The eating disorder mindset is truly unique but involves a lot of thought patterns that are completely irrational yet common to most of us with this illness.
One of these is the way that the eating disordered brain will cling onto what we did yesterday, or on the same day last week perhaps, in terms of eating, movement or other behaviours and use that as the maximum benchmark of how much we eat or how much we rest today.
Have you ever found yourself in recovery and doing better… eating more, resting more and then you have a day when for whatever reason, there is a small lapse in recovery?
Maybe you eat a tiny bit less at one meal or miss a snack… perhaps you are slightly more active than you have been for a while.
Suddenly, getting back on track again to the level you were at in recovery terms just two days ago feels like an impossible task. The brain says, ‘well you didn’t eat that snack or as much as that yesterday, so you really don’t need to today’… or ‘you took that longer route when you went to the shops yesterday, you have to go that way again..’!
I am not sure I understand the reason behind this common ED mindset. Perhaps it is just a case of the good old fear factor coming into play and the terrified brain using whatever seemingly rational thoughts it can generate to push us back to what it deems safer territory. The fear we had faced in taking actions to increase our eating or resting has not had long enough to become ingrained and feel safe enough yet and so as soon as we take even the smallest step back from that fear, the brain is going to find reasons not to walk into it again.
In recovery, whatever the reason behind this mindset and thought patterns, we need to be hyper aware of them and recognise that every tiny morsel of food we eat does matter, cannot be any less than yesterday (ideally should always be much more than the day before) and that other behaviours too have to stay 100% on track or else we will face further uphill battles to get back to where we were or worse face a slow slide back to the eating disorder’s icy grips.
Establishing recovery patterns of eating and resting much more, facing a fear food or breaking other disordered behaviours takes massive energy in overcoming mental hurdles and requires super human efforts. Letting this slide at all means having to overcome the same fear and anxiety over again to hurdle the mental barriers that have gone back up.
And this mindset we all experience is also one that is hard for our family, friends or health professionals to understand, in terms of just how strong and powerful it is.
To anyone outside of an eating disordered brain, missing a tiny bit of food out of the day because of unforeseen circumstances or going for a family walk that might not normally have been part of our routine will appear inconsequential to the bigger picture. It will not occur to someone with a healthy brain why or how our brains could latch onto such small changes and that these will then make it 100 times harder for us tomorrow to stay firmly ‘in recovery’.
One tiny lapse in a day though in an eating disorder brain can become monstrous… to the point, as I said before, that it could be the start of a snowball effect back to the illness, if it is not caught and addressed fast.
This is another reason why I found diving into recovery head first and fast felt safer and more productive. With these kind of thought patterns to contend with, if we are increasing our eating by just a tiny morsel each day and miss out that morsel on another day, the already painfully hard process of plodding through recovery is even more drawn out and traumatic.
Instead, barge through the mental barriers every day and keep pushing forward faster and then a tiny lapse in one day is perhaps a bit less critical, if it is caught!
So… yes, all of this ramble is to say that any lapse in day to day recovery from restrictive eating disorders really does matter, even if they are tiny.
In recovery, being aware of this strong thought pattern that you will likely experience and have to manage is key to staying on track. Even now I have to catch myself when these thoughts set in… Of course we all have days when our eating might be less or we are naturally more active but it’s recognising that that has happened with vigilance and making extra efforts later to make up for it.
Recovery is constantly pushing ourselves in the direction that is the most anxiety provoking… every day we have to be aiming higher than yesterday in terms of food, rest and weight! If we keep an upward momentum going though, never looking back, then recovery and freedom will be ours!