Are healthy intentions enough? (Part 1)

I listened to a great teleconference yesterday from The Center for Mindful Eating on the “Seven Keys to Unlocking Unconscious, Underlying Conflicts about Food, Weight and Self-Care.”
The speaker, Karen Koenig, LCSW, MEd, is the author of five books on eating, including Nice Girls Finish Fat and The Rules of “Normal” Eating (which is an excellent book). Her latest book, coming out in October, is Starting Monday: Seven Keys to a Permanent, Positive Relationship with Food.
Koenig, 66, calls herself a world-class binge eater and dieter who has been “recovered” and a “relatively normal” eater for the last half of her life. 
After writing books that helped people understand their appetite, learn how to eat mindfully and get in touch with emotions surrounding food, she realized that there was more to it than that for many people. She observed that many of her patients, and many people in general, have really good intentions, and start to take positive action, but then slowly slip back into their old, unsatisfying behaviors, including what she called “disregulated eating.”
She said she uses disregulated eating to identify what lies between normal eating and disordered eating. Disregulated eating describes what happens when someone tends to consistently eat too much or too little. Many factors, internal and external, can lead to disregulation. 
She said that most disregulated eaters are very aware of wanting to eat better, to get fit, to take care of themselves, get fit. They may not be aware of other motivations, such as meeting a cultural ideal, gaining approval from friends and family, living longer (or better), attracting the opposite sex, feeling more comfortable about their bodies, or feeling in control around food. 
When people really want to do better but just can’t manage to, she said, it’s often because of wishes, fears and motivations that we aren’t even aware we have. When our intentions don’t align with our behavior, we have unconscious conflict. 
  • You yearn with all your heart to eat healthy, but your fridge is filled with junk food. 
  • You want to start working out at the gym regularly, but you never stop by to sign up. 
  • You want to take care of your health, but you don’t keep your doctor appointments. 
The intentions are fine but the behaviors are not so fine. This unconscious conflict is what underlies relapse or self-sabotage. People say they are lazy or unmotivated or prone to procrastinating. That’s not the problem…unconscious conflict is the problem. 
  • You are aware you want to lose weight…but you are not so aware that when you are thin you feel vulnerable. 
  • You are aware you feel uncomfortable when you overeat…but you are unaware that you are afraid of being without food. 
  • You say that you want to be healthy…but you’re not sure you deserve to treat yourself well. 
Koenig outlines seven potential areas behind unconscious conflicts, which I will talk about in tomorrow’s post.