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There’s a process that goes on in recovery that’s more subtle than overt and which is full of greater complexity than most dysregulated eaters can imagine. I know, as I was one of them. One barrier to this reality is a major trait of troubled eaters: all or nothing thinking. More often than not, clients come to me with the stated or unstated wish or belief that if they just try hard enough, they’ll become “normal” eaters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Another aspect of misperception is that it’s very hard to imagine being any different than we are. We can fantasize about it, but we can’t deep down have the experience of what we’re not yet.
Which leads me to point out the gradual transformation that happens in healing and recovery. Initially, people try out different skills and inevitably have difficulty with them. They forget to practice them; when they remember, they feel weird and unfamiliar; they do them sometimes but not others, and they focus more on what they’re not doing or doing wrong than on what they’ve accomplished and done right.
Then somewhere all the way, with persistence, people improve at skills. They say no to mindless eating more often, they’re kinder to themselves, they stop seeing themselves as victims and slowly start feeling their oats, or they quit thinking of food in “good” or “bad” terms and start making peace with the enemy—not always, as they wish, but enough times that they can begin to see the dim light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Enough that they can start to visualize what lies ahead and, importantly, that they can accomplish what they previously thought was impossible.
Their eating skills become good enough—this is the key phrase—that they do better around food. They feel proud of their successes. They’re less focused on and critical of their mistakes which helps them sustain motivation. Life becomes easier because they’re managing it better. They have fewer problems which lead to less stress and the need to regulate their emotions with food. They can see the shape of life to come and no longer need to use blind hope and faith to believe they’ll get there. Their new self doesn’t seem quite as unfamiliar as it did when they began their transformation process.
Some people are disappointed when they come to treatment because they only want to focus on eating. I tell them right off the bat that they will need to expand their goals and change attitudes and beliefs if they hope to reform their relationship with food. Most do. Believe me when I say that eating disorder recovery—full recovery—promises a better life for you in ways you can’t even imagine. It’s waiting for you, as you move toward it.
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