Have you ever tried to “just stop” starving, bingeing or purging “cold turkey” out of frustration and despair? Here are some of the things people say to themselves when their eating disorder gets really bad:
“This is the last time I’m going to make myself throw up”
“I’m starting my diet today”
“From this day on, I’m not eating any more white sugar, carbs or other BAD foods”
“I’m going to mark off the days on my calendar that I don’t throw up, until I stop completely”
I’m sure it is extremely distressing to you not to be able to control your bingeing and/or purging or restricting when you’re doing pretty well in the other areas of your life. Although your desire to stop is very healthy, when you try to go “cold turkey” with your eating disorder behaviors you are actually depriving yourself of the behaviors that soothe you when you are under the MOST stress.
Your eating disorder is like a raft
This is how I explain it to my clients: Imagine you are floating on a large wooden raft in the middle of an immense ocean. There is no land in sight, and you’ve been on the raft for days. If someone said to you, “Hey, jump off that raft, push it away, and swim,” would you do it?
Of course you wouldn’t, because if you can’t see the land, then you’re going to hold on to the only thing keeping you afloat. If you jump, you fear and know that you will drown.
Your eating disorder is the raft. It is what you hold onto and is the only activity that truly provides relief (although temporary) when you are under extreme stress. And that is why going cold turkey NEVER works. You will always swim back to the raft and hold on… until you can see the land. The eating disorder is your will to survive.
This is why when my clients enter therapy to recover from an eating disorder, I tell them up front that the eating disordered behaviors are the LAST to go, not the first. It is my job to help them see the land, believe they can get there, and then to finally let go of the raft. Giving up an eating disorder is scary. Even though there are a lot of problems associated with bingeing, purging, restricting, and/ or compulsively overeating, these behaviors all help you feel comforted and safe.
The key to getting better is to create and regularly use a list of alternative comforts that better assist you in dealing with the stress and pain in your life. If you didn't have such a list or guidance and support in learning how to use it, why would you ever think of giving up an eating disorder?
How to let go of your raft
Remember that the first step in being able to let go of the raft – your eating disorder – is to truly know and understand that it is keeping you afloat in life. You have to change the way you see your eating disorder, that it is really your friend, not your enemy.
There are so many people who live a secret life, and sometimes a secret lifetime, battling an eating disorder. The physical, emotional and spiritual problems that manifest with eating disorders are so powerful and all-encompassing that it can be easy to believe that these are the primary symptoms that must be overcome.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. If you have spent any time reading books on eating disorder recovery, you know that an eating disorder is really an all-powerful coping mechanism that soothes enormous amounts of underlying stress. If you think back on when you first developed your eating disorder (it's often earlier than you first guess), it is almost certain that there was an accompanying stressful event(s) that occurred during that time period.
What do you think are YOUR underlying stressors and/or traumas that first triggered your eating disordered behaviors? It is only when you identify these and receive proper support to grieve, grow and heal that you will be able to let go of your eating disorder for good.
What my clients say
Here are a few comments from former clients of mine when they were asked this question:
“Good question. I can’t remember life without ED, so it’s hard to even start to think about what caused it. And when you can’t shut ED up enough to hear yourself it makes it harder to dig through the muck to find the underlying cause. It’s the most amazing (and most inherently flawed) coping mechanism out there. Life with ED is life on auto pilot. I don’t have to feel anything or deal with anything – ED does it all.”
“What’s scares me about recovery from an eating disorder is that all this other stuff is coming out…it’s like the eating disorder kept me from doing all this stuff that would hurt me and others…and now in addition to focusing on recovering from an eating disorder, I have to make sure that I don’t slip up on anything else…it’s a constant struggle.”
If you’d like to read more about the raft and how to achieve full recovery from an eating disorder, you can download my book called 5 Simple Steps to be Eating Disorder Free here. And remember, you need coaching and guidance from qualified professionals to achieve full and lasting recovery. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help and walk into that first counseling appointment. If you would like to test the waters before jumping in, you can set up a free and confidential 15 minute discovery call with us to discuss your personal situation and see if treatment with us is a good fit.