It’s been three years since I made the choice to stop bullying my body and restricting my food, but the past two days have felt like a tsunami of painful emotions. I want to lie in bed and shut the world out. I want to cry. But mostly, I want to not eat. Why, after all these years, is that trigger back and clear as day? How do I keep from leaning on old habits from the eating disorder of my past?
Old Habits Die Hard
I have a bunch of favorite eating disorder recovery themed quotes. Don’t believe me? Just check out my Instagram. But I think one of the best is “Don’t be alarmed when your ED voice seems loud, things often scream when they’re being killed.” A tad graphic? Yeah. But I love it because it’s one of those simple ideas that allowed me to push back against the unhealthy behaviors that my eating disorder wanted me to engage in, and push hard.
And if you’ve ever had to push back against those voices or temptations (AKA everyone who has experienced recovery) then you know that it feels uncomfortable and downright painful at times. Whether it’s restricting, binging, or negative body talk that you’re fighting against, you know that it’s an uphill battle. But if you’ve been committed to recovery for some time now, you also know that every time you challenge those triggers, the next time it gets a little easier to resist.
Recovery isn’t easy, but the more you refuse to continue the pattern of the eating disorder, the easier it gets to make choices that are in the interest of your happiness – not ED’s. So why then, if the behaviors and urges to restrict or binge have been at bay and under control for so long, do they resurface more frightening and tempting than ever when you’re upset? And more importantly, what can you do to stay grounded in recovery?
Control is the 7 letter word that without which, there would be no eating disorders. And while there is much debate over what exactly causes an eating disorder (genetics, media influence, etc) most experts agree that control plays a crucial role in maintaining one. For example, in my detailed recovery story I share how moving away from home for college – completely changing my environment and my ‘safe’ routine – was the catalyst that allowed my “health-conscious” (read: diet culture influenced) interest to morph into a dangerous pattern of restriction and weight loss. I didn’t know anyone in this new environment nor did I know how to be me there either. There were far too many unknown variable to try and manipulate so I went with something I knew I could control – my eating habits.
Maybe your struggle for control was similar, due to a rapid change in your environment and routine. Or maybe it was different: the death of a loved one, a painful breakup, even a new promotion. Maybe you don’t even know what your trigger was, and that’s okay. Always protect your right to heal and understand at your own pace. But the fact remains that control played a significant role in the development of your eating disorders and the behaviors that go along with it. Which brings us to why, even after X amount of time you still feel ED urges coming in hot during certain situations
Part of recovery means taking the initiative to challenge your eating disorder in multiple different ways. So you read up on coping with weight gain, practice eating more at each snack and meal, and so on and so forth. And that’s all good and fine when you’re in a motivated mindset to do so. But what about on the day you get a call you dreamed you never would. What happens when you lose your job or find out your partner has been unfaithful. The desire for control creeps back in, and that eating disorder you’ve been working so hard to eradicate starts to rear its ugly head. It says:
Remember me?! We used to cope with stress and pain together! We can do it again. Just binge. Go purge. Just restrict. I can help you deal with this news.
And if you’re not careful, you find yourself in the midst of a relapse. I’ve been there – a few times. And while a relapse is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of (because as long as you’re fighting, you’re winning) I know you’d rather avoid it. I don’t blame you. But first, understand that these thoughts are popping up for two key reasons:
- A natural reaction to stress or emotional turmoil is to try and fix the problem. Fixing often becomes synonymous with controlling, and so you search for control of the situation.
- Your eating disorder reminds you that in the past, you used behavior X to help you feel in control of a situation. Remember, old habits die hard.
Here’s The Good News
I know I offered you a solution in the title of this post. It’s not just “Why You Lean on Your Eating Disorder” but also “and how to stop” for a reason. The good news? It’s easier than you think. Being aware is 90% of the solution. Once you understand what is causing these triggers and behaviors to resurface, you take away their power to scare you. I’m not really a sporty gal, but I’ve heard the best offense is a good defense. The same holds true here. When you start to feel your world getting unsteady or when you receive some bad news or a wrench in your plan, you can anticipate the ED-related feelings before they occur.
And when you’re faced with that temptation to skip breakfast, over-exercise, or whatever it is, you now have the advantage of being able to stop and ask yourself, Hold on. What’s really going on here? Why do I have the urge to do X? Is it because I’m feeling unstable about recent events? And the next part, that other 10%, it’s up to you.
The Missing 10%
Now it’s time to show your strength. You’ve undermined the eating disorder’s main source of ammo: fear. You met it with understanding. You looked at control in the face, and said no, I won’t use this as my coping mechanism anymore. So what’s left to do? Continue practicing behaviors that your recovery requires. Stay true to the process of healing and keep challenging what is difficult. Use any one of the 5 better coping mechanisms listed in this mini eBook Stress making you lose your appetite? Remind yourself why you need to eat. Emotional news have you craving a binge? Give yourself permission to eat, then call up a friend instead of continuing until you’re in pain. You have already put in the hard work, this is where you show it.
I get it, our eating disorders gave us a crutch. A way to numb the pain. It’s tempting to revert back to those behaviors. But it’s not how to grow and heal. It’s not how you find that freedom and inner peace. I know you can do this.
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