I often speak to clients who feel that exercise or eating are controlling their life. Why and how this develops differs from individual to individual. Often people develop a sense of self that is very tied up in the way they look, and they attach a great deal of importance to being slim. This can be a result of messages received from significant early experiences, family or peers, the media etc. Therefore if someone doesn't feel “good enough” with their present body, the answer might be to try and control or change their body. This might be done through exercise, dieting, developing food rules or avoiding forbidden foods.
Although these strategies might help you to feel good in the short term, they provide a false sense of control and over long periods of time, you can start to feel out of control. The more you try to control, the more preoccupied you become. For example if I said to you, for the next minute you can think about anything, except for a white polar bear…what happens? You can't stop thinking about a white polar bear. Why? Because in order to not think about a white polar bear, you have to think about a polar bear! The same is with exercise and eating. The more things we can't eat, the more rules we have about exercise, the more control we try to have, the more obsessive our thinking becomes. Exercise or eating may also be used to cope with life stressors or difficult feelings, and this makes sense if that is what you are preoccupied by.
If eventually you bust or break your rules, or can't exercise for whatever reason, or like you said..try to stop using exercise to cope, it can be overwhelming and followed by feelings of guilt, anxiety, powerlessness or self-judgement. This then can make you want to gain more control…and the cycle continues.
As mentioned in the comments above, there are different strategies that be learnt to effectively start to break this cycle and regain real “control” over your life. A clinical psychologist or health professional may help you to be able to do this. Some exercises might include examining the costs to your life if you continue to be controlled by exercise and eating; exploration of your values and what would make life vital and meaningful for you in different areas of your life; developing mindful eating or exercise skills to start trusting your body, listen to your intuition and let go of rules; and learning to problem solve.
These are just a couple of suggestions. It's a process but something you can learn to change to have a more flexible, compassionate, and value-based life! We would be happy to discuss this with you further.
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