“You’ll never regret the things you do; only the things you don’t.” This quote doesn’t necessarily work with food though, does it? With food, you won’t necessarily regret the food that you pass up, but the food that you choose to eat, the binge that you choose to have might lead to some regrets.
I began thinking about this over the weekend. I was out to lunch with some friends, including a dear friend of mine who continues to struggle with food issues, let’s call her “Liz.” We all put our orders in, and even though Liz had ordered something healthy, when others’ orders came out, she began to regret her order. She looked at another friend’s less healthy choice and decided that she wanted that. She said, “I’m having orderers’ remorse,” and changed her order to the same thing that the other friend who ordered the less healthy choice.
I had a feeling that I knew what she was feeling at that moment. It seemed that she was dealing with food regret. At that point, the food choice in that moment became overwhelming to her and she was unable to contain the compulsivity of the want. The truth is, had she told herself, “this is what I ordered and this is what I’m eating now, there’s always another meal later or tomorrow when I can choose something different…” she probably would have been fine. She wouldn’t have spent the whole afternoon sitting around regretting that she’d eaten the healthier choice– she probably would have forgotten about it in fact, or even felt satisfied that she’d been able to make a good choice for her body and well-being and not given into that compulsive in-the-moment urge.
That’s the thing about food choices. Sometimes they can feel very, very dire. Ordering that double bacon cheeseburger with fries when you had intended to order the veggie omelet with fruit and whole wheat toast can seem like it’s the most important thing in the world– AT THAT MOMENT. And it probably will. It will be very hard, but for people with binge eating disorder, often, ordering options that they hadn’t planned on can set off a binge. The regret then will not be what you did not eat, but what you did eat. You might have a binge, do a behavioral chain analysis and realize that your binge was set off by choosing to give into a compulsion rather than sticking with a choice that might have felt less exciting. Compulsions are challenging because they don’t always feel as though they’re in your control. They don’t feel like you can actually make a choice outside of the compulsion. Compulsions feel like they’re in charge. The truth is though, no matter how strong the compulsion feels, you ARE in charge!
Next time you have a compulsion to eat something that you know will trigger your eating disorder, remember, “I’ll never regret what I don’t eat… This is just a compulsion, it’s strong, and it’s hard, but I’ll never regret not letting it have control. I might regret if I do give this compulsion control.” That’s why it’s so hard. Compulsions feel as though you can’t make an alternate choice. They feel as though that’s the only choice. But it’s not. It’s not about willpower, it’s about knowing that this strong feeling is only temporary. You can sit with the fear of regret. And you won’t actually feel regret about choosing not to eat something that feels unhealthy or feels as though it might trigger a binge.