Fear is the biggest obstacle in recovery for most of us. Most commonly, fear of weight gain. For many of us, fear of our unsuppressed bodyweight is what keeps us circling through actions that are intended to suppress weight gain. Fear of change also factors in and keeps us taking actions that we know are not good for us.
So how to deal with the fear? That’s a bloody good question.
What worked for me, was learning that to participate in the fear that my brain was suggesting was a choice. It didn’t feel like a choice, but it was a choice. Once I understood that, I was able to start working on my ability to actually execute free will and choose whether or not I was going to allow the fear to dictate my actions to me.
It sounds so simple when I write it. It wasn’t. It didn’t happen overnight. But it did happen.
The thing is, when I realized that participating in any emotion that my brain suggests is a choice, I felt … a whole lot of pressure. It was up to me. This was on me. It was up to me not to allow myself to freak out.
So I had to work out the balance of putting enough pressure on myself that did what I had to do, but not expect myself to be perfect. Because I am not perfect and my recovery was far from perfect. Perfection is not the goal here, learning is. There is a whole load of information in failure, remember that.
Here are some other things that helped me not choose fear:
Here’s a funny story. I hated being underweight. I hated the attention it brought me — being taunted by schoolkids in the street, being asked by complete strangers why I was so thin etc — but I was still terrified of weight gain. Illogical, yes. That’s anorexia for you.
If ever asked, I would tell people I was “trying” to gain weight.
That was a lie. I wasn’t trying at all. There is no “try” with something like weight gain. If you eat enough food and rest enough, it will happen. Your body will achieve it’s natural, optimal, healthy, bodyweight if you eat enough and rest enough. Because that is what your body wants to do.
The reality was, that I was not gaining weight because I was not eating enough. And I would argue that I ate a lot, and that I didn’t not eat. That was true, I didn’t “not” eat. But it was also true that I didn’t eat as much as I really wanted to. That I was restricting. And it is also true that I over-exercised. It was undoubtedly true that regardless of how much I felt I was eating, it simply wasn’t enough. And deep down I knew it.
So with that knowledge, you can see that I wasn’t really “trying” at all.
When I committed to weight gain. When I started to eat colossal amounts of food without compensating via exercise, I achieved weight gain no problem. I was successful in finding my natural bodyweight pretty bloody quick. (And no, my fears of continuing to want to eat colossal amounts of food until I ate myself to death were not realized in the process, because much to my surprise, my body had no agenda to self-destruct. Who would have thought!)
Committing to weight gain, also helped me stay out of fear of weight gain. Whenever fear or weight gain piped up “You’ll gain weight if you keep eating,” I would answer it with “that’s the fucking point you moron.”
(Hopefully your own internal dialogue is less insulting than mine, but that worked for me. )
Ha, yeah really. Understanding committing to change was a very long journey for me.
Oh, don’t you know? You have to change if you want to not have an eating disorder any more.
Yes, it’s this funny thing where if you keep doing the things that you are doing — restricting, exercising, rules, rituals, weird shit like that — that you will … keep doing the things that you are doing.
I had to change. I had to stop doing the things that I no longer wanted to do. I had to start doing the things that I was not currently doing (namely eating unrestricted, resting, and stopping all the weird shit).
If you don’t want to have an eating disorder, you have to stop acting as if you have an eating disorder. You have to change.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work the other way around. You don’t magically wake up one day and not have an eating disorder and still get to act as if you have one. If you are behaving as if you have an eating disorder, you will continue to have one. Doesn’t matter how much help you have. Doesn’t matter if you are in the most expensive and swanky treatment centre in the world. Doesn’t matter if you have a therapist who is the bomb, or a really cute recovery kitten. If you still act on eating disorder behaviours, you won’t recover. I can promise you that much.
HOW? How do I change? That’s the burning question.
You shut your brain down and just fucking do it. That’s the infuriating answer. You just fucking do it. And you can, if you develop the ability to ignore your fear — which is also something you can do. Really.
Allow it to be easy
This is the part that is really scary. Eating more food is easy. It’s actually enjoyable.
Resting is wonderful.
Not acting on your eating disorder compulsions is empowering and feels like freedom.
All these things are true only if you can work out how to not jump into the ditch of fear. If you jump into the ditch of fear, eating will be terrifying, resting will be torture, and not acting on eating disorder compulsions will generate anxiety.
I learned this one the hard way. I also learned that the emotions of guilt, shame, disgust, and fear would always be there waiting for me to jump into them. They were always right there, like a ditch at the side of the road. The trick, or the skill, was to not allow myself to jump into them.
If you jump into the ditch of fear, eating and resting will be the most anxiety-provoking process you ever experienced. You won’t be able to handle it. It will chew you up and spit you out. It will control you.
If you work out how to stay out of the ditch, you can stay calm and enjoy it.
In the ditch = sympathetic nervous system.
Out of the ditch = parasympathetic nervous system.
For recovery (and most things other than running away from bears) you want to be in your parasympathetic nervous system.
The ability to stay out of the ditch (and in your parasympathetic nervous system) will rely almost entirely on your commitment to your unsuppressed bodyweight. Because, if you are not committed to your unsuppressed bodyweight, you will always be fearful of it, and the fear ditch will rise up and get you. If you can commit to your unsuppressed bodyweight, it isn’t like the fear of weight gain magically goes away — it will stay there right next to you — but your ability to look past and not into the fear will be greater. Committing to your unsuppressed bodyweight, whatever that may be, really is crucial if you don’t want fear of weight gain to control you.
I am not saying the fear goes away. It does eventually but not for a while. What I am saying, is that you learn how to walk side-by-side with the fear, rather than inside of the fear.
If you commit to recovery, it is going to happen, right? So your choices are:
- Do recovery and jump into the fear and be a ball of anxiety for the whole process, or:
- Do recovery, commit to your unsuppressed bodyweight — un-con-fucking-ditionally — and decide to allow yourself to the process.
I chose the latter, and I worked out how to control my fear rather than have it control me (eventually). I hope you do too. You can, if you choose to.