Flexing the anti-ED muscles

{A brief, non-science-y post for your reading pleasure…}

A wise parent I know said this recently:

I think that fighting off these ed urges at first is like flexing a tiny little muscle that is very tired.  A few reps or blocked ed thoughts in one day is all that can be mustered.  After a month of practice, and she’s up to 20 reps, getting better.  Then 2 months later and she’s mostly able to do it but not always.  It seems just as bad each time the ed thought blocker fails but then she gets herself together and goes at it again.  Problem is, you don’t know is this a fork in the road or a little blip.  Either way, you helped her back on the straight and narrow and I do think that each time there is a blip and she gets herself together it may help her do a better job the next time.  A little bobble is like a 99 out of 100 but that one is so notable!!!!

It’s something that it took me a really long time to figure out in terms of recovery. So often in treatment, I was told to think of recovery as a journey, not a destination. Which, okay, fine. But a journey can be kind of passive. I mean, I journeyed from my home in Virginia to the UK last week, and I certainly didn’t flap my wings to cross the Atlantic. Even walking: I know how to walk, it’s just a matter of bulling through and getting there. My problem with recovery is that I didn’t actually know how to metaphorically do the walk.

It was, perhaps, the biggest revelation to me as I worked towards recovery: recovery was neither a journey nor a destination. Recovery was a skill set I had to master. I’m good at learning new things. Like learning anything, I had to start at the beginning and master the basics before I could do the really cool stuff. I enjoyed calculus in high school and college (I know, I know…I’m a dork), but I started really learning math at age 5. I had to figure out long division, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry before I got to calculus.

With recovery, I had to figure out how to not engage in ED behaviors for very short, discrete periods of time before I could string them together into longer periods. And I was a very slow learner in that respect. I had a lot of anxiety to overcome. I had a lot of habits to break.

In pop psychology, there’s a lot of talk about 10,000 hours as a magic number to becoming an expert at anything. It’s the number of hours you need to practice in order to become really proficient at something. Now, I’m not exactly sure that this has been experimentally validated, but it nonetheless raises a good point about the need to practice a skill for a very long time before you become really good at it. It’s NOT just talent that makes you a superstar. It’s also a LOT of hard work.

As you start to flex your anti-ED muscles, you might not be able to flex very hard or very long. That’s fine. It’s to be expected for someone who is just learning how to live a life separate from their eating disorder. As you get used to lifting smaller weights, you can add heavier ones. Soon, what seemed unmanageable will be really quite easy.

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5 Responses to “Flexing the anti-ED muscles”

  1. Yes, these muscles get tired very easily. Just as our physical bodies get weakened with the ED, so do our metaphorical muscles, our emotional ones. It always feels like such a cruel joke to me that some elements of an ED – the emotional state, the psychosis elements, the anxiety – are generally understood to only improve as your physical health improves…except…that improvement in physical health seems so hard to obtain without the emotional healing helping it along. Sigh.

    My ED muscles feel like the floor of a taxicab, to borrow a phrase. I keep hoping they’ll build up some reserves of strength…

    (BTW, minor editing issue: in the second paragraph after the pull-quote, the sentence should read “recovery was neither a journey nor a destination” – “wasn’t neither” is, I believe, saying the opposite of what you mean to say :))

  2. This is a perfect analogy! Maybe one of the best I’ve ever heard. Thanks for sharing, Carrie!

  3. Definitely a great analogy. I think it also relates to how difficult it is to stay motivated in the longer term too. You only need to think about the amount of folk who make “going to the gym” their new year’s resolution. I found an article that proffers 73% as the percentage of Americans that make this resolution and give up before reaching their goals!

    I also found this piece regarding why this might be the case:


    So, yeah, maybe I should stop beating myself up about not being able to life that 300lb barbell straight away!

  4. “recovery was neither a journey nor a destination. Recovery was a skill set I had to master.”

    Thanks for this. I get this.