Many of us with an eating disorder are told (probably because it is true) that we have very black and white thinking.
I do not believe that the black and white mindset is a pre-existing ‘personality trait’ of a person with an eating disorder, which some ‘professionals’ might try to persuade us is the case, but I do believe that black and white thinking is a significant symptom of starvation / malnutrition in a human.
A brain that is malnourished is in survival mode alone and trying to keep functioning on the limited fuel supplies it has. Therefore thought processes are going to be rigid, less flexible and allow fewer shades of grey or pretty swirlingly complex patterns of thought than in a brain that has energy to dance and play with.
So, black and white is how many of us are with our disordered and malnourished brains as we survive on a restrictive diet and stupid ways of compensating for any nourishment we do take in.
We become incredibly rigid in how we think about food and eating. We become boringly and obsessively strict on the how and when and what we will eat and we stop being able to even comprehend how we could or would do anything that is not within those black and white restrictive rules we have created.
The same is true of movement and exercise for most of us. We develop rituals and habits and compulsions in terms of movement and activity. These things we do because we cannot conceive in our minds that there is another option. To do anything different to the compulsive and driven movement seems incomprehensible and illogical.
Yes, we are very black and white in our thinking with an eating disorder.
If we want to talk about life in a disordered brain and zero is the illness and the rules it generates that we live by, well our brains will grab hold of that zero and not be able to even consider movement from it… To do so would be terrifying, illogical and rarely something we can even begin to visualise for ourselves.
However, unless we do re-program our brains and our bodies from living and functioning at ‘zero’, we will stay stuck in this black and white way of life forever more, slowly fading away, slowly dying. None of us want that.
Therefore, to recover, we have to ultimately learn how to find the shades of grey and patterns of colour in life.. how to eat with no restrictions, with flexibility and by listening to our body signals, how to move for joy and out of necessity but not because we are obsessive or compulsive about it, how to be less uptight and rigid.
How do we do that?
How do we go from living in a brain that has been functioning at zero for years and expect it to start to comprehend anything different?
While we still have brains so disordered that they can only work in black and white, how do we ever expect them to start to function in the shades of grey or colour, before they are given sufficient nutrition and rewiring to repair enough to do that?
Well, I think a good way to do that is to completely press the reset button and shoot ourselves from zero to HERO and FAST!
If we are still sick and malnourished, the black and white mindset we have is not going to go anywhere… Therefore, if our brains will only think in black and white, we have to use it to our advantage.
We have been living at one extreme for a long time.
To reset, we go to the other extreme.
Push up the eating to a level that is so high, people look on with horror when they see or know that is how much we are eating (good if they are shocked – that is the kind of eating that will get us well!!).**
And while eating enough for an army of hungry soldiers, we become so sloth like in our movement that even a sloth would be jealous.
Doing this – although it is terrifying, it is not as terrifying as you might think and with a black and white mindset, it will probably be the only kind of approach you can start to really understand (I know it was for me at the start).
To reprogram our brains and provide enough nourishment that they have a chance to rewire the entire disordered network of thought patterns that have been the norm for so long, can take pushing ourselves from one extreme in the illness to the opposite end of the spectrum.
And to fully repair and heal the brain and body, allowing complete renourishment and for the old neural networks of the eating disorder to be shut down in their entirety, we need to stay at hero level of eating and resting for quite some time, until doing so creates no fear and the black and white thinking is now naturally technicolored!
Let’s face it though, if we are truly honest with ourselves, let alone to anyone around us, most all of us really and truly want to do after so many years of hunger and a relentlessly driven life, is sit and rest and eat and not move until we are fixed!
So to get recovered, why not go from zero to HERO in one jump and stay there until that is the new norm… for as long as it takes to completely obliterate the illness from your brain…?
As you do, slowly the brain does learn that there are shades of grey and even wonderful colours in life that can be experimented with and food and movement does not have to be black and white forever more.
**word of caution… if you are eating very restricted amounts currently and/or at risk of refeeding syndrome then ensure you are safe medically before going mad!!
Edited To Add –
People have approached me since I first posted this, saying that hey are not at ‘zero’ now and therefore feel they cannot justify, jetting to ‘hero’ status. My response is that this is zero… There is no subjective measure of what zero might be for any one of us but if you are stuck in an eating disorder, failing to make meaningful progress from where you are (even if that is not as low a weight as you once were or some behaviours are better), you are effectively still at base zero in the here and now and can use this as a platform to jet to the hero level!