I read this article on NPR.org the other day that discusses how we change behaviors. The author of the article, Tania Lombrozo, a cognitive researcher at UC Berkeley poses the question, “Why don’t we do what we know we should be doing?” She discusses in terms of parenting why it is so difficult to integrate knowledge. But I was thinking of it in terms of recovery from binge eating, for instance many people ask the question “I know that I have certain tools that I can use when I’m about to binge, but why can’t I use them? I just go ahead and binge and then I get angry at myself…”
She writes, “…Kazdin and Rotella advocate what they call “reinforced practice” and “positive opposites.” In brief, you can encourage desired behaviors by repeatedly eliciting them (or their successive approximations) and reinforcing them as soon as they happen, and you can eliminate undesirable behaviors by reinforcing the positive behaviors you want to replace them with. (See, I wasn’t kidding about rats and levers.) Punishment in some forms has its time and its place, but it’s rarely effective, and it’s rarely the best choice…”
So what does that mean when we talk about how to stop binge eating?
I’ve heard many people say things like, “I feel like I’ve got it down and I’m doing well for a bit, then I lose it all and I’m right back where I started from.”
But you’re not. You are not right back where you started from. Celebrate your recovery, even moments of it. And don’t give the backslides much attention. Give yourself accolades and love and support. Honestly you will be happier and you will find recovery more exciting and fun.
Think of it like this, you are potty training your toddler. Every time she uses the potty, you jump up and down and hug her and kiss her and tell her that she is awesome. When she has an accident, you hug her and kiss her and tell her it’s okay and that she’ll just try again, you know she can do it, it just takes some practice.
You are potty training your toddler and she goes on the potty. You say “good, that’s what you should be doing.” No accolades, no celebration, nothing. Then she has an accident and you tell her she’s a loser and now the fact that she made on the potty yesterday means nothing. She’s back to square one. No potty for her, diapers forever.
We don’t do scenario number two obviously, we support our children and help them to succeed. You were once that little toddler and you still have parts of you inside that feel 2 years old and need love, support, and encouragement.
So be kind to yourself when you backslide and celebrate yourself when you have one good day or one good meal or one good hour. Don’t think about forever, just consider the moment.
Instead of: “I have to do this every day for the rest of my life,”
Try: “today was a great day, I am great.”
Instead of: “I fucked up today, I’m nothing but a fuck up…”
Try: “I love myself and I had a hard day, tomorrow will be better. Tonight I need a little compassion, maybe curling up in a hot tub with a juicy novel, calm myself down a bit.”