These recovery commitments posts are outlining some of the most common reasons that people in recovery get anxious and stressed and suggesting some simplifications for those moments.
I believe that one of the fundamental reasons that we feel stressed in recovery is because we forget that we are meant to be pissing our eating disorder brain off! I will be looking at ways to help you keep your focus when your eating disorder is screaming at you.
I’ve covered committing to not suppressing your bodyweight and unrestricted eating in the last two blogs. The third major recovery commitment as I see it doesn’t apply as equally to everyone. Some of us have a much higher OCD component to our eating disorders than others do. Some of us struggle incredibly with excessive movement while for others that element isn’t nearly as strong as the restriction component is. Therefore, for some of you reading this, this third commitment will be of incredible importance, and for others, it is merely a consideration. You know you. You know your eating disorder. You know if complusive movement, rules and rituals are controlling you or not. You get to decide how important this third commitment is to your recovery success.
Exercise, lower-level movement, cleaning, walking, standing … I have covered these all in great detail in my book. Don’t spend too long analyzing whether or not this stuff is an issue for you or not. Unless you can immediately answer “No, I don’t have any complusive movement urges at all” … then you can assume that this is a problem and one that you need to face.
I take a very biological approach to eating disorders and see them as adaptions to perceived food scarcity in the environment. The urge to move is not only an attempt to negate calories eaten, despite the fact that for many of us that thought feels like a primary motivator. It’s deeper than that. Your brain is directing you to eat very little and move a lot in order to escape perceived famine and for this reason, for many of us, not moving doesn’t feel like an option.
I know how strong it feels, that urge to move, but not moving is an option. And you absolutely have to find the resolve, determination, and strength to execute that option if you want to fully recover.
You see, after years of complusive movement, your brain now thinks that you need to do these movement rituals in order to survive. The reason your brain thinks this is because you have taught it this. You have taught it this by doing these compulsive movements … rather a catch-22.
The good news is that your brain is very smart, and it learns. If you stop with the complusive movement AND continue to eat without restriction, then your brain will learn that, no, you do not need to move in order to eat. The hard part is hanging in there with this commitment until your brain learns this. Hence why I call it cold turkey. Hence why, you absolutely have to commit or it is not going to fucking happen.
If you go into stopping complusive movement with “I’ll try,” you already failed. It won’t happen. Your brain will give you a million and one reasons why you should still go and work out, or do that walk you always do, or not sit down. When you said “I’ll try” you already gave in. Committing to recovery is not about trying to do or not do the things you need to do. It is about doing them. There is no reason and no excuse for going and working out when you know that doing so directly compromises your recovery. There is no reason and no excuse to stand rather than sit down. There is no reason and no excuse to do that extra walk that you know is complusive. There is no “try” here. There is nothing about not participating in complusive behaviour that isn’t under your control. Your eating disorder can’t make you pull your trainers on and go for a walk without your consent. Every time you participate in a compulsion you made a choice to do so. So don’t bother saying “I’ll try,” because it doesn’t fucking work. I would know, I was “trying” to not go running every day for years.
Whatever it is — running, walking, standing, cleaning — commit to doing it. Once you do that, it is done.
Rules and rituals
Same deal as above. Your brain started to make rules to make restriction easier and over time these turned into habits, or OCD-like behaviours that you don’t even remember why you have to do them anymore, you just do.
Stop. All that following these rules and playing out your rituals does is strengthen the eating disorder neural network that you are supposed to be rewiring. The only way you will teach your brain that you don’t have to do these things is by not doing them.
You can’t teach your brain that it is okay to eat more than XXXX calories if you don’t ever eat over XXXX calories. You can’t teach your brain that it is okay to take the elevator if you continue to walk the stairs. You can’t teach your brain that it is safe to eat different foods for breakfast if you never eat different foods for breakfast. Your brain and your neural pathways are a product of what you put into it. You won’t escape the box of fear you are in if you keep doing the actions that created the fear in the first place.
This is neural rewiring. Neural rewiring is an important component of full recovery.
Full recovery = Nutritional Rehabilitation + Neural Rewiring.
When you commit to stopping all the compulsions, rules, and rituals, you commit to rewiring your brain. When you are consistently acting against your compulsions, rules, and rituals, you are building your future and securing your freedom.