How many times have you started a new positive health habit, only to relapse back into your old ways weeks, months, or years later? It happens to all of us. We have the best of intentions; we may even succeed in our new healthier habits for a while. But then, one day, we hit a snag.
Last week, a woman reached out to me. Diagnosed with bulimia nervosa as a teenager, she hadn't really had any problems with it since she was in her mid-20s. Over a decade later, in the midst of a divorce, she suddenly started binge eating again. What did she do? Immediately she started beating herself up for falling back into the grips of her eating disorder. The Inner Mean Girl strikes again!
Here’s the deal: Life happens. It’s not uncommon for healthy habits – all of those things we know we should be doing like self-care and eating right – to fly out the window when we get overwhelmed. It’s okay.
For example, it's not surprising that under the extreme stress of a divorce, my client found herself returning to an old coping tactic of using food to numb her emotions.
First and foremost, stop beating yourself up. The worst thing you can do is to punish yourself for returning to your old ways when you hit a snag. Instead, show yourself a little compassion. After all, if your best friend was going through this, I doubt you'd tell her she was a bad person or say awful things about her. Right?
So what should you do when you hit a snag?
- Practice self-compassion – treat yourself as you would your best friend or your child. Tell yourself, “It's going to be okay. You've got this,” – because you do.
- Get help if you need it – if you need to see a therapist or a coach to help you get back on track, do it! You are not ‘weak’ for asking for help. You’re human! We all need help sometimes. So do yourself a favor and please tell a trusted friend, coach, or family member what you're going through. It's important to have some type of support as you go through this, whatever it is. You don't have to do this alone.
- Acknowledge what brought you to this point – if you're returning to old ways, there's a reason. In my client's case, it was her recent and very stressful divorce. Your job is to figure out what the real reason is that set you back to that coping mechanism that you used to use but no longer serves.
- Figure out what it is that you really need – when my client and I looked at what was really going on, we saw some patterns between when she used to binge and purge in high school and what's happening to her now. When she becomes overwhelmed emotionally speaking, she learned to stuff those feelings with food to numb herself out when she was in high school. Her therapist at the time helped her cultivate new coping skills that worked better to relieve her emotions. But when faced with an intense stressor, something she had an experienced anything like since high school, she returned to what she knew: stuffing her emotions with food. Once we identified the real issue, it was easy to figure out what to do – she needed to review her coping strategies and come up with better ways to deal with her feelings of overwhelm, like talking with a trusted friend or coach.
- Give yourself permission to get your needs met – we've talked about superwoman syndrome on the blog before. At 38, my client was a definitely wearing her superwoman cape. A successful entrepreneur and six-figure business owner, she felt like she should be able to handle anything life through at her, including a divorce. She felt selfish for taking time off, for wanting to get help. Shouldn't she be able to do this on her own? No, she shouldn't. Neither should you. We are human beings and we are very social creatures. They say “It takes a village” when it comes to raising a child, but in reality, that should apply to surviving life. It takes a village. We were never meant to do this thing called life alone. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to take a self-care day or two. If you feel you need permission, then allow me to give it to you. I give you permission: to take a day off, to take care of you, to just be you and have that be enough. After all, you cannot serve from an empty cup.
If you’ve recently “hit a snag” and fallen back into old habits, I hope you find these tips helpful. I’d also love to hear your words of wisdom.