“Georgie, I’d be curious to hear your take on why people turn to the behavior of giving up or splurging after one small slip. I understand all the reasons it makes no sense… but I don’t understand all the reasons that so many of us act this way anyhow!”
Eating because I ate. It’s funny isn’t it? While the exact mix of reasons is fairly individual, there are some common themes I witness in my clients. It’s cognitively painful to act out of line with our values. (Cognitive dissonance; we don’t like it). So if we have eaten one thing that we feel bad about, telling ourselves that we “don’t care about our weight today” makes us feel less-bad about it. Telling ourselves we “can’t stop”, “fell into the cookies” or other phrases that imply powerlessness also make us feel somehow less responsible and ease the sting of self-blame. If we weren’t or aren’t in control, we feel less blameworthy and less responsible to change. The continuation of undesired behavior – aka slashing the other three tires after getting a flat – likewise has a few subtle benefits:
1. If we give up on trying to make good decisions, we are off the hook for the rest of the decisions we make. It’s kind of abdicating responsibility.
2. We often tell ourselves we’ll “never do this again” so of course we want to get it all in now if the cookies are going to be off limits. They just got much more valuable by being forbidden.
3. This is a tricky one to verbalize, but there’s a kind of temptation at times to make our situations WORSE. Like a benevolent knight will come in, see how badly we are floundering, and help us! It can feel like if someone only knew what happened to me, they would help. Like an imaginary audience. And sometimes, we need to hit rock bottom ourselves for various reasons. For example, to ask for help. Or, because we’ve learned an all out meltdown can help us bounce back, pick ourselves up, organize a spreadsheet of macros, and be hardcore dieters tomorrow.
So my tips hinge on accepting your own power and responsibility, and losing the blame. If you don’t hate on or judge yourself yourself for eating something in the first place (it’s just tasty food, not a moral crime) and refuse to diet the next day, the cycle has no way of taking place. And, it does also mean gently seeing and accepting that you are the one in control. You hold the key to solving all your own problems, so it’s okay if the knight never shows up, you can help yourself better than anyone else can. And just like you could fall in love with the white knight…. that’s where the come though for yourself –> thank yourself –> like yourself –> love yourself thing gets going.
Lastly, I want to reiterate that it is NOT “irresponsible people” who slip into this – it’s actually people who hold up SO much responsibility in their conscious lives (often perfectionists) whose brain without their permission wants to be let off the hook. We can crumble under our own expectations of doing it all, being it all, and eating perfectly. People who fall into this trap are not fools, and not lazy. They are often the most hardworking, nicest, want to do everything right all the time individuals. Which also makes it an even more upsetting experience.