When you have an eating disorder, your brain is hard-wired in such a way as to instantly pay attention to information and ‘advice’ regarding dieting, weight loss, exercise and all the damaging diet industry and diet culture bullshit that dominates our modern day culture.
These messages are precisely what we need to avoid when we have an eating disorder. To help our brains rewire and make it easier for us to take the very necessary recovery based actions that are largely doing the exact opposite to the things ‘health’ messages tell us we should be doing, we need to find ways to avoid diet culture’s brainwashing B.S.
The human brain has naturally evolved to take much more notice of negative things that it perceives as a threat than to positive ones and this basic survival feature is known as our negativity bias. This was a key survival tool back in the day when it was crucial to immediately notice the looming grizzly bear instead of being distracted by the fact that your kid has just done something cute.
The brain is constantly looking out for dangers, even when we feel relaxed and content. Anything our brain perceives as a threat to our life, it will be hyper hyper alert to and then zoom in on… including messages about how to avoid or stay safe from these perceived dangers.
Today, this bias the brain has towards the negative and things it perceives as threatening is not always very helpful… and definitely not when we have an eating disorder and the brain irrationally perceives food, weight gain and relaxing as life threatening threats.
But when our brain has developed disordered but real fears, messages in our environment that reinforce these fears are going to be picked up on in a millisecond by a brain that notices them on a subconscious level, before our conscious selves have even had a chance to catch up.
The Eating Disorder Brain Is Naturally Biased To Notice Diet Culture Messages
If you have an eating disorder, you will notice and pick up on any messages grounded in diet culture to a much higher degree than others and it is likely that your brain will also interpret the threat aspect from these messages to a greater extent than they were even intended.
It is said by neuroscientists that for every negative experience or message in life that we receive, we need five positive experiences or messages just for the brain to even start to pay attention to the good.
Therefore for every one unhelpful diet culture steeped message your brain picks up on, you need five non-diet culture messages or experiences just to balance out the one negative one and even more than this to tip the brain in a better direction!
With all this going on in our brains, it is little wonder people with eating disorders are affected or ‘triggered’ by so called ‘health’ messages created by a powerful and biased diet culture that prevails our society.
Happily though, you can take action to avoid these messages and instead give your brain better experiences and information. And what is more, if you want to recover and make your recovery a little easier, you need to do this.
How To Counter-Act Diet Culture’s Brain-Washing?
- Avoid negative media and messages that your brain is naturally hyper alert to. Stop following people who are fitness fanatics, who talk about ‘healthy eating’, who want to lose weight or who are giving you unhelpful messages. Get rid of magazines…. they nearly always have unhelpful articles so ditch them for now. Walk away from conversations that involve diet talk or change the subject if you can’t escape it. Turn off the TV or radio when any unhelpful content comes on. I like to think I am not easily affected now by ‘diet culture’ messages found all over our society but I still do all these things to avoid them whenever I can. I just don’t need this BS seeping into my conscious or subconscious mind!
- Next flood yourself in positive messages and experiences. Follow people who are proactive in the health at every size (HAES) community, seek out people who are body positive and people who are strong eating disorder recovery advocates. Flood your social media with posts from these people and organisations… Find TV shows that support diversity and inclusion and read books instead of magazines!!
- When you do notice that your brain has picked up on an unhelpful piece of ‘health’ information, which it will… immediately bring to mind instead information and images that counteract it or seek out in that moment some body positive or HAES materials and keep these in your mind for the next hour or more if you can. By doing so, it is more likely that if your brain does store this ‘diet’ information, it will be linked to helpful and positive antidotal content too.
- Allow your brain to learn through your actions. Eat non-diet foods, avoid gyms, rest and avoid exercise while you fully recover, allow weight gain, use positive recovery focused language when you think and speak, use mantras, find ways to cope with bad body image days, join anti diet groups if that helps and be grateful for all you have in life that is beyond a particular body shape and size.
- Just KNOW that your worth and values and unique awesomeness is not steeped in unhealthy diet culture.
The thing is, it is not your fault that your brain absorbs diet culture messages before you have had a chance to blink but if you want recovery, you HAVE to learn to avoid and counteract them.
Be Aware of The Diet Industry’s Power
Be aware that every time you click on a diet culture message or buy a diet product etc, you are directly or indirectly supporting and contributing to a 72 billion dollar diet industry (in the US alone) which has more terrifying power and influence than anyone realises. Have an awareness of this and let this inform you that messages you see and hear in the media are often biased and inaccurate, no matter who is delivering that message or how authoritative it seems.
Avoid taking things that you see or read at face value. Question ‘facts’, even if they are apparently grounded in ‘science’.
But most of all, if you have a dangerous and life changing eating disorder (and all eating disorders are dangerous and life changing) then just know that the messages from diet culture are really, really not for you and when you notice them, remind yourself of this.
In recovery, it is crucial to find ways to develop antidotes to the negativity bias your brain has that will click onto diet culture’s brainwashing B.S. in an instant. Ultimately to achieve this, you are going to have to FLOOD your brain in positive, non-diet culture, weight neutral, life fantastic information, images and most of all experiences!
I have now trained as a coach and mentor, working with people who are overcoming eating disorders, disordered eating or low body confidence. If you are interested in knowing more about my coaching work, then please take a look at my coaching website: www.hellybarnes.com