This post is part of a series about Complete Recovery on our blog. In this article we are exploring the first and most fundamental step to eating disorder recovery.
This week I want to briefly share with you a concept that is fundamental to you never again feeling at all inclined to harm yourself with restricting, overeating or purging, or in any other way for that matter. In fact, until you understand fully the connection I’m about to share with you, you will absolutely continue to struggle with the use of food to cope, with procrastination, with negative self-talk, bad body thoughts, and any others of the coping strategies that you commonly use over the course of a day.
The concept you need to know is that, however it happened, you currently have a very harmful association in your body/mind between:
- The naturally and appropriately occurring sensation of anxiety that every human being on the planet has when needs are not being met;
- The automatic default to a defeating story (usually on an unconscious level – just barely a whisper, that is, until you start to listen for it) that we call “learned helplessness” and that sounds like: I can’t; It’s too hard; It’s too much; I’m not capable; I’m not allowed; Others will get mad…..Something I can’t handle is going to happen….
- The immediate and unconscious agreement/acceptance of that story of “Whatever is going on, I can’t do anything to create a successful outcome, there’s no point in trying.” (Accompanied by a sinking, stuck feeling and an increase in your sensation of anxiety).
- The immediate default into thoughts and actions that pertain to getting access to your coping strategy and the actual use of it to distract yourself or distance yourself from the triggering event/thought.
Remember, a coping strategy is any thought, feeling, or behaviour that allows you to remain in an uncomfortable situation without being aware of how uncomfortable you are. And the only reason anyone needs to remain in an uncomfortable situation is because they’ve told themselves they can’t do anything about it and/or that they’re not allowed or deserving of having what they need in order to rectify the situation. (In other words, we only ever need to numb out with restriction or overeating or purging or drinking, or drugs, or shopping etc., because we’ve bought into the learned helplessness mindset that there’s nothing we can do to resolve whatever is making us feel unsettled so we have to just tune ourselves out to it and hope it takes care of itself with a minimum of damage.)
Now who on earth wouldn’t feel increasingly anxious when their approach to the world is to tune out automatically to the natural and appropriate signal from within (I call it the niggle) that something isn’t meeting their needs?
Do you just bury your head and hope for the best because you’ve told yourself there’s nothing you can do?
Your life is out of control when you live from this mindset. You’re putting your happiness and joy and peace and fulfillment in the hands of everyone you come into contact with, which, inadvertently, is the reason that those who use food to cope also often use the coping strategy of isolation and avoidance. It’s easier to not have to deal with people if you don’t trust yourself to take care of yourself when you feel the niggle arise.
This cycle of a need arising in your thoughts (meaning you could just be thinking of past or future events where needs may not have been, or might not be met) or in your life in reality and your automatic default into the “it’s too much, let’s check out” story, followed by the thoughts and actions of using your coping strategies is the mechanism that keeps you stuck using harmful coping strategies and feeling insecure and anxious and depressed and stuck and unfulfilled. It is the issue.
And it has a very simple solution. But….you have to learn how to get around your brain’s well-worn path to learned helplessness first, otherwise, despite your good intentions you’ll just wake up tomorrow and realize that you did the same old same old, rather than the new, life-enhancing approach that you intended.
For this week I want to encourage you to stop at least twice a day and just ask yourself:
“Am I feeling at all unsettled (or thinking of using my coping strategy or actually using it right now?)”
“What might be triggering that feeling or the need to check out?”
“What am I telling myself about that situation or about me?”
Make some notes. Write down your answers – especially to the last question – so that you can begin to see the phrases and statements that you default to when you feel anxious or unsettled; your own list of learned helplessness statements.
It is key that you begin to recognize this association so that you can begin to catch it in action and change it.
The establishment of a new approach to life is quite speedy and simple really. It’s the removal of the old that can take time, and not because it’s so hard in reality but because you’re so accustomed to just buying into the “I can’t” story that you don’t even stay tuned to say, “Is that really true? Maybe there is a solution…”
My role in your lives is to get you from your current, harmful approach to life, to a truly fulfilling, balanced approach asap. Your role is to just take one small step and begin to prove to yourself that you can create the life of your dreams.
So, for this week, ask yourself those questions. Do your best to expose the old learned helplessness in your head.
Next week, we’ll add the next piece so you can begin to see yourself moving forward.
And always remember, your anxiety is there for a reason. It’s not good or bad. It just is. And the sooner you begin to see it as a messenger from within about needs that aren’t being met and get tools to respond accordingly, the sooner you’ll never ever again think of using food to cope and the sooner you really begin to live.
Whether you prefer one-on-one counselling (in-person, by phone, or email), our intensive and transformative workshops, the self-help approach with the book, or our Food is Not the Problem Online Membership Program, take action today to have a stress-free relationship with food. Sign up for our free newsletter today (see the left top side of your screen). Newsletter subscribers receive exclusive product discounts and are first in line to get on all the latest new at CEDRIC.
© Michelle Morand, 2010