourself fine now and do that in every moment, you’ll be fine in the future. Always make the present the best it can be.
Do not rationalize unhealthy relationships
Look for red flags that let you know someone isn’t relationship material--if they’re unkind to you or others, talk mostly about themselves, rarely ask how you are then listen to your answer, aren’t honest, refuse to take responsibility for or lie to themselves, don’t seem to have high esteem, or insist on controlling the relationship.
Do not feel guilty when you’re relaxing
Accept that work and play both have their place in your life. If not, you’ll feel guilty when you’re relaxing and ruin your pleasure or resentful when you’re working and not put your complete attention on doing a job or a chore well. You are allowed to goof off and play. That’s how you rejuvenate yourself. Explore your passions and seek pleasure in doing things you love.
Do not try to do everything right
Instead, look for what is best based on the information you have, not what is “right.” Divide up your life into four areas: things to be excellent at, things to be good at, things to do a fair job at, and things you don’t care how you do at. Then, as issues come up, decide which category they go in. It’s fine to wish to be really good at your job and only a fair housekeeper, or to want to be an excellent friend, but only a mediocre tennis player.
By learning and practicing life skills, you will vastly increase your pleasure in life and reduce food as your primary, go-to activity. Everyone needs to employ effective life skills, not only troubled eaters. Everyone on the planet is learning them to greater or lesser extent, because none of us learned all of them in childhood. Concentrate on developing life skills and food will be less of a problem.
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