How did you wake up this morning? Did you roll out of bed after snoozing the alarm for the gazillionth time? Or, did you wake up earlier than most in your household, with a rigorous routine ahead of you that included a breakfast planned to the utmost degree? In this week’s blog post we’re discussing last week’s treatment programme theme: the rules, rituals and routines that come alongside living with an eating disorder. If any of this speaks true to your experience – know that you can reach out to a specialist to discuss your concerns or questions.
Rules and routines
Often, living with an eating disorder – whether it’s Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating – requires living with a never-ending set of rules, routines and rituals. Whilst these rules may appear to be focused around food and eating, they actually spread into all aspects of your life; into work, relationships and your day-to-day lived experience.
These rules and routines are developed with seemingly good intentions: they make you feel safe and in control of your everyday experience – often, after something or someone has taught you that you aren’t as safe as you once thought you were. In this way, rules and routines help you cope; they give you a false sense of security and control.
Maladaptive coping mechanisms: trading happiness for control
The problem with rules is that they prevent you from living a life that’s free from restriction, anxiety and over-thinking. Living like this is exhausting and, often, very boring. The freedom and happiness that you deserve to feel is blocked as a means of protecting you from ambiguity and change. But this means that you also lose out on the beauty, chaos and creativity that is ever-present in ‘normal’ life.
Sometimes rules and routines may not look like rules and routines. Often – and especially in today’s “wellness”-focused society – routines may be guised as “healthy” or self-caring practices, when in reality they are punishing in nature. For instance, someone may regularly go for a run or practice yoga. Both of these are deemed socially acceptable, healthy activities. However, someone with an eating disorder may do these activities too much; to the detriment of their physical and mental wellbeing as they force themselves to exert energy when they really don’t want to.
When we’re being true to ourselves and intuitive with our bodies, we’re able to say “not today” when we’re too tired, and curl up in front of the TV instead. We can say “not today” without the guilt and critical voice of the eating disorder telling us that we’re lazy.
Resisting eating disorder-imposed rules
The fact is, you deserve to live a life that’s free from the eating disorder’s rules, restrictions and routines.
Our treatment is focused around helping you to create a narrative for your life and an identity that’s separate from the eating disorder. We help people find other ways of feeling safe and in control, that doesn’t impose negative consequences on their happiness.
This may involve helping people to develop health boundaries – to know that it’s okay to say “no”, and have a strong sense of their individual needs and how they can meet them in a safe and secure way. We also help people to make friends with their emotions; to welcome the little alerts that our bodies and minds are trying to communicate with us, and learning to work with ourselves, rather than against ourselves.
We help people to feel safe within the ambiguity and beautiful chaos that is life. When you feel secure within yourself, you don’t fear loss of control because there’s an unmoveable strength and core identity within you that you can rely upon.
In essence – rather than replace our clients’ rules with another set of “recovery rules”, we meet clients where they are in their journey, creating gradual change that lasts as they progress through treatment.