Today I have spent the whole afternoon and evening wrapped under a blanket, on my sofa with some reading, TV and music… And it has felt incredible. Perhaps, it has felt even more incredible because not so long ago, when I was still deep in the eating disorder that I experienced for over a decade, I would never allow myself to rest like this. Even if ill or injured, my brain would create such intense feelings of wrong doing, guilt and fear at the thought of resting, that I felt powerless to listen to my poor body screaming at me to stop and hibernate.
Instead, each day I would push myself to keep going until late at night when I would eventually crawl into bed, weary of all that my life had become.
Those years were miserable and oh so very unnecessary. I did not have to live like that then and if you live in such a way today – not allowing yourself to rest, despite desperately wanting and needing to, then this post is for you… to know that life can be different.
There should be no guilt for resting because it is a basic human need and even more so when it is winter and the days are dark and cold, we all need some hibernation time!
I recognise though that it is not just people with eating disorders who struggle with guilt over resting in this day and age. The pressures to be busy, to rush around, to be seen to be ‘doing’ can be relentless in a society that puts more value on a false impression of productivity, activity and perceived ‘fitness’ than it does on the baseline human values of being able to care for, nurture and connect with one another and ourselves at a much more basic level.
We were never supposed to be constantly rushing around like a hamster on a wheel!
Not only do we not need to live, rushing around like little hamsters on a wheel, ancestrally speaking, we were never supposed to. Our caveman ancestors would not have been out pounding the streets or hunting down the next meal when, in the wintry months, it was cold and dark outside. Then they would be forced to take the delicious produce they did have and hunker down for the long nights, letting their bodies rest and their minds wander free.
If we want to be healthy – mentally and physically, we really should remember that our bodies have changed very little since caveman’s day and those basic animal needs they experienced are no different for us today.
Taking time out of our busy lives to hibernate, especially when recovering from an eating disorder or the complicated relationship with our bodies that might have come from diet culture, is not only a nice thing to do…. it is a necessary thing to do.
When we stop, curl up with blankets, hot drinks (ensuring they are beautifully calorific) and warming foods, we nourish our bodies and we allow physical healing to take place.
When we stop the drive to be busy and productive during every waking moment and let ourselves just rest with nothing more demanding on the brain than a trashy novel, some mindless films or good music, we give our minds a chance to recharge. And as we stop the ‘busy brain’ phenomena so commonly seen in the eating disordered individual, our minds have a rare chance to slow down enough to notice and listen to the vital body signals (like hunger and exhaustion) that we usually block out by convincing ourselves that other things are more important.
Giving ourselves the permission to just give in and let go of the need to be ‘doing’ and realise that hibernating is the most generous act of ‘doing’ we could be engaging in right now is not an act of slothfulness, laziness or wrong-doing – no matter what stories your brain tells you.
In fact, when you first practice hibernating, it might not be the pleasurable experience it can become, as if you are currently still overcoming disordered behaviours, compulsions or thoughts, then stopping and resting is likely to be incredibly hard to start with. But, the more you practice it and the more you give yourself the chance to heal, physically and mentally, the easier it will become to hear those signals from your body asking you to rest up, so that in future you will naturally respond, without the extra serving of guilt.
… and in Eating Disorder Recovery, Hibernating is Vital for Healing
It should also be said that when recovering from an eating disorder, exercise or lower level movement compulsions, engaging in unnecessary physical activity should very much be off the agenda.
Therefore, to curl up and hibernate for the winter months (and summer too!!) is an excellent way to disengage from all those disordered and harmful behaviours that keep you trapped in the disordered mindset and instead take the time to allow your brain to learn that the threats it perceives from rest and ‘comfort’ foods are not real… and that hibernating is not only safe, it is actually quite wonderful.
I’m going to invite you then to join me this winter (and if you are in the Southern Hemisphere and in the peak of summer now, you can join in too!) and take every opportunity to grab your comfy pyjamas, blankets, some warming drinks, delicious food, a trashy novel and Netflix and curl up to hibernate for as long as needed, so that when the summer does come around, not only will you be rejuvenated in body and mind… you might just be heading towards a meaningful recovery too.