Giving Up Bad Eating Habits


Put an X in front of any of the reasons for resistance that you personally relate to from the previous list. Then find the number you picked and read our response.

1. I don ‘t feel ready to change. 

If you wait until you are ready, change may never happen. No one ever feels totally ready because there is fear and ambivalence involved. Changing a behavior involves taking risks, and there will be times when you will need to go out of your comfort zone. It is a process that takes time and practice.

2. I don’t know how or where to even start. 

Start small. Take baby steps like delaying a binge 20 minutes rather than trying not to binge. Small steps can be the best, and often the only way to make difficult changes. You might not think delaying a binge is that helpful, but it is helping you become increasingly more in control. Take a risk and try it. If you feel the urge to binge, set a timer and delay the binge 3 to 5 minutes to start, then gradually longer. When you do this, you strengthen the part of you that doesn’t want to binge (your Healthy Self). Oftentimes, if you are able to delay a behavior for 15 to 20 minutes, the strong urge subsides and getting through it becomes easier.

Another example of a small risk is eating a challenging food, which is a food your Eating Disorder Self might call scary or fattening. We know it probably feels too hard to just start eating it, or to trust that you can just eat a normal amount. One way you can start small is by just allowing yourself to have one bite. If you don’t lose control or get fat from that one bite, perhaps you can take two bites the next day, and then three the next. If you don’t trust yourself to actually take the bite or eat a bite without bingeing, ask someone to be there with you. You don’t have to change anything all at once. If you take the time, you can figure out a small way to go in a new direction.

3. I am too afraid of what will happen if I change. 

Fear of the unknown is understandable. The best way to deal with fear of the unknown is to gather information to make the unknown more known. You can find a professional or a recovered person and talk to him or her about what is likely to happen when you make changes in whatever you are thinking about changing. The key to change is learning to break it down into small steps so that the change is not so dramatic and you can begin to get a sense of safety in knowing that nothing horrible will happen.

4. I don’t think I am strong enough to change. 

Remember, your eating disorder can’t be stronger than you. You give it all its power, so if you are strong enough to engage in the behavior, you can channel that energy into being strong enough to not do so . even if it takes time to make that happen. Eventually, not engaging in your behaviors will take no effort at all. Think about a time before you had your eating disorder. Did it take strength not to restrict, binge, or purge?

5. My behaviors are just automatic now and out of my control. 

Things do get to the point where they feel automatic. There was a time when we both thought there was no way we would be able to change our behaviors. However, since behaviors become automatic over time, the same process applies to getting better. If you can slowly decrease your behavior and get to the point of stopping it altogether, then over time not doing it will become automatic. Another idea we suggest to clients is to do at least one thing before engaging in the behavior. You might call a friend, journal, or write out a dialogue between your Eating Disorder Self and Healthy Self. When you try to interrupt the cycle, your Healthy Self comes forward and gets a little taste of being in control, even if only for a brief period of time.

6. I don’t have the tolerance or patience to change. 

Learning to tolerate difficult feelings is a crucial life skill, as is patience. Nobody is born with these skills, and everyone has to work on them. Having realistic expectations and thinking of recovery like

a hike to the top of a mountain instead of a sprint might be useful. It most likely took you a long time to get to this place, so be realistic and fair to yourself, and realize it is going to take you awhile to get out. Six months from now will be here before you know it. You will have to wait for the time to pass, regardless of how you choose to spend it in your eating disorder or working on recovery. It’s up to you.

7. Somepeople can change, but I can’t. 

There is no such thing as not being able to change. There are some things you might not be able to change, but how you manage your food isn’t one of them It might be difficult and scary to change your behaviors and get well, but it is not impossible.

8. I don’t think that what it takes to change is worth it. 

At first, it’s hard to feel like changing is worth it because you are going to feel worse before you feel better. Until you recover, you can’t really know if it’s worth it. We can say we have yet to find a recovered person who says that it wasn’t worth it. We know that changing takes a bit of faith in the alternative, but unless you do it, you will not know. We do feel confident saying that staying in your eating disorder is for sure not worth it.

9. I am not worth it. 

You might feel you are not worth it, or say you don’t deserve to get better. What would you say to anyone else who said that to you? We are pretty sure you would tell anyone else that they are worth it and deserve to get better, even if you didn’t know all the reasons they had for thinking otherwise.

You might have reasons for feeling unworthy that date back to before the eating disorder, but having an eating disorder shrouds your self-worth, complicating things even further. Ask yourself why you are not worth it. Do those same reasons make others unworthy? Ask yourself, What does someone have to do in order to be worth it? When you really examine this, you will probably agree that no one has to do anything to be worthy of changing and improving his or her life.

10. If I change one thing, people will expect me to change more. 

Change is always going to be up to you. Expectations from others can feel bad and make changing harder. The people who care about you might see you change something and get hopeful or excited and become overly eager to see more. They may see you change one thing and think that change is easy or you are now on your way. You might be afraid of failing or disappointing others. Consider letting your friends, family, therapist, or whoever you are concerned might have these expectations know how you are feeling, what’s helpful or not helpful to say. How else would they know?

11. My behavior is not that bad,  or My behavior is way better than it used to be. 

This type of rationalizing is not relevant. Rather than compare yourself to how you were before to justify what you are doing now, compare yourself to how you want to be or being recovered. This will help motivate you to keep moving forward and not settle for a small life. Ask yourself, Is my behavior something I really want to continue, is it in my best interest? Can I have the life I really want? Can I feel good about myself? Even if you are better off now than at some other time, why settle for living life less sick when you can be all well?

Usually behaviors wax and wane and get progressively worse over time. It’s good to acknowledge progress and where you have been, but often what you are doing is still unhealthy, mentally and physically. One client who stopped bingeing and purging said she only chews and spits now, which she thought was healthier and not that bad for her. As we explored her behavior more, it became apparent that it was just as compulsive, shameful, secretive, and as in the way of her relationships as her bulimia had been.

12. Why should I change this? Other people do it all the time. 

First of all, you don’t have to change anything. The idea is to change things that have caused you problems or will get in the way of you getting better. People who don’t have eating disorders can do certain behaviors like skip a meal or weigh themselves, and it does not cause them any problems.

That can be difficult to see and accept, but if they don’t have an eating disorder, these behaviors are not problematic. If you had skin cancer, it would be best for you to change your behavior by avoiding the sun and wearing hats and sunscreen every moment. Seeing others out enjoying the beach without having to take these precautions would be very difficult and might seem unfair, but going out in the sun because others do it all the time and are okay would be reckless.

13. I’ll gain weight and I can ‘t tolerate that. 

This one is last because it is one we hear almost every time we ask the question and is often the code for a deeper fear or belief. There are actually two beliefs here. Some people have to gain weight to get well, but the belief that you can’t tolerate it is just that a belief. Learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, like the knowledge that you need to gain weight, or gained some weight, is not much different than learning to tolerate any other uncomfortable feeling you need to accept in order to live a normal and full life. Think about it, if you couldn’t tolerate the reality that your dog will die one day, it would be almost impossible to enjoy or even have a pet. We all learn to tolerate certain truths or feelings so we can get through the day and enjoy our lives. We all have to find a way to tolerate the reality that we can’t protect our loved ones, we all die one day, bad things happen to good people, and many others. Although you might believe you can’t tolerate weight gain, it’s not true. As counterintuitive as it might seem, tolerating your healthy weight is not only possible, it actually gets easier with time rather than harder. Body size and body image are not correlated in the way you might believe they are. If that were true, all the underweight people with anorexia would have better body image than normal weight or overweight people, and that is simply not the case at all.

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