Moving beyond perpetual dieting, emotional or stress eating, bulimia, or any other form of using food to cope with life involves so more than just ending overeating. Long-term success requires learning new ways of thinking, acting, and behaving. Among the list of essential new skills are learning how to interrupt compulsive behaviors, offering yourself compassion, taking care of yourself in new ways, learning to manage thoughts and emotions, changing self-defeating beliefs about yourself, and daring to express yourself I new ways. Wow! There is a lot of personal growth going on behind the scenes.

Your journey is less about counting calories or finding the perfect diet, and more about finding new ways to deal with irrational thoughts, unmanageable feelings, and self-defeating behaviors. Ending overeating is really about gaining a new sense of worth, confidence, empowerment, and balance. So it makes sense that as you begin to learn and implement these new choices, you may also encounter "relapses" or "set-backs" into your old eating patterns.

I would like to propose that those "relapses" or "set-backs" are not a step back in time, but important opportunities necessary to challenge core self-defeating beliefs that you hold about the world, others, and yourself. Only by facing those "setbacks" can you uncover new strengths and develop new self-supporting beliefs.

A "Relapse" Does Not Occur Spontaneously
You won't suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by the need for food for no reason at all. Before a full blown "relapse" occurs, there are warning signs along the way. Your desire to turn to food occurs as a result of certain thoughts and attitudes, emotions, and expressed behaviors and actions. Relapse warning signs often build up slowly until they become overpowering. Once they reach a level of critical overload, you may experience an automatic return to your core food coping survival mechanism.

Recognize Your Warning Signs
One foundation building step in self-empowerment and your long-term success is learning to recognize your personal warning signs. When you become consciously aware of your warning signs, you won't automatically be able to avert a binge or overeating episode. What you will gain is the knowledge of what combination of factors, attitudes, and actions lead up to a loss of control. With this information you can move beyond wishful thinking that your problems could magically disappear. You can move beyond feeling hopeless. Instead, you can take your life into your own hands, develop new skills, and develop a new plan of action for the next time.

Small, Bite-Sized Pieces
By learning to identify your warning signs, you can break down your goal of ending overeating into small, manageable pieces. Instead of seeing your problem as one big, overwhelming issue, you recognize that there are many smaller issues involved. As you identify these warning signs, you can take each one and learn a new way of 1) avoiding situations that trigger the issue, 2) develop new ways of dealing with the issue, irrational thoughts, or emotions, or 3) develop new core beliefs about yourself and your abilities to deal with life.

Print out the list below and higlight or circle your personal warning signs:

Increase in obsessive thinking about food and weight
Sudden increase or decrease in appetite
Weight gain or loss
Skipping meals
Eating only 'diet' foods
Eating more and more 'junk' food or fast food
Food 'rules' become more pronounced

Social Contact
Becoming more quiet or withdrawn
Feeling more and more lonely
Not reaching out to other people for support
Change in sleep patterns
Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
Loss of daily structure or routine
Constant boredom

Using Life Numbing Medication
Use of alcohol
Use of mood altering chemicals
Increase in smoking, cigarettes, caffeine
Numbing out with excessive shopping, sex, busyness, internet, etc.
Excessive exercise

Becoming Hostile
Verbal or physical threats
Desire to hurt self or others
Angry outbursts
Destruction of property

Change in Your Appearance
Decreased personal hygiene or self-care
Increased use of make-up
Bizarre dreams
Daily weighing
Excessive exercising

Relapse Attitudes
Loss of constructive planning
Perfectionistic attitudes
Setting unrealistic goals
Believing you will be happy and successful if only you were thin
Feeling of being "too fat" even though people say otherwise
Obsessive thinking
Dwelling on past hurts, resentments, anger, or failures
Being too hard on yourself
Feeling like your problems can't be solved
Feeling hopeless
Why bother?
I can't do it.
Poor me.
Feeling powerless or helpless
Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
Difficulty remembering things
Confused or distracted
Wanting to escape from stressful situations instead of dealing with them

Mood Changes
Becoming more and more depressed
Feeling exhausted
Increased tearfulness
Becoming more irritable, frustrated, or easily angered
Unusual or unprovoked anxiety
Feeling hopeless about work, relationships, or life
Gaining an increasing sense of complacency
Consciously lying, dishonesty, or omitting the truth
Decrease in self-confidence
Feeling increased tension or stress
Increased sense of disappointment
Shame or guilt
Feeling overwhelmed, confused, useless, or stressed out

Thoughts of suicide
Preoccupation with death
Devising a suicide or self-harm plan
Self-destructive behavior
Feeling that nothing can be solved
Wishing something would magically happen to rescue you

A relapse rarely happens suddenly. You can teach yourself to notice the progressive warning signs that lead to a relapse in your behavior. Most people have never been taught to identify and manage the warning signs, so they don't notice them until the pain becomes to severe to ignore. If you can learn to identify your warning signs, you may be able to intervene early and keep symptoms from escalating. If you can't intervene, by identifying things that put you at risk for relapse you can learn new skills, tools and coping behaviors, develop a practical plan of action, and try something new the next time you feel the urge to overeat. If or when a relapse does occur, do not judge or blame, for you are not a bad person. Seek progress, understanding and compassion, not perfection.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Annette Colby, RD can help you take the pain out of life, turn difficult emotions into joy, release stress, end emotional eating, and move beyond depression into an extraordinary life! Annette is the author of Your Highest Potential and has the unique ability to show you how to spark an amazing relationship with your life! Visit
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