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San Mateo, CA 94401
Anne Rawley Saldich, Ph.D., MFT
People are said to be "crazy" when they want different results but they keep doing what they're doing.
Alcoholics are a good example. An alcoholic is someone who drinks too much. Period. End of story. Leave aside the people who are addicted to alcohol because of biological reasons and alcoholism is not complicated.
Margaret Dufield, a successful New York photographer, wouldn't get drunk if she didn't drink. And she wouldn't be an alcoholic if she didn't misuse alcohol. But, like many alcoholics, she thinks she can deal with her problem without changing her behavior. She broods about it, usually with a scotch in hand, thinking she needs to understand why she is an alcoholic. Then she will change.
So, she delves into her past. She was treated unkindly by Mrs.
Schwarz, her first grade teacher, who made her stand in the corner when
she was late for class ... She was one of six children and it's all
Mom's fault because she didn't get the kind of attention she would have
if she had been an only child ... That kind of rambling goes on and on,
and so does the drinking.
"Why?" is not always a good question to ask when we want to manage change. "What?" is a better one, as in "What am I willing to do about it?"
Let's look at overeating, the great American pastime.
Mohammed Abu weighs 295 pounds. He's five feet, eleven inches and he dreads going over 300. But it could happen. Any day. When he slipped out of his mother's womb 42 years ago he weighed in at seven pounds.
There is no medical explanation for his obesity. Pure and simple, he ate himself into his present deformity. When things aren't going well his solace is food. When things are going well he celebrates with food. When he's working out strategies for an important meeting, or preparing the annual budget he munches: A little of this, a little of that. Soon he has eaten the equivalent of four meals between dinner and breakfast.
Mohammed is handsome, suave, well educated, a product of our best universities. He owns a library of books about weight management, so he knows more than he needs to know about nutrition. He belongs to a classy health club. Never misses a work out. A demon on the squash court, his size doesn't limit his success there any more than it does in his professional life.
As vice president of sales for his high tech, multinational firm he has an outstanding track record of bringing home the bacon. Friendly, smart, a bon vivant, well connected, well informed, well dressed, Mohammed travels a lot, goes to the best restaurants and always eats like he's having his last meal. Anything that isn't moving is consumed with gusto.
Being trim and healthy is Mohammed's primary, secret goal. The last time he went to the doctor he was sitting naked on one of those narrow examining tables in a coldly air conditioned room. He was having an exam for signs of skin cancer: "Lift up your belly." It was a casual request by the doctor but Mohammed thought "Lift what?" Then he realized that his belly hung down like a great sagging balloon, covering his lower abdomen. He felt shame.
The fact remains, no matter what he feels or what he wishes or whether he understands or does not understand why he abuses food, Mohammed will trim down as soon as he stops overeating. He can eat everything and anything. But what he needs is just enough to feed the hunger instead of the appetite.
"Dealing with it" is like "trying". It's hard to do and it continues the problem. Changing it solves the problem.
You can demonstrate this to yourself. Stand in front of a chair and "try" to sit down. Bend your knees. Get your bottom right over the seat of the chair but don't actually sit. Lower yourself until you are within an inch of sitting, but don't sit. Now, stay there. This is a difficult position to hold. It takes a great deal of energy and is not fun.
Now, stand up. You are going to change your position. You are not going to try. You are just going to sit down. OK. Go! Effortless, wasn't it? Who said "Change is hard"? It's a lot easier than "dealing with" the problem, whatever the problem is.
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