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Breaking Through Rigid Thinking Patterns in Recovery

Breaking Through Rigid Thinking Patterns in Recovery | Libero 1

Many people who suffer from eating disorders also face what I like to call “box thinking.” Perfectionism and rigidness are what characterise this kind of thinking. It is when everything has to be exactly the way you plan; any deviation from this may result in a dire emergency. Run! Help! There’s one carrot stick out of place!

I can only kid about it now because I’ve been the drama queen. I’ve been the one who picks an argument over how much olive oil is going in a dish (warning: over time, this can damage relationships) and I’ve been the frantic, anxiety-ridden, shivering, arms flailing, 19-year old woman with the body of a 12-year old boy and the attitude of a spoiled six-year-old.

I know the drama and I know the pain of wanting so badly to go with my friends when they invite me for ice cream while every fibre of my being holds me back. During those times, “I can’t” plays like a metal concert in my head.


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It is when I take a step back from my thoughts and see how ridiculous they are that I am able to keep grounded in my recovery. I have to see the humour to be with the genuine gravity of the situation.

Breaking through my box thinking is one of the most challenging aspects of my recovery. It is also my access to freedom.

We are planners. We meticulously plan everything we will eat. By the time I’m done with breakfast, I know what I will have for lunch. My nutritionist instructs me to consume one portion of each food group at lunch time. I listen and nod politely. This I can align with. I like that everything has a category.

Then I step into the real world.

Scenario 1: The meal at the dining hall today is chili. Everything is mixed together. What’s what? I can’t distinguish the individual ingredients. This vat of thick, fragrant stew doesn’t fit in the box my nutritionist designed for me.

Scenario 2: My friend calls and invites me out to lunch. What to do? I already have my perfectly portioned lunch packed with me. I’m ready to follow my nutritionist’s plan to the tee and now my friend is trying to thwart my plan (see the drama queen in action?).

The best way to react is to stay committed to our recovery.

Recovery is not just about returning to a healthy weight or cutting out unhealthy food behaviours. It is about creating a sense of freedom and comfort with food. It is about shifting from rigidity to flow, from strictness to flexibility, from self-punishment to self-acceptance. When I remind myself what my recovery is really about, I know what to do.

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My mantra in recovery is “feel the discomfort and do it anyway.”

So I dig into the chilli. As I eat, I worry about how many servings of vegetables and how many servings of protein I am consuming. Are there carbs in this? I let this mental commentary go on and I continue raising my spoon to and from my mouth and my bowl.

Maybe there’s a moment when the flavours are exploding in my mouth and for a split-second, the commentary goes quiet and I am present. This is recovery. As I progress in my recovery, I have more and more moments like this.

I say yes to the lunch invitation and as I’m browsing the menu at the restaurant, I check in with myself and ask myself what I’d like to eat for lunch. After a few moments, the answer comes to me, then the voice in my head tells me I shouldn’t have that. In the next moment, I tell the waitress what I want and it feels really good.

Slowly but surely, I am breaking out of my box and saying yes to a life of juicy freedom.

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Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official views, beliefs, or opinions of Libero Network Society. In addition, any advice, tips, or recommendations made within this article should only be followed after consultation with a medical professional and/or your recovery team. Libero Network Society holds no liability for any potential harm, danger, or otherwise damage that may be caused by choosing to follow content from this article.

Laura MacKinnon

Laura MacKinnon writes about her experiences with anorexia in high school and college with the intention of empowering young people who struggle with body and food issues. She hopes to spread the message that nothing is un-recoverable and there are an infinite number of possibilities in life outside of what we currently know. Laura has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a career in eating disorder recovery support. She loves writing, meditation, and cooking delicious vegan meals.

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