Readiness for Change
By Karen R. Koenig, LICSW, M.Ed.
Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2005 Volume 3, Number 2
©2005 Gürze Books
Ending destructive eating can be facilitated by developing five behavioral traits that support change. They are:
- A balanced ability to say yes and no to yourself.
- A willingness to seek help as part of problem solving.
- A belief that if others can reach a goal, you can too.
- The capacity to look honestly at ego deficiencies.
- The ability to bear the antici- pation and reality of setbacks.
1. Saying Yes and No
If, in general, you have difficulty saying either yes or no to yourself, you’re at a disadvantage in changing eating behaviors. If you habitually say no to yourself by denying hunger, depriving yourself of food, or postponing eating, you will need to learn to increase your comfort in responding affirmatively. By sitting with the intense initial anxiety of a positive response, you’ll gradually find that saying yes to food can be as pleasurable, satisfying, and empowering as saying no.
On the other hand, if you have difficulty saying no to yourself, it’s helpful to recognize that in the long run, saying no can be as gratifying and affirming as eating on impulse. Saying no to one thing (such as food when you’re not hungry) is really saying yes to something better (such as not feeling stuffed). Remember that within each no response lies a resounding yes to becoming healthy.
2. Seeking Help
Rejecting help is self-destructive, whereas seeking out support is an essential, life-enhancing skill. Difficulty soliciting help is based on the irrational belief that it is better to “do it yourself” than to ask for assistance. This mindset is a setup for failure because many problems simply cannot be overcome alone. Believing that you must do everything yourself is a sure way to end up staying stuck in unhealthy behaviors.
Work on letting go of the irrational conviction that solo problem-solving is better than doing it with help. In fact, this unhealthy belief may be your biggest obstacle on the road to health.
Dependence and interdependence are the essence of humanity; the ability to seek help is an all-purpose tool that can fix a lifetime of problems, eating and otherwise.
3. Challenging Self
Valuing role models, being spurred on by the success of others, and believing that “if they can do it, so can I” all promote behavioral change. Knowing that someone else has been there and is now in a better place can pull you forward and out of a destructive eating rut. Connecting the dots from yourself to those who’ve recovered will help you follow in their footsteps.
If, however, other people’s achievements cause feelings of diminishment—their success highlights your failures—you will need to address this limited, distorted thinking and attachment to lost causes and victimhood. In truth, this self-defeating stance may be at the root of your inability to change.
4. Scrutinizing Self
Feeling so overwhelmed with shame that you cannot look honestly at your deficiencies and imperfections stunts emotional growth. Yes, it’s painful to bear your soul, warts and all, even to yourself, but what’s the alternative? If you refuse to acknowledge the flaws that prevent you from eating “normally” and becoming healthy, how will they ever be repaired?
Self-reflection and self-acceptance are not optional in the change process. If these tasks are difficult, work on being less judgmental and more curious about who you are and why you make specific choices. The capacity to honestly assess strengths and weaknesses will pave the way for emotional growth and recovery from disordered eating.
5. Risking Failure
The twin abilities of being able to bear the anticipation and reality of setbacks are crucial to behavioral change. If you think you’re a total failure every time a relapse or mistake happens, you won’t take risks to move ahead. But if slipups are viewed as integral to life, you’ll be easier on yourself. Mistakes and relapse mean there’s more work to be done. Keep on trying out new behaviors until you find a comfortable fit.
Mistakes need to be viewed as learning experiences, not proof of failure. Once you can acknowledge that setbacks are inevitable and valuable, it’s possible to soldier forward with confidence to bear any obstacle. While there is no guarantee of success, cultivating these five behavioral traits will help you move closer to your goal of overcoming disordered eating.