How to Use RO DBT to Make Peace With Food

Intuitive Eating, Make Peace with Food | 0 comments

Lynae Smith

Written by Lynae Smith

Do you find yourself to be a bit of a perfectionist?  Do you sometimes struggle with black and white thinking?  Do you often feel like the “outsider”? Do you find it hard to “unplug” from your to-do list? Do you find yourself constantly researching the “best option” and optimizing your life? 

If any of this resonates for you, you may struggle with being overly controlled. 

About RO DBT

There’s no question that self-discipline is essential. That said, there are times when letting go a little can be beneficial and healthy. While most forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy work on building self-will, Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) takes almost the opposite approach. It understands that for some people, over control can be unhealthy and possibly detrimental. 

The flexibility RO DBT encourages is a perfect fit for the Intuitive Eating lifestyle we promote here at Ruby Health. Control issues come up with food quite frequently. How can you practice flexibility with this “all foods fit” mentality?    If you are overly controlled, this is difficult to do.  

Here are some examples from conversations I’ve had with clients:

  • “I am ‘good’ all day long with food, but then at night, my self-control goes out the window.”  At first glance, it may seem like you need more self-control, not less.  This is what we’re taught from early in our life.  BUT the control itself is the root of the problem.  If we keep the lid on too tight, we set ourselves up for “leakage.”  For some folks, leakage happens in substance use, impulsive behavior, or binge eating.  But the root cause is being overly controlled. 
  • “If I let myself eat that food, I will never stop”  This is an excellent example of the black and white thinking which keeps us stuck in over-controlled patterns instead of breaking out to have more freedom with food.   This often fuels a binge later on.



  • “If my blood sugar goes over 200, I’m afraid I’ll lose my foot, so I have to cut out all carbs”  This is a very fatalistic way of thinking, which gets triggered by fear.  It also can lead to feeling trapped, overwhelmed, and afraid to choose what’s for dinner. 

If you’ve been my client for long, you’ve probably heard me talk about Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or RO DBT.  This therapy model is for folks just like you and me!  I’ve attended several trainings as both a client and clinician to comprehend RO DBT and what it has to offer fully.  


I’m excited to explore this skill set in the context of nutrition and self-care!  Here’s an overview to get you started. 

~Lynae Smith

“Help, my self-control is out of control!”

Traits of Over Control

In our society, we praise individuals for their capacity to maintain a high level of self-control. From a young age, we are exposed to the concept of “perfectionism,” which is utterly unattainable. Some may appear to thrive on their pursuit of perfection; however, internally, it is a challenging, lonely endeavor. 


Some characteristics of over control are: being extremely detail-oriented, often having a “resting bitch face,” having trouble moving on from mistakes, avoiding a meal if you’re not sure what’s in it, not liking new things or experiences, struggling to attend a spontaneous social event that involves food, having a high sensitivity to feeling threatened, not easily impressed by rewards or compliments and excessive planning. 


Isolation from others and fixation on controlling food intake serve as a way to numb out from stressors or avoid entirely by being the “turtle” and wanting to escape.


People who are overcontrolled do not exhibit obvious symptoms of overcontrol superficially. They constantly hold in their emotions until a particular occurrence triggers them to spill out. RO DBT is a set of skills that helps you build confidence and become more empowered to navigate these tendencies.

What does treatment with RO DBT look like?

Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy concentrates on three specific areas to help improve the quality of life for overcontrolled individuals. Dr. Ellen Astrachan-Fletcher describes these treatment interventions below:

  1. Receptivity and Openness —
  2. The goal is to become more receptive to feedback.  Feedback and constructive criticism can be brutal for perfectionists to acknowledge. Those with a high sense of control can also be highly sensitive to disapproval and often find feedback to be quite threatening. Yet, we cannot learn and grow unless we are open to feedback. Also, most people do not like those they perceive as close-minded or as “know it all’s.”

  3. Flexibility —
  4. Flexibility is key to living a full life.  Life itself requires adaptability because our behavior in one situation might not be appropriate in another case; we simply can’t control everything — and trying to do so will inevitably lead to internal strife.

  5. Intimacy and Connectedness —

RO DBT teaches emotional recognition and emotional expression.  These are often difficult for those who are overcontrolled.  These skills help us facilitate connection and support healthy and rewarding relationships

Click the link for a RO DBT fact sheet from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

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