Whenever we make changes in our lives, especially when we’re working on recovering from an eating disorder, it can bring up a lot of fear. While fear is not a pleasant emotion, it can be a very good thing! It’s what makes us avoid things that can be harmful to us.
But fear can also be tricky thing. Because there are times when we are afraid of things that aren’t actually dangerous to us, though they might FEEL very dangerous. Eating disorders thrive on fear and that can make recovery incredibly challenging. What’s important to remember is that fear does not always mean something is unsafe (e.g. it will physical harm you). Sometimes it just means that thing is really scary. In other words, when you’re feeling like you can’t move forward because of fear, ask yourself if what you’re needing to do is actually unsafe or just scary.
Because here’s the truth bomb. Are you ready for this?…
What feels unsafe in recovery is actually just scary. What feels safe—staying in your eating disorder—is what’s actually unsafe. Recovery will not kill you, but your eating disorder might. And even if doesn’t come to that, it absolutely, without a doubt is harming your physical and mental health.
Here’s an exercise to try. Take a piece of paper and draw two lines on it so that it creates 3 columns. In the first column, make a list of things in recovery that are scary for you. Here’s a list of some common things to use as a starting point.
- Eating restricted foods
- Eating more calories
- Not purging
- Not exercising as much (or at all)
- Feeling full
- Not restricting after a binge
- Having a meal plan / not being in total control of foods
- Body / weight changes
Then, make the headers in the last two columns, “Scary” and “Unsafe”, respectively. Once you have your list and columns, go through each item and place a check in either the scary or unsafe column according to which you think it is. Once you’re done, if you have any things checked as “unsafe,” process about that with your therapist or dietitian.
Before I wrap up, I want to validate how hard it is to do things that are scary, even if you know logically that they’re not really dangerous. This exercise won’t magically make recovery easy (I wish!), but it can help you get unstuck. Hopefully, it helps you recognize that even though your eating disorder voice might be trying to protect you, it’s misguided and is actually hurting you.
Recovery is all about learning to separate from the eating disorder voice, and learning to hear and trust your healthy-self voice. Even if you don’t know what that voice sounds like yet, it’s there, I promise. It can just take some time to find it, so don’t give up!
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC-S, founder of Nourished Soul Center for Healing and @foodfreedomtherapist on Instagram. We offer therapy and nutrition counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other food issues. As anti-diet professionals, we are passionate about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size philosophies. Contact us here to schedule a therapy or nutrition appointment.