Before you make a plan, it’s helpful to make a promise so read this article first: The Promise
When it comes to finding freedom from disordered eating and chronic dieting there are two ways you can do it.
It’s a bit like peeling a plaster off. You can rip it off all in one go – it’ll be intense and uncomfortable but it’ll be over pretty quickly. Or, you can peel it off slowly and gently. It won’t be quite as uncomfortable but it will take longer. Both techniques will remove the plaster so you’ve got to choose: rip it off quickly or peel it off gently.
Like peeling off a plaster, there are two overarching plans you can use to find freedom from disordered eating and chronic dieting:
- The little plan – a day by day approach to healing and recovery (much like slowly peeling a plaster off).
- The BIG plan – a wholehearted, no-turning-back, never dieting/ bingeing/starving again approach (like ripping a plaster off quickly).
The Little Plan
The little plan works a bit like this…
Just for this meal, and with no promises about your next meal of the future, live without letting the eating disorder control your life.
Just for today, and with no promises about tomorrow or the future, live without letting the eating disorder control your life.
Just for this week, and with no promises about next week the future, live without letting the eating disorder control your life.
Just for this month, and with no promises about next month or the future, live without letting the eating disorder control your life.
Just for this lifetime, live without letting the eating disorder control your life.
This is a progressive approach to healing. It allows you to dip your toe into what life without disordered eating or chronic dieting might feel like without jumping all the way in. It helps you to focus on simply taking the next step that’s in front of you. And then one day you’ll look back and see that you’ve climbed a whole mountain.
I used the little plan in my own recovery for a couple of years. I found that although it allowed me to experience glimpses of freedom, I always felt like returning to anorexia was an option. It was almost as if I peeled the plaster off a little bit and when things got hard and anorexia felt like the easier option I stuck that plaster right back on again. And then I would peel the plaster off again, maybe a little more this time, and just leave it hanging there – half stuck to my skin, half dangling off. I wasn’t actively anorexic, but I wasn’t fully free – I was stuck living this half-life of quasi-recovery. I lived this half-life for a good couple of years before I simply had enough of it. So, then I made the BIG plan…
The BIG Plan
Here’s how the BIG plan works:
You commit to never dieting, bingeing, starving, over-exercising or abusing your body again. And then you never diet, binge, starve, over-exercise or abuse your body again.
Any time you think about dieting, bingeing, starving, over-exercising or abusing your body, remind yourself of your commitment to never diet, binge, stave, or over-exercise ever again.
So for me, the BIG plan looked like this:
- “I will never starve myself or abuse my body ever again”.
- *thoughts/feelings/urges to starve or abuse my body*
- Go to step 1.
This is about jumping headfirst into healing. There is no turning back. And it is absolutely terrifying. It is about you taking responsibility for your health. It is about you acknowledging your ability to never do something that will cause you harm ever again.
This plan will feel uncomfortable and scary. Like you’re standing on the top of a high diving board with your toes teetering over the edge. And then you jump… you go for it… even though a huge part of you wants you to stay on that board because you are terrified… you let go… and it feels like freedom.
If you use food to cope with your emotions in any way (binge, restrict, count calories…) then probably the mere thought of never doing that behavior again is making you feel anxious. And you may still feel the longing to binge or starve or diet for a little while (weeks, months, sometimes a year or so), especially if that behavior has been part of your life for many years. But as sad or stressed or scared as you feel, the BIG plan will show you that you can feel all those things and still not turn back to food or dieting or restriction.
Once you’ve made the BIG plan, it’s pretty simple (- simple does not mean easy): anytime you get any thought, feeling or urge to binge or starve or diet or abuse your body in any way, you recognize this thought or feeling or urge. You acknowledge it. You accept it. No fighting it or numbing it or pushing it away. You simply become aware that it’s there, that it’s separate from you, that you don’t have to act on it, and, as long as you don’t act on them, overtime, these thoughts and feelings and urges will fizzle out.
If you do slip up and find yourself neglecting your health or abusing your body or being sucked into the latest cleanse or detox or diet, it’s not a sign that you are relapsing or failing or worthless. It’s just a sign that you are human.
For example, a couple of years ago, I had a big photoshoot booked in for work and I thought I ‘should’ be leaner for it. I went to a nutritionist who wrote me a plan for fat loss based around restricting my carbs, reducing my calories, tracking everything I ate, and doing cardio to burn fat. After a week or so on the plan, I felt horrendous. Not just because I was undereating, but because I had broken my promise to myself to look after my body. It went against my BIG plan, my values, everything that I wanted to become. But, I caught myself slipping back into the diet mentality (restricting my food and thinking I needed to change the way my body looked from where it naturally wanted to be). And as soon as I realised what I was doing, I stopped. I forgave myself. I reminded myself of my promises. And I went right back to the BIG plan.
It can actually be extremely meaningful and powerful if you do find yourself going back to destructive coping mechanisms because you will feel what it’s like when you break your promise to yourself (remind yourself of your promise if you need to. Read about my promises here: The Promise). Breaking your promises is painful. But you will learn from it. You will re-affirm your plan and get right back on your path to healing.
So make a promise.
Make a plan.
And bit by bit, or all at once, peel that plaster off.