How to choose recovery during lockdowns and beyond
Research suggests that a lack of motivation in wanting to recover from an eating disorder is associated with high levels of treatment refusal, dropout and relapse. Ultimately, no one can force recovery and motivation for change has to come from the individual themselves. Accepting this can be difficult, for the simple reason that many experience ambivalence in wanting to recover.
This has become even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with changes to routines, isolations, fluctuating restrictions and inability to access regular treatment and support undeniably impacting those with eating disorders. It’s okay if you’ve found yourself relying on your eating disorder to cope – but it’s important you push through these hard times and remember why you want to recover from your eating disorder.
Ambivalence to eating disorder recovery
Ambivalence refers to “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something”; essentially, you are in two minds about if you want to recover.
Fluctuating between wanting to change and wanting to maintain your disordered habits can be confusing for both the individual and their loved ones. The reason ambivalence around eating disorder recovery is so common is because your eating disorder serves as an unhelpful tool to cope with difficult emotions or challenges. This is why a part of you might really want to cling to your illness, while at the same time another part of you wants to free yourself from the hold your eating disorder has over you.
On one hand, you can recognise that remaining ill and engaging in harmful eating disorder behaviours is psychologically and physically dangerous. You might be tired of dealing with the isolation, pain and anxiety that arises with a mental health issue such as an eating disorder. Research suggests that eating disorders often begin as a means of control, but as the disorder progresses you can often feel like you are instead being controlled by your behaviours.
On the other hand, you may be reluctant to recover because of the anxiety and uncertainty that may arise with treatment. Entering recovery will require you to face your fears head on, and your attitudes, behaviours, values and skills will likely have to change. You may be experiencing guilt, shame, anger, fear, exhaustion and grief.
All of these feelings are very normal and in fact part of the recovery cycle.
Beginning your recovery journey is often the hardest step, and it’s important to realise you won’t be made to face all your fears in one go. Eating disorder recovery occurs in stages and no one is expecting you to be healed immediately.
If you are struggling with an ambivalent mindset towards eating disorder recovery, here are some tips to help get you on track:
Explore and name your feelings and motivations:
Put pen to paper and explore your thoughts and feelings about why you think you are ambivalent to recovery. Writing down the positives and negatives that are associated with recovery can allow you to see the bigger picture, while boosting your motivation. You might like to share your insights with a trusted supporter, such as a loved one or treatment professional. Doing so can allow your support network to realise you are struggling with the decision and may require some extra help.
Remember eating disorder recovery is not linear:
It is normal to go through relapses and setbacks during recovery and you shouldn’t be discouraged if this occurs to you. While relapsing may feel like a step backwards, you can still learn much from a relapse or recurrence of your behaviours. For example, this might make your triggers more apparent, and you can learn new strategies to overcome these in the future. Head to our blog for more tips on how to overcome ambivalence to ED recovery. Learn more about the stages of recovery with NEDC’s resource “Stages of Change”.
It might get harder before it gets easier:
In order to create change and let go of the eating disorder behaviours, you will have to sit in uncomfortable feelings. Know that exposure to these changes will not always feel as scary as it does when you first begin. You will get better at managing your anxiety and thoughts around food, yourself, and your body. You will come out of this stronger.
Read stories of hope and recovery:
It can be beneficial to read stories and experiences from those who have recovered. They’ve been through what you are experiencing, and they’ve come out on the other side. Butterfly’s Share Your Story platform has a wide variety of stories that give an insight into the challenges and triumphs faced when managing and recovering from an eating disorder. You can read them here.
“Eating disorder recovery has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. But let me say to you, anyone that goes through an ED and comes out the other side is a special type of person. Because of my experience I’ve grown into a new person that I’m excited to get to know. And with my experience I bring something valuable. I bring courage (from all the times I chose to face my demons head on), I bring immense empathy (for I know what suffering is), I bring hope (because I am proof that it can get better), and I bring purpose and meaning (in advocating for those with EDs and being in training as a psychologist). In your recovery you will learn so much about yourself and all that you offer to the world, even if you feel like that is nothing right now. Hang in there and give your absolute all towards full recovery – it feels so good to be free.” – Anonymous
Be kind and patient with yourself:
It’s normal to feel frustrated by negative thoughts and impatient with the recovery process. Support can help you better understand why you might feel that way and it can also help you to come up with helpful ways to be patient and kind with yourself throughout the process.
Further information and help: