One of the most common questions about eating disorder recovery that I get a lot and that I asked myself when trying to work out how to approach recovery is do we address all the fears… the eating more food, the resting, the stopping all the other weird s**t we do at the same time..?
Surely it is ok to not overwhelm ourselves and to just do one aspect before the other?
Perhaps we should just focus on eating more first and then address the movement compulsions and over exercise…?!? Or maybe we do the resting thing but sort out eating more food a bit later when we feel better able to handle it?
Now as with all my posts, please remember that these are just my experiences and thoughts. Each of us is different (because the world would be boring it we weren’t!) – what works for me, might not work for you but I will give my take on this common recovery quandary!
In my opinion, it is important that we do address all aspects of the illness – the eating more and the stopping movement at the same time, hand in hand. Yes it is hard, yes it is going to make you more anxious than you thought it was possible to be, yes you will think you cannot get through it. Yes… you will get through it each time and it will slowly get easier.
The problem with food and exercise in an eating disorder is that there is a strong link in our brains between the two. The eating disorder might let us eat more, if we exercise more and it might let us rest more, if we eat less…
If we only address one aspect of this link in recovery, we don’t unlink this connection!! Chances are we will eat more, but because we have given ourselves permission to continue the movement, that movement will inadvertently get harder, longer and faster. Or we might stop moving but then find our eating has also slipped back.
The other key point with the whole eating disorder brain neural network thing is that because these neural wirings of restriction and over exercise are so closely entwined, if we start to fire up one, it sparks up the other.
I never believed this would be true until I experienced it but it is certainly the case that if I eat more food and break the urges to restrict, it can often be easier too to focus in those moments on not engaging in unnecessary movement…. Also if I start to rest a bit more, I find it can be easier to let myself eat more. Conversely – start pounding the streets and that urge to restrict on lunch gets louder! This, to me is evidence that the brain pathways are closely connected and if I avoid firing up one eating disorder brain pathway, it keeps the others switched off too and vice versa!
In previous recovery attempts I have tried to just address the food side but paid less attention to the movement side (and in treatment it was always the food thing that people were making a fuss about!). In my mind, I thought I would address movement later on when I was used to and comfortable with eating more. Sadly, this never worked. The eating disorder does not suddenly allow less movement while still eating the same amount of food as that link in the brain and fear of weight gain was still too strong and too powerful. It is little wonder I never recovered.
This time I have addressed both together and I really think it is the best way to go into recovery.
Stop the unnecessary movement and start eating a lot more food and do both at the same time.
Give yourself a break from the mental gymnastics and negotiations.
Compulsive movement is SO disabling and SO miserable and people with an eating disorder who have exercise compulsions have higher rates of depression for a reason!
Not eating and being hungry, even if you are resting, is also miserable and torturous to both your brain and body.
Give into recovery. You have to recover and it is scary as s**t anyway and nothing will take that fact away but get through the pain, push through the fear and learn that rest and food won’t kill you and weight gain is something you will more than tolerate.
If you want recovery and I know that you do… why dibble dabble with it? Why dip a toe into just one aspect? Face the food, stop the movement and do it at the same time.
At the end of the day, the walks matter, the not eating cookies because you moved less today matters…
They feel like tiny decisions individually but collectively they amount to small things that can strengthen an illness that will suck everything from your life and soul if it can.
I say eat and rest and address both head on. Life’s too short not to.