“Since I already ate one slice of pizza, I might as well finish the whole damn thing.”
“I already screwed up by eating that cookie, so now my whole week is a mess.”
“I’m a failure because I chose to eat that burger. Might as well end my recovery progress now.”
Do any, or all, of these statements sound familiar throughout your recovery? Anorexia not only has a very perfectionistic element to it, but also an “all-or-nothing” thinking pattern. All-or-nothing thinking is also referred to as dichotomous thinking. This thought process revolves around the belief that all things are either viewed as all good or all bad. Anything that feels less than perfect is perceived as a complete failure.
Let me also explain by sharing a personal story.
Towards the end of my recovery, I had a lot of trouble with binging. It only happened a few times, but those few times severely impacted my mental state at the time. I felt more out of control than I had since I relapsed, I felt confused, and I felt frustrated with myself. I was malnourished for so long that I literally lost the ability to intuitively eat, or rely on hunger cues to let me know when to stop eating. My brain was constantly fearful that I would revert back to restriction, so it was attempting to keep my body from returning to starvation mode. I had this thought in my mind that when I binged one day, I might as well keep binging and “mess up” the next day because my progress was already ruined. I couldn’t stop at just one serving of ice cream. It had to be the whole pint. It was either none of it (not even a spoonful), or all of it. There was no in-between when it came to my thought process.
This added to the anxiety I already felt. All or nothing thinking was personally the hardest part of recovery. I was a perfectionist already, and this only made my perfectionistic tendencies increase. I questioned how my friends were able to leave fries behind on their plate at dinner when this wasn’t even an option for me to do. I questioned whether I would ever be “normal” again, and be able to eat in moderation. I kept thinking my weeks of progress could simply “restart” once I screwed up my meal plan and ate something in excess. I thought, “okay. Tomorrow is a new day. I won’t make this same mistake again.” Let’s remember that I said this only happened a handful of times, and yet these experiences made me feel like everything in my life was out of control.
Let me remind you of something: you are NOT out of control because you decided to have a cookie or several cookies. You are not a failure because you decided to have a second helping of pasta for dinner. Your recovery progress is not on hold simply because you ordered the burger instead of the salad. What you ARE is an individual who is fighting for their freedom from anorexia.
It took me a while to realize what helped me the most during these times where I felt out of control. First and foremost, remind yourself over and over again (and 10 more times) that recovery is not meant to be done in black and white or all-or-nothing thinking.
Keep a thought journal
Write down what you are feeling before you are considering finishing the pint of ice cream. And if you decide to, keep a record of your after-thoughts. This will help you in the future when deciding whether or not you want to eat a food in entirety.
Don’t beat yourself up!
Easier said than done, I know. Remind yourself that just because you decided to eat something challenging at breakfast (and all of it), doesn’t mean that you’re forced to continue eating in the same way for the rest of day. Lunch can certainly follow breakfast with something “lighter” or that fits in your “normal” meal plan.
Moderation is key
We’ve all heard this countless times. It holds so much importance when living a life of balance. Allow yourself to eat dessert or a fear food throughout the week in moderation. This will help satisfy cravings and reduce the chance that you’ll find yourself binging later on in the week.
Remind yourself that intake fluctuates
So let’s one day you do decide to eat one more helping for dinner than the day previously. This does not mean that your whole week of “balanced eating” went to shit! You are still balanced, you are still on track. There are certain days that your body naturally just needs more energy, and can handle more calories than other days. For example, I have no shame or guilt in eating more on days that I just weight lifted for an hour. My body is hungry, and I plan to surely feed it what it needs to keep it nourished and strong.
Stop labeling foods as good or bad
Yes, some foods are more nutritionally beneficial than others. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all other foods are deemed “bad” and forbidden. View all foods as a requirement for your body’s optimal functioning. We need to stop viewing food as the enemy and start viewing it as the fuel that it actually is.