Q: Over the past couple of years, I have sought help with my overeating/compulsive eating problem. While I have made progress, from time to time, I fall back in to that old way of being, and I feel trapped again. Your June article was helpful, thank you. However, I wish I could understand more about why I haven’t changed completely yet. Why does it take so long? Sometimes I just want to go on a diet, so I can feel in control of my body again and happy with myself again.
A: Congratulations on the progress you have made so far! It’s good that you found something you needed in the June article on compulsive eating/binge eating. Many people with compulsive eating problems report feeling out of control of their bodies and ability to change. This sense of powerlessness is understandable and temporary for many people who are recovering from compulsive eating. One thing to consider is that change is not an event. It is a process that occurs over time, with many smaller or related changes happening along the way.
The urge to revert to dieting when not making quick progress is understandable, as many diets appear at first to offer quick success. But those who have tried dieting know the results (if any) are not long lasting, and sometimes worsen the problem (e. g., weight regain, increased negative sense of self).
One reason for this is that generally diets are aimed specifically at changing the appearance of the body, and reducing weight exclusively. The underlying root problems are overlooked.
In many people, dieting sets up a psychological and behavioural sequence of acting, thinking, and feeling that hinders rather than helps the desired change.
The process of changing generally is complex, particularly when it involves disordered/problem eating. This is because there are many variables that contribute to the problem (e.g., life circumstances, biological aspects, coping abilities/strategies, mood and emotional factors, trauma, grief).
Resolving these contributing factors helps many people return to a way of eating and relating to food that, results in weight loss over time.
Research shows that there are six stages involved in the process of changing. For instance, in the second stage people seek and consider information about the problem and desired change, and may feel more distressed and confused as they consider whether to take action.
The fifth stage is very challenging for many people. It involves maintaining the positive changes through stressful times, and overcoming urges to use food to cope. With perseverance and practice of new ways of being and thinking, movement towards the desired change is likely to continue.
The timing of change (when initiated, duration, frequency of moving back and forth through stages) is somewhat unique to the individual and the involved circumstances. Movement through the stages is not linear; people move back and forth as their readiness to change shifts (increases or decreases). Readiness for change and movement through the stages, is, influenced by the importance of the change and level of self-confidence in the ability to change. Individuals may go through each stage several times before progress is long lasting, and the new behaviour and way of thinking feels normal/second nature.
There are some important aspects that may help with successful change and recovery from compulsive eating. Become more knowledgeable about the problem.
Identify the pros and cons of changing (e.g., lifestyle and health benefits). Identify the challenges that may hinder change and strategies to overcome these potential obstacles.
Create small, attainable, and measurable change related goals. Recruit people who will support you through the process.
Remember that if this has been a long-term problem, change will likely be longer rather than quicker. However, some change (related to the overall change goal) will likely occur in the short term.
Recognize and celebrate successes (the change efforts and results) along the way! This will help encourage you to keep moving forward towards your desired overall change goal(s).
The decision to make the personal and life changes involved in overcoming compulsive eating problems is great. When considering significant dietary, activity and related behavioural changes it is important to first consult your physician to discuss any related medical considerations.
If you are not ready to be free of compulsive/overeating, wonder if you are ready, or shift from ready to not ready, a knowledgeable counsellor may be able to assist you to further explore your needs and circumstances. Counselling may be right for you also if you have been in the process of changing for some time, and are in need of specific support with maintaining your change.
For counselling/therapy with overeating/compulsive eating problems please contact the writer at Pacific Therapy and Consulting.
If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Karen Turner. It appears every second Friday.