Inspired by a recent conversation with a couple of my ED bashing colleagues, I thought I’d write a little post about the importance of changing our actions before expecting our thoughts or beliefs or fears to change.
And I believe this is what we call ‘rewiring’, but we talk a lot about rewiring in eating disorder recovery and don’t always unpick what it actually takes to rewire the brain.
Many of us go through time trying to recover from an eating disorder by hoping that one day our thoughts and fears and beliefs will change enough to make the actions of recovery much easier to put into place.
The sad truth we all have to eventually learn is that our thoughts and fears and belief systems don’t change unless we change the actions first.
It is only by acting in a way as if we are not scared of something that the brain learns that the thing it was scared of should not be feared.
It is only by eating more food that the thoughts, fears and beliefs we hold about eating ‘too much’ or foods being too ‘unhealthy’ or too fattening will change.
Only by acting like we accept our bodies at their natural weight and that we are not afraid of weight gain does that become a reality.
When we finally let go of the exercise and rest… only then do we learn that nothing bad happens when we do and that resting can be a joy and relief if we let it be.
Only by eating more and resting together do we learn that it is okay to do these things, the world does not end when we do, we can tolerate the discomfort and ONLY then does it become easier to continue in that same vein.
Want to believe that you are worthy, that you deserve as much self compassion as anyone else? You need to start treating yourself like you are worthy of so much… as one great mind put it, you need to start treating yourself like you are the love of your life, even if you don’t feel or believe it to start with.
The actions in recovery HAVE to come first.
And yes, it is mean that the world has put this onto us.
It sucks that not only do we have to go through all the crap of this illness, but now we have to carry out actions that feel like the most unnatural and terrifying things in the world, with a brain screaming at us not to do them – a brain coming up with a million convincing and powerful reasons and emotions for why eating more is a ridiculous idea, why we must keep moving, why the world will end if we gain a lb of weight.
But in recovery, we have to learn to go against every thought and feeling that is arising to try to hold us captive in the illness and that is so incredibly hard to do but it is possible.
I spent years trying to do recovery, waiting for the thoughts and fears to change so that I could then find eating more and find putting into place the necessary recovery actions much easier.
Turns out I spent years trying to do recovery this way and not recovering because I was not pushing hard enough to change my ED behaviours and so of course my thoughts and fears only became worse, not better.
The longer we continue to act in a way that is disordered, that is reactive to the fears, that is demonstrating belief of the warped thoughts we have, the stronger we make the illness as it merely makes those fears and thoughts more hard wired.
So to recover what do we do?
We go against it all.
We eat more food despite a brain screaming at us not to and despite the tears and the shaking and the overwhelming surges of emotions that will arise when we do.
We rest despite it feeling the most unnatural thing and despite it making us feel like we want to crawl out of our own skin when we do.
We gain weight and stop trying to suppress and control our natural body weight and shape, despite it feeling alien and wrong…. and we tell ourselves that we want to gain weight, we want to rock our curves because then we will start to believe it.
We treat ourselves with respect and compassion and love…. even if we don’t feel it, we act like we do.
AND you know what??
I’ve been through all of this.
I have spent months crying, shaking, screaming and sometimes rocking in the corner but I have acted against what my brain said and how I felt and I have put in the recovery action and it works!
Change your actions first and your thoughts will change – they will!!
And now I believe I will recover and life is so much better than I could ever dream it to be a few months ago.
To reach this early point of recovery it was worth the pain and now I am also more expert at recognising a disordered thought and identifying it as #EDBollocks and going against it – doing the opposite, rejecting it. And the more I do, the more my little brain is rewiring itself day by day so the disordered thoughts and feelings are much less intense or frequent than they once were.
I wish I had realised years ago that to recover I had to change my actions first and do so to extremes!! The head stuff would not change by magic or any sort of talk therapy.
Brain rewiring is definitely a thing, if we put in the practical work to rewire hard wired disordered neural networks! At the end of the day, the way you recover is action – pure and simple, full on action which feels impossible but really is very possible if you let it be!