In the last weeks post I talked about how important it is to firstly make sure you are physically recovered so any bingeing aka extreme hunger can stop. Once your body is nourished the hunger cues can naturally go back to normal. Undernourished brain is a malfunctioning organ and adequate calories is the first priority. Otherwise it’s impossible to rewire the brain.
I also shared how I still felt like I was overeating to uncomfortable fullness despite having all the signs of being physically recovered, about half a year into my recovery. My hunger had calmed down a lot but it wasn’t completely normal either. Could I have developed a habit of overeating after going through bulimia? Was my brain conditioned to always eat too much since I had repeated this behaviour for so long?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I just needed to wait more and give my body time. It’s very likely my hunger would have calmed down even more. Many people say it just takes time and being patient but eventually it will happen. But I wanted to also work on my mind, to rule out any possible eating disorder habits that may have been left in my brain since my bulimia.
How Your Brain Forms Habits
If you learn to ride a bicycle for the first time it requires a lot of effort, it takes many days of practice and being consistent. You may even fall off from your bicycle for a few times or feel like it’s a complicated task. BUT, if you stick to this new behaviour long enough and don’t give up then in time it becomes easier and easier. You also feel a sense of accomplishment by practicing and it signals a positive feeling in your brain which locks the habit into place even more. Feeling good, accomplished, in control, is your reward each time. After a while riding a bicycle becomes so automatic that you don’t have to even think about it – you just know how to do it. No conscious thoughts required, your brain has learned a new behaviour, a habit.
Our brain loves to be as efficient as possible. It doesn’t want the bicycle riding to require so much mental energy each time you do it so it will help you out and make it an automatic behaviour. By repetition you made the neural connection so strong that you feel it’s effortless. You can enjoy riding the bicycle for the rest of your life and it feels easy.
But the little downside of your brain is that it doesn’t know if a habit is a good or a bad one. It doesn’t know the difference between riding a bicycle (positive, harmless act) or purging, for example (very dangerous eating disorder habit). That’s why you can program your brain to do whatever you want. As long as you practice by constant repetition over a period of time, and feel a sense of reward of some sort, the behaviour can become strongly wired in your brain.
Step 1 – Create Massive Pain To Not Changing
It’s very hard to change if you are not even fully convinced WHY you need to change. If you still think any of your eating disorder habits (overexercising, purging, not eating dinner etc) are any way good for you or “helpful”, it will be very hard to rewire your brain, almost impossible.
This is because your actions and inner beliefs do not match. Your brain gets confused of what you want! There is a major conflict taking place inside of you. If your brain gets the signal from your actions that you are trying to recover – eating enough food, no purging, no exercise…but if your thoughts are “No! I don’t want to gain any weight! I just can’t eat! I hate recovery!” Do you see how hard it will be for your brain to change?
You have to be 100% sure you WANT to recover and be willing to do whatever it takes. Otherwise you just end up self-sabotaging your own success! Each time you try to recover and change your habits you just end up putting on your mental breaks again and again.
Now, this doesn’t mean you will not have conflicting thoughts in your mind in recovery. Everybody does! But the key here is what are the dominant thoughts – the eating disorder that still think’s it’s ok or “not that bad” what you are doing or the real you who want’s to recover and can’t even imagine staying like this!
This is why some people do not wake up until they have reached to the rock bottom in their eating disorder. Because until then they were not fully convinced that they absolutely must change. Your attitude in recovery cannot be “I will try to change”, “I think I need to change”, “Maybe I give it a shot”…it has to be “I absolutely must change! I don’t care what I need to do to recovery but I am willing to do whatever it takes! I cannot stay like this for another second!”
The pain has to OVERRIDE any positive association you have about your eating disorder. In another words, the massive pain you experience when you think about staying in eating disorder has to be bigger than any good things you have connected to your eating disorder. By doing this you will interrupt your brains habitual pattern and this is the first step of changing habits.
For example, what helped me to change was to realise that I do not want to wake up maybe 10, 20, 30 years from now and realise I WASTED my life away. I knew that if I don’t change now then nothing will change! It will not fix itself! This thought was a massive pain for me! The thought of regret of wasting my life away was just too painful for me that I was willing to do WHATEVER it takes to recover.
The “good things” or the “benefits” I had associated to my eating disorder were weight control, healthy eating, feel in control etc (ALL a total bullshit of course!). But the PAIN of regretting my life, if I don’t recover, was much bigger than any of these “benefits”. I was willing to actually give up all of those “benefits” in exchange of full recovery. So in recovery, every time I would think about relapsing I started to associate MORE PAIN to it. I just didn’t relapse as an option anymore.
So how can you start changing the habits of your eating disorder? We will talk about it more next week, so stay tuned! 🙂