Currently, when we talk about recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, the term ‘all in’ is often used.
‘All in’ refers to an approach where the person eats to their body’s real demands. They do not eat to a meal plan or to another form of prescribed amount of food, but instead 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 (we are talking 5 – 10,000+ calories a day)!
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 allow it to heal and repair, trusting the weight gain to stop when the body is at a point of health that it is happiest at.
‘All in’ for eating disorder recovery also encompasses stopping exercise or compulsive lower level movement at the same time as eating a lot of food. 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, the reality is a bit more messy and a lot less black and white.
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 any tiny change felt mentally huge 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 could only be described as a very messy, confusing 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 (and liberating) 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 does not disappear forever overnight and can return in intense and confusing waves.
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 crumbs and 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 B.S.!
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 or high a weight you are or other excuses your brain cooks up to make you think that you can’t do it.
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 say continue to aim for the stars each day and use that frustration and anger at yourself in a meaningful way! 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. 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.
Recovery is so hard and despite the big ‘all in’ changes I made and the progress I made in doing so, it did not mean the eating disorder was gone overnight. It all takes time and continued effort.
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?!?
I wrote a separate post on the benefits I found of using a faster recovery approach so do have a read of that if you want some extra motivation!
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… this post relates to ‘all in’ for eating disorder recovery which does involve stopping all exercise and compulsive movement (if you want to recover properly). People on social media in the fitness industry who are talking about ‘all in’, either do not have an eating disorder or where they do, are keeping themselves tied to a dangerous ‘strong not skinny‘ mentality within the illness.