In eating disorder recovery communities, the term ‘all in’ has now been used for a few years to describe the eat all you can approach to recovery that many promote and have success with. I have written before about the concept of ‘all in’ on this site but I have never been a big fan of the term and yet I have never been sure why. Recently, I decided to unpick where this discomfort with the term ‘all in’ with eating disorder recovery came from and why I have a love-hate relationship with it.
Just in case you are interested, I thought I would share my thoughts (and these are nothing more than my thoughts and opinions!!).
Where Did The Term ‘All In’ Come From?
Before I start on my reasons for loving / hating the term, ‘all in’ for eating disorders, I will just highlight where the term has come from.
As I understand it, the term ‘all in’ actually started as a result of the work that Nicola Rinaldi has done, including the book she has written, on how to overcome hypothalamic amenorrhoea (or HA). Nicola’s work was not really intended to be related to eating disorders, although many women with HA do have eating disorders or disordered eating. However, through her work with, ‘No Period, Now What?‘, Nicola used the term going ‘all in’ as a method to overcome HA by eating more food than a minimum amount, stopping as much exercise as possible and reducing stress, to allow a woman to regain her periods and fertility.
Due to the strong overlap between HA and eating disorders and as a result of key influencers using the ‘all in’ approach to try to heal their relationship with disordered eating and achieve a much more healthy hormonal balance, the eating disorder community started to notice this method and hence, the ‘all in’ approach for eating disorder recovery was also born.
The reason I am highlighting how the term came about in eating disorder recovery circles, is to ensure you understand that ‘all in’ was not originally intended as an eating disorder recovery method. It was aimed more at women who were healing disordered eating and poor hormonal health and who, in the absence of an eating disorder, did not have the strong fear reaction and more complex emotional responses that people with eating disorders most definitely experience when attempting to eat more and rest.
What’s Wrong With The Term ‘All In’ For Eating Disorder Recovery?
To begin, I will talk about what it is I don’t like about the term, ‘all in’ when it comes to eating disorder recovery.
Firstly, the term is very very black and white. Eating disorder brains are very often incredibly black and white in how they think and using an approach that is the same is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly before the ability for more flexible thinking starts to naturally arise with more nourishment, rewiring and progress in recovery. However, the term also suggests that you are either ‘all in’ or not in recovery at all and that is not entirely helpful.
Where the concept of ‘all in’ can be taken in a very black and white way, ‘all in or not’, bad recovery days and lapses, which in my opinion are part of any natural recovery journey, can immediately leave people feeling that they have ‘failed’ at being ‘all in’ and therefore ‘failed’ at recovery. People in recovery then face feelings of complete defeat and decide to give up on recovery because they ‘can’t do it’, failing to recognising the difficult changes they had made. The concept of ‘all in’, therefore, has to allow space for understanding that lapses in recovery will still happen (don’t aim for those lapses but expect that they will happen because recovery is hard as sh*t) and in fact, the lapses in recovery can be where most learning happens and from which a person can continue to flourish and grow.
I have also noticed that people promoting the ‘all in’ approach to eating disorder recovery can become quite aggressive about promoting it and it gives the impression that there is only one way to do eating disorder recovery. Although, I agree that eating as much as possible and resting fully in an ‘all in’ style is a great route to recovery, it is not a method that suits everyone. There are other ways to recover and people do recover without going ‘all in’ from the start of their recovery or at all. It is important to understand that there are a range of eating disorder recovery methods out there and some people need a range of approaches, depending on their stage of recovery (of which ‘all in’ may be one!).
My other concern about the term ‘all in’ is that although in some ways it is black and white, on the other hand, it is also vague!! ‘All in’ means different things to different people and it is now countless times that I have seen one person working hard in recovery say they are ‘all in’ on social media and others comment to say they are obviously not ‘all in’ because of x, y or z factors.
As I said, the concept ‘all in’ originally came about to help people heal from hypothalamic amenorrhoea and for that there is one recommended approach. Following this, certain influencers with disordered eating but not eating disorders, picked up on the method and decided to eat as much as they wanted in an ‘all in’ style but while still exercising. For eating disorder recovery, you can find a mishmash of these approaches out there.
To me, for eating disorder recovery, ‘all in’ would be eating as much as possible, not restricting, while doing NO exercise or anything else to influence body shape or weight, allowing your body to do what it needs to heal and recover and reach its set point. But there are definitely a range of other interpretations in the eating disorder community, so the term can be vague and therefore unhelpful in relation to eating disorder recovery.
The Good About ‘All In’…
I have written a lot above about why I don’t fully feel comfortable with the term ‘all in’ for eating disorder recovery but I hope that I have also made it clear that I am not completely against the concept.
If a person can use an ‘all in’ eating disorder approach, in terms of eating as much as they possibly can, overcoming restrictions, not exercising or moving any more than absolutely necessary and letting their body heal, then I think that ‘all in’ can be an incredible recovery approach! I agree that this is an approach that will get a person to recovery faster than any other.
However, I would add that the term, ‘all in’, using my definition given above for eating disorder recovery should include a couple of key caveats. This is that lapses do not mean failing at recovery and are part of the process. You lapse, you learn, you swivel and you get back on the horse straight away, without beating yourself up about the fact that you are human, overcoming a deadly illness and so lapses are unfortunately all part of the process.
My other caveat comes from the amount of body building or gym work I have seen that people in recovery seem to do while ‘all in’ now. Manipulating weight and shape through exercise, including weights, is not helpful for eating disorder recovery (mentally or physically)…. I am not going to talk more about this here but see my post on ‘strong not skinny‘ for more on why I believe this has no space in eating disorder recovery!
And, as I said above, recovery does not have to happen by using the ‘all in’ approach and nothing else. ‘All in’ can be a key part of any recovery journey but it might be one method used amongst others, depending on a number of other factors that are impacting the person in recovery at any one time. So just because someone is not ‘all in’ does not mean they are not actively pursuing recovery and they should never be made to feel that is the case.
When all is said and done, ‘all in’ as a term for eating disorder recovery is one that I do have a love-hate relationship with. All I would say is that if you are in eating disorder recovery, do whatever it is that deep down you know is right for you. You do know what that is when you listen to your truth (that tiny voice in your gut!!)…. If you are focused on your recovery and actively pursuing it, then ‘all in’ or not, I believe you will get there.