It’s not uncommon that an individual living with an ED experiences fear, anxiety, worry, and nervousness with food. And when I say uncommon, I mean it’s common and constant.
That fear, anxiety, worry, and nervousness are REAL. Those feelings are visceral. They are valid.
What they aren’t are reliable. A brain with an eating disorder will set off false alarms constantly.
One time this happened to me was on a family trip to Seaworld. We stopped at the most random diner-vibe restaurant to eat. This wasn’t planned – I had no forewarning nor time to use behaviors that normally would keep me safe (i.e. reviewing menu, compensating, ect ect ect). I remember having a full meltdown. Looking back, I have the utmost compassion for myself in that moment. My entire nervous system was so flooded. I didn’t have the tools or awareness to externalize my experience to the ED, all I knew (aka thought and believed) was that a) I was going to have to eat something that felt terrifying b) I didn’t think I could be okay after the fact.
Eating disorders don’t just set off false alarms of anxiety or fear that flood the nervous system. They set off the false alarm that we could never, ever and that we would ever, never be able to cope.
That’s the biggest lie. Because we can learn to cope. That is 99% of what I do with clients. Walk alongside them, guide them, and model for them that we can learn and practice stepping outside our window of tolerance for the sake of widening our tolerance. Persevering and becoming more resilient with every ED challenge.
As we challenge our ED, we’re likely to set off more and more of those false alarms. It could look something like this…
What comes up for you looking at this graphic? Can you recognize this pattern or pathway in your own ED or recovery? When we notice the anxiety or food guilt or urgency to move, it feels like this meme to me:
Like our ED cannot act fast enough, jumping to the conclusion that we are UNSAFE ALL HANDS ON DECK SOSOSOSOS HALP SHE’LL NEVER RECOVER IF WE DONT USE BEHASVIORS FIVE MINUTES AOGOOOOOO!!!!!!!! Lol. Truly. It feels THAT chaotic, THAT urgent, and THAT life/death.
I want to encourage you as you look back up on the “your brain with coping skills” that it won’t always feel like that when feelings come up with food and exercise or body image. I also want to encourage you to make new associations. Rather than equating food guilt to the need to do something now to fix it, what if you just associated food guilt as a sign the ED is present? What if that’s all that was going on…….for me, that awareness released me from a lot of urgency and overwhelm. These ED false alarms need new associations.
Uncomfortable feelings are a part of life – ED present or not. Hard decisions are a part of life – ED present or not. Pain and discomfort in the body are a part of life – ED present or not. Your recovery work and rewiring your brain will take you much further than just a more pleasant and peaceful relationship with food. It will set you up for a more grounded life.