You’re doing it! You’re really making a go of your recovery. You’ve gotten the help you need, you found the motivation to take on this battle and you’ve been diligently working to understand your eating disorder, your emotions and yourself. You’re off to a really good start. You notice yourself getting stronger, feeling better and you feel more hopeful. But then life throws you a curve ball, and unexpected challenge, a change, some bad news, disappointment, or stress. And then… the eating disorder comes calling to you again. It tells you that if only you come back to it, those problems will go away, you will feel good again. Don’t take the bait! You will see through the course of your recovery that you don’t need the eating disorder to deal with the challenges of real life, everything you need you already have within you, it’s just a question of unleashing it.
The real life challenges that call someone back to their eating disorder are known as “triggers”. In a culture where there are lots of mixed messages around food, body image, emotions, and pretty much everything else, it is impossible to avoid all the triggers out there. You’re trying so hard to do what you know is right for yourself, but the world keeps making it very hardto do so. Take a deep breath, it’s going to be OK. The important thing for you to know about triggers, is that while you may not be able to avoid them you definitely can manage them. The following techniques and ideas may be useful in dealing with real life challenges.
Have a plan
One technique that is useful for the management of triggers, is to anticipate them and have planned responses in your mind. Start by writing down a list of triggers that you anticipate facing in real life. Explore the “who, what, when, where, and why” of these triggering situations. See if you can find any patterns or common themes in your triggers. For example, when asking the“who” question, maybe you realize there are certain people in your life who are significant triggers, and maybe it is worth trying to create some healthy space from those individuals for a period of time. In reflecting upon where your triggers occur, you might notice that you often feel triggered at the gym. In that case, it would be a good idea to mix up your physical activity program to include jogging outdoors, hiking or participating in a recreational team sport. By examining and anticipating your triggers, you will be in a better position to react to them.
Create a mantra
Develop a mantra for yourself, a recovery slogan that if worse comes to worse you can repeat in your mind when you’re feeling triggered, to remain oriented to your recovery. For example, a mantra we use at Cielo house is, “all foods fit.”This mantra is helpful when you are triggered by someone’s opinions around food. When someone is talking about “diet” this or “bad food” that, simply repeat to yourself…,“all foods fit.” Mantras work best when you personalize them and believe in them sothey feel authentic to you. Spend some time thinking about a recovery mantra that resonates with you. When you become firmly identified with your mantra, you may also want to share that mantra with others, to provide them with some of the education that you have obtained through your recovery. Which leads us to the next suggestion.
Imagine you are a role-model
When you are out in the world, imagine that you have been given the responsibility of being an ambassador for recovery. Be the person who can eat freely, who doesn’t obsess about what they look like, who values themselves and others for who they are, not for their appearance or for what they eat. Be the spokesperson for your recovery and for recovery in general. When someone posts insensitive or triggering material on Facebook, you can respond to them by letting them know that kind of material might be insensitive or hurtful to someone. It might feel strange at first to be outspoken with an opinion that is not the norm, but remember, people used to think the world was flat.
Remember you can’t solve a problem with a problem.
One of the eating disorder’s deceptions is that it tries to make everything about what you eat or what you look like. It will try and tell you that your work performance would improve, you would have more friends, more people would be attracted to you, there would even be less traffic on the freeway if only you were to follow the eating disorder more closely. These are lies, The eating disorder will NOT help you sustainably deal with the challenges of real life. You can’t solve a problem with a problem. If anything, the eating disorder will diminish your natural capacity to effectively deal with life challenges. And while the eating disorder might be atempting, convenient escape from those problems, the unfortunate reality is that they will still be waiting for you when you return, perhaps even worse. The things we resist, persist. Use the coping skills you have acquired through your recovery thus far, use the positive social support that you have obtained. Embrace life’s challenges and triggers when they come to you, because they are indications that you are actually living your life.
By Matt Keck, MFT
Cielo House Founder and CEO