It’s Not All or Nothing!

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Although I already approached the subject of New Year Resolutions on my last article, it occurs to me that there is more to them than simply what the resolution is and how we get to them. As we embark on a new year, new process, new lifestyle, we need to consider how we are going to approach them to ensure we are successful in what we are trying to achieve.

I’ve discussed before the Eating Disorder cycle, more specifically, the one associated with Binge Eating Disorder. Anorexia and Bulimia also have similar cycles, but the resulting behaviours vary. See the below image.

You can see on this chart that one of the steps involves eating more. This is called All-or-Nothing behaviour and it’s a reaction triggered by ‘failing’ to follow the directions of the diet we have imposed ourselves. So, for example, if I have made the decision not to eat cake for a month, as per the cycle, I will eventually start craving cake. I’m not going to delve into these cravings. A whole article can be written about them, one that I will write at another time.

As the craving persists, I will eventually give in to it and eat a piece of cake. And once I’ve done that, all bets are off. Because I’ve ‘failed’, I’ve skipped a rule and now that I’ve skipped a rule, I might as well skip them all and start afresh tomorrow. And sometimes it’s tomorrow, but sometimes is next week or next month. Or next year.

After the binge, a deluge of negative feelings threaten to overwhelm us. They start with ‘what did I do that for?’ followed by ‘I have no willpower’ and continued in a I-am-worthless-I-will-never-ever-get-this-under-control sort of rant, which becomes soul-destroying and pushes us to make a new commitment. Yes, a new diet, even stricter, and we’re going to stick to it this time.

Except that we don’t!

The issue might seem obvious to you if you don’t have an eating disorder. Or maybe it’s not obvious at all. Either way, here it comes. The issue is the rules. Or, more specifically, how strict we are about them.

Let’s revisit my ‘cake rule’ from above. Although I strongly recommend to steer away from calorie counting, for the sake of this analysis, we shall look at an imagined calorie count for the cake and for the diet.

So imagine I want to reduce my calorie intake to 1500Kcals per day, which is what an average person needs to breathe (and not a lot). That’s 10500 kcals a week and 42000Kcals a month. If you don’t know what that represents, think a banana has about 100kcals.

Now let’s say I eat the one piece of cake. And let’s say it’s a very decadent cake. Chocolate, cream, buttercream, sugar work, the lot. Let’s say one piece of cake is a whole 1000kcals. All in all, it’s only an excess of 9% calories a week and 2% calories over the month. So, all being well, and All-or-Nothing behaviour is not triggered, I’d have lost only 100gr less than if I had not eaten the cake. For reference, 1 stone = 6350 grams, 1 pound = 455 grams.

Now, if my cake-rule is too strict, I will fall into the all-or-nothing pattern, because I have ‘failed’. And then that will trigger a much bigger excess and a much smaller loss and a much larger self-loathing period. Not worth it, right?

But I am not saying that you should be dieting and giving yourself a break, although if you absolutely want to diet, do give yourself a break. I am saying you shouldn’t be dieting at all. I am saying you should have a goal of normal eating (what is that, you ask? Read all about it HERE). I am saying, don’t make ridiculous rules that can only lead to a cycle of never ending preoccupation with food and heartache.

The idea of my eating life being restricted to certain foods is one of the very things that trigger my eating disorder. For example, people wanting to give up sugar. Why? Reduce it, fair enough. Cut out on gummy bears and fizzy drinks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a couple of gummy bears on a weekend or a drink with your friends, it’s not the teaspoon of sugar you put in your tea that’s causing a problem.

Make changes where it’s easy.

For example, if you love broccoli, eat more of it, it’ll help your fibre intake. If you like lattes but you can live without them, then have tea instead. If you like tinned peaches but not fresh peaches, well, eat the tinned peaches. Tinned fruit is better than no fruit.

The point is to make changes that improve your current eating habits without turning your life upside-down. Changes for the better don’t need to be made all at once.

And this is the real point of this article. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When I started therapy and I started working on eating six times a day, my therapist told me not to care about what I was eating as long as I ate six times a day. Later on, when I was settled in that, we included other factors, but to start with, all I had to do was make sure that I followed that system.

The idea of changing your lifestyle, your eating style in this case, and anything else you want to do or change in your life, is that you want to make those changes permanent. It’s much harder to change everything overnight than it is to make one change at a time. If you have a goal, the important thing is to reach it. As wisdom uttered by many a man and woman on Earth, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Would you rather sprint from the start to reach your goal as soon as possible and end up so exhausted that you won’t quite get to the finish line and have to try again on the next race?

Or would you rather take a step at a time, knowing you will eventually reach your goal and you won’t have to run ever again?

You can find more articles by Caroline Corpas-Neale in The Writing Cat

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