The ‘All In’ Debate In Eating Disorder Recovery

Currently, when we talk about recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, the term ‘all in’ is often used.

‘All in’ is usually referring to the notion that a person will eat to their body’s real demands… not to a meal plan or to another form of prescribed amount of food, but to really give in to all the foods the body is craving, which when coming out of restriction and malnutrition, is usually a lot of food!

Going ‘all in’ is to eat what you want, when you want, as much as you want and alongside it comes trusting the body to really know what it is doing and let it do what it needs to do to heal and repair, while allowing the weight gain to stop when the body is at a point of health that it is happiest at.

With eating disorder recovery, we also often refer to stopping exercise or compulsive lower level movement at the same time as eating a lot of food within the ‘all in’ umbrella term.  This therefore gives the illusion that going ‘all in’ when in recovery from an eating disorder involves sitting on a sofa or lying in bed 24/7 and eating non stop.

Perhaps for some people recovery does look like this and in an ideal world this is possibly the best and fastest way to rewire the brain and heal the body… but really, I would say for most, this is just not possible.

Many people seem to think that I went ‘all in’ in my recovery and in some ways perhaps for a time I did but it took several distressing weeks and months of solidly focusing on recovery and making recovery very complicated for myself(!) to get to the point of making some bigger, more meaningful jumps.

I think though that those distressing weeks of making some changes, feeling frustrated, finding even tiny changes were massive in my head and slowly and painfully pushing my intake up and my activity levels gradually down, were actually a very necessary part of the process.

When grossly malnourished and when the brain is so lacking in nutrients, it cannot think flexibly and to start to get the brain able to cope with even conceiving of the reality of eating A LOT more food, resting and dealing with inevitable weight gain took a certain amount of renourishment first, in what can only ever probably be a very painful and distressing process.

But eventually I did reach a point in recovery of being able to make much bigger changes overnight (literally) and when I did there was a brief and wonderful ‘honeymoon’ period in which my brain seemed to just cope with and be flexible enough to let me eat so much more and the anxiety that had been intolerable at times took a brief holiday.

The honeymoon did not last though… of course it did not last.  This is eating disorder recovery and this is going against a brain that is convinced that eating a lot more food, resting and doing anything that might lead to any weight gain is a direct danger to my life.  Therefore, the distress and internal conflict that arises out of going against your own very convincing thoughts is intense and confusing.

So, if you have a mental image of people in recovery who are in your eyes going ‘all in’ having it easy, smiling and laughing on a sofa, surrounded by food wrappers, then think again!!!  There might be short moments like this but for the most part it is messy in the worse way possible.  Mostly the picture is of tears, snot, high anxiety, panic attacks, shaking, screaming and door slamming!!!

But, the purpose of this post is also to say, do not berate yourself for not going ‘all in’ in your recovery, if you have not managed to make the changes you think others are making.

I see and hear this a lot – people more frustrated and angry at themselves because x person has done recovery this way and because you cannot, your recovery is doomed.  That is tosh and nonsense!

The eating disorder brain loves us to believes that we are failing at recovery so we give up.  If you are focused on eating more and changing all the disordered weird behaviours that you have, then fast or slow, you will get to where you need to be.  And recovery often goes at different speeds… sometimes you go like a snail and sometimes you make a faster charge but it is all ok!

So, don’t berate but also please don’t let your eating disorder give you excuses not to push yourself!!

The other point I will make is that even when I was at more of an ‘all in’ stage in this recovery, it can still be and feel very disordered and even then my efforts were still never good enough to my brain.  Even if I did eat thousands of calories more a day, there were ways it could still be disordered or restrictive and it was still incredibly hard and so frustrating.

Calling a faster recovery approach ‘all in’ is perhaps not the right term.  ‘All in’ is very black and white and in reality recovery is not all or nothing – it is somewhere between the two points.  But making bigger changes at once in recovery is possible as you proceed.  And don’t let your brain convince you that this is not the case for you.  Don’t use the length of your illness or how low a weight you are or other excuses your brain cooks up to make you think that you are the exception.

I suspect you want to bash your eating disorder hard (why else would you be reading this!) and you want to bash it hard because you are starving and you are exhausted and your body is dying from malnutrition (even if you can’t see that).  So know that you can make big changes but it won’t be pretty – ‘all in’ is not pretty – not for anyone.

And although I say don’t berate yourself for not being able to make bigger changes right now if you cannot, I would also though say that a bit of frustration and getting down and angry at yourself can be helpful if used correctly!  For me, getting mad at myself and the illness and frustrated that I was not doing better in recovery was a very powerful emotion that drove me further into recovery than anything.

The danger of not pushing ourselves harder is also complacency in recovery.  If we allow ourselves to drift too much, not pushing harder then it is all too easy to convince ourselves we are doing recovery, while in reality we are not making meaningful changes and the illness is in the drivers seat.

So recovery is about balance – balance between pushing ourselves but not beating ourselves up when we don’t ever get to the ‘all in’ level of an ‘ideal recovery’.

Recovery is so hard and despite the big changes I made and the progress I made in doing so, I am not recovered yet, not nearly…  But don’t let how hard recovery is stop you – be ambitious in recovery.  We can all do it… and we are ambitious in other aspects of our lives so why not this?!?

Making bigger leaps in recovery, is not something I regret at all but it did not happen overnight.  I wrote a separate post on the benefits I found of using a faster recovery approach so I won’t repeat it here!

Wherever you are at in recovery, keep going.  Fast, slow, in between – just keep moving forwards and the road can only take you in the direction that will eventually leave the eating disorder as a glimmer in your rear view mirror.

 

NB… and if you have seen a certain person lately on YouTube doing the ‘all in’ thing then please remember that she does not have an eating disorder!

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