Sustaining Eating Disorder Recovery — Conscious to Unconscious Competence 3

Last week I wrote about unconscious incompetence moving to conscious incompetence. Where that places you is knowing what you’re not great at. This week we’ll look into the next stages of eating disorder recovery so far as this model of competence goes. Check out last weeks post before you read this one please, otherwise you’ll be utterly lost!

So, I got to the point where at least I knew I was not good at eating or knowing to when or how much to eat. I was consciously incompetent, which is way better and easier to deal with than being unconsciously incompetent. But it’s by no means the end of the story.

What next?

Next one has to take action to become competent. In my eating disorder recovery this involved learning or relearning everything I thought I knew around food, exercise, and may other aspects of life. This relearning also involves other people — something that many of us adult eating disorder sufferers are resistant to for one reason or another. You may know what you need to do, but you have to make a concerted and conscious effort in order to do it.

I knew that I had to eat more, and eat regularly, but I had to devise a plan in order to make it happen. I’ll tell you that the space in-between conscious incompetence and conscious competence for me was far too long. I didn’t act fast enough to put plans, people, and protocols in place to help me relearn how to eat. A lot of the reason that I write about all this and make up recovery plans now is so that you don’t make that same mistake. The situation of conscious incompetence can go on for years if you let it. Don’t let it.

How does one move into Unconscious Competence?


Practice. Eating disorder recovery is a skill like any other skill. It only becomes easy when you have done it enough times that you don’t have to think about it any more. This takes years and you’ll not wake up one day and suddenly know that you are unconsciously competent. You might however, realise after a meal one day that you ate fried chicken for lunch without feeling stressed, or anxious, or anything other than hungry really. And you might notice that you ate fried chicken for no other reason than you were hungry and it was there and it tastes yummy.

For someone with an eating disorder, eating for the joy of taste is something to aspire to. Not because you have to, but because you want to.

I think that with most of my eating-related problems I have reached a stage of unconscious competence having been fully recovered for over five years. I feel hunger often and eat often and plentifully. I never skip a meal, and this is no longer because I have a rule that I cannot skip, but because I am too hungry most of the time and enjoy my food to much to want to ever skip a meal again.

However, there are still some things I know I am not able to be unconsciously competent about yet. I still have to consciously make sure that I eat a wide variety of foods, otherwise I default to eating the same thing for breakfast for weeks or months on end. I have to consciously vary my meals.

I also have to consciously limit the amount of exercise I do so that I don’t fall into the trap of doing too much. Having said that, this adobe-spark-6week I didn’t go to the gym once even through I allow myself to go a maximum of 3 times per week (No cardio, only weights and core exercises and 45 mins max each time FYI). I didn’t go this week simply because I woke up then decided to roll over and get an extra hour of sleep — which has been delicious. The fact that I can do that now and not feel an ounce of guilt is wonderful for me.

All I feel about skipping the gym for a bit more shuteye is warm and fuzzy as I snuggled with hubby. Opposite of feeling guilty about that I feel accomplished. A couple of years ago I would have made it to my allowed gym session come hell or high water. It really is wonderful to allow my body to get what it needs rather than what society prescribes. Maybe that means I am closer to unconscious competence in terms of exercise than I thought I was?

Either way, that maximum weekly gym time rule is staying in place. There is no harm in having rules that make sure I am sustaining eating disorder recovery, is there?

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.

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3 thoughts on “Sustaining Eating Disorder Recovery — Conscious to Unconscious Competence

  • Patsy

    Hi Tabitha

    I’m encouraged by your lovely attitude and philosophies on all things recovery. I want to move into that state of unconscious competence, and seem to flit into a rage of unconscious incompetence and and conscious competence. Mainly around body acceptance and the rapid weight gain which is alarmingly brutal. I haven’t weighed or been this size since I was pregnant 18 years ago!!!!

    On the up side, (no pun….) you made me smile that you chose a warm fuzzy hubby cuddle instead of a pounding at the gym. My kids and husband are delighted and relieved that I’m now in recovery. I was looking at some family photos taken in Thailand at the height of my anorexia. I hadn’t seen them before and I was shocked, not so much at my emaciation, but the contrast of my boys all so healthy and full of life surrounding this carcass of a mother, spiritually drained and completely unconscious of the pain and distress that I was causing. So when I moan and whine about the size of my body, I am going to tell my illness to fuck off and appreciate everything I have in my life today. I too had a lovely fuzzy husband cuddle this morning, it was beautiful. Patsy x

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Patsy I know exactly what you mean about looking back at photos. When I look back I just cannot believe that I could not see how sick I looked. It’s not just the low weight, but the color of my skin and the tone of … everything really. Like you say, a carcass of a person.

      Sometimes I think that looking at those photos in the later stages of recovery is a good thing. It’s motivating. I am so happy that you are where you are now. Some days I look at my hubby and feel so much gratitude for him sticking with me through the nightmare of anorexia recovery. I know that it means the world to him too that I can snuggle up to him rather than hit the gym.

      • Adult anon

        I feel relieved at Patsy saying she flirts between the two. I feel relieved you say you still need to be aware of eating a range of foods and limit exercise. I am in the weight restoration phase and have been stressing myself out thinking I have been getting mentally stronger and gaining a little but still not enough. But a recent minimum weekly gain has made me think of myself as better and I know that’s rubbish. I have been struggling with competence when I have those periods where I still think if others see me eating they’ll be thinking I’m better. I obviously am eating and never skipping meals but being rigid still with fighting the thoughts that I need to let go completely. I too have looked at photos and when I see I am not so pale as I was or I think I’m not, I start to talk myself into thinking all is ok. How long did it take, patsy, for your struggles to recovery, as in your situation like Tabithas, I feel I can relate to the way it drags.