Change is something I think about quite a lot – since I’m in the business of helping people to change. Our focus is on changing eating behaviour – but as clients quickly learn – it’s not so much about the food, or the weight – it’s about how you relate to yourself, to others and to life… we simply use the relationship with food and body as the lens through which we do our work.

Here are two change models to consider:

The Mechanical-Replacement Model

This is the ‘traditional’ model of change… where you consult an expert, who gives you a diagnosis, a plan of action, and a date by which the change will be complete. Success is determined by the end result. For example, if your lawnmower isn’t working, or you’re refurbishing your home (just don’t bank on the date by which the change will be complete! Haha… says the wife of an architect ;)).

This model of change is very tempting to humans who want change. It’s something we’d all LOVE, isn’t it? Imagine – you go to a professional, who tells you why you’re struggling to eat ‘normally,’ lays out a plan of action which you follow diligently, until your pre-determined programme is complete.

Et voila. The Peaceful Eater emerges at the other end of it.

Sounds like a diet, doesn’t it?

What this doesn’t leave room for is YOU: your individual nature; your individual mind-body connection, your blocks, your priorities, your pace, your willingness, your circumstances, your unique way of processing and your resistances. You are not a machine.

The Mechanical-Replacement approach to change has some assumptions and problems when thinking about it in terms of eating:

  • There’s something defective about or within you that needs to be fixed/replaced – see this blog on that topic!
  • Change is predictable and linear
  • The process and learning aren’t important – only the end result matters
  • If change doesn’t happen according to the predicted timeline, you feel frustrated, and/or angry, and/or hopeless – and possibly you’ll give up, thinking you’re hopeless, beyond help, that you’ll never work this out, and add more evidence to your belief that you’ve tried everything and nothing works.

The Acceptance-Commitment-Skill Model

This model starts with accepting where you are now, and where you are at any stage of your process. It means accepting the setbacks along with the steps forward. It involves a recognition that change doesn’t happen without a commitment to learning new skills over time; that it’s a process with valuable learning along the way.

This is a gentle, accepting, forgiving model of change – one in which you can better understand your unique self; one in which you can learn how to be alongside yourself, and work with yourself (rather than push through, as would be the case in the Mechanical-Replacement model).

The assumptions and drawbacks of this model:

  • Change is not linear.
  • Success is measured by the process and learnings, whatever the outcome.
  • Human beings are complex and don’t need to be ‘perfect’ in order to progress.
  • The human body and mind are interrelated and interdependent.
  • Emphasis is on developing skilfulness (e.g. with eating, with allowing emotions, with challenging thinking, with meditation).
  • Acknowledgement that in times of greater stress, old habits may kick in.
  • The one drawback of this model is that it takes time and patience.
  • Mostly, it takes steadfast commitment to keep showing up for yourself. Steadfast doesn’t mean you never skip a meditation; it doesn’t mean you ALWAYS practise the tools you’ve learned – it means you come back, as soon as you remember; you pick up where you left off. You don’t give up.

I find that sometimes clients I work with forget that this is a learning journey. They expect to reach the ‘done’ point by the time they’ve had all the sessions in their package. When this happens, they’ve often slipped into the Mechanical-Replacement model and lost sight of the Acceptance-Commitment-Skill model that I work with. The truth is – by the time they’ve had those sessions, they know enough to have a peaceful relationship with food. But it isn’t simply about knowledge transfer. It’s about building skill and competence.

That takes time, commitment and practice. And sometimes more support is needed. And that’s ok!

The Japanese have a beautiful proverb that speaks exactly to this model of change: ‘fall down seven times, get up eight.’

Keep going: keep learning, refining, practising, building skill and resilience. And what you will find, is the most gorgeous unfolding of yourself, not just that you ‘eat like a normal person.’