Have you promised yourself that you’ll lose weight, eat better, or exercise consistently, only to let little habits slip in and derail progress?
Have you ever started strong and then begun to justify bad habits until you’re right back where you started?
If so, you’re likely engaging in a process called bargaining.
Bargaining is an incredibly important component of the behavioral change process, and most people experience it in some way during their weight loss or behavior change journey.
Bargaining typically manifests as backsliding into old behaviors, or attempting to rationalize a chosen deviation from your intended course of action.
Bargaining often serves as an attempt to postpone the inevitability of permanently changing your eating habits, or as a convenient “out” for a momentary “want” rather than a big picture “need”.
It often emerges as you begin to reckon with the grief and disappointment of giving up your old lifestyle.
In the bargaining stage you may find yourself thinking, “Well, maybe I can have just a little.” Or, “one bite won’t hurt me.”
Unlike intentional indulgence/moderation (planning to and then choosing to have dessert on a holiday), bargaining is often impulsive and regretted afterwards (randomly eating in a moment of weakness or temptation).
The bargaining phase is dangerous, as many people bargain themselves right into the plateau zone, where they remain stuck and discouraged by little to no progress on the scale.
So how do you beat the bargaining trap?
First, it’s essential that you identify and own bargaining behaviors: everything is a choice.
After you have done this, it’s crucial that you reflect on the behavior and attempt to understand the emotions driving the behavior (often disappointment, anger, sadness at having to change eating habits).
Grief, anger, sadness, and disappointment are all normal reactions to change. If you struggle with your weight, you may have a relationship with food that is closely intertwined with emotions.
Food may play a role in self soothing or self-numbing and giving up that role means that you will be inevitably faced with those emotions.
Finding positive coping mechanisms to place the maladaptive coping mechanism of self-soothing with food is crucial. Exercise, talk therapy, social activities, and other creative or emotional outlets need to serve as the basis for stress relief as you work to overcome the emotional draw to food.
Removing triggers as you work towards acceptance of your needs is also incredibly helpful, as is reaching out for assistance from a Registered Dietitian or therapist in evaluating the underlying thought process and belief systems that underlie your bargaining behaviors.