Eating Disorder Autopilot: How to get off the plane!
I think when it comes to me and my eating disorder, there’s a key characteristic I never really understood: my subconscious.
I never realized how many daily habits of mine had stemmed from restrictive diets years prior! I never recognized that habitual actions weren’t really my own or some of my thought patterns had been planted by my eating disorder from the very beginning.
I never realized that I was running on an eating disorder autopilot.
And what does that mean?
Well, for me, it looked something like this:
Wake up and instantly think about food
Skip breakfast so I could eat more later in the day and still stay under my very-low calorie limit
Chug coffee, so I would have enough energy to get through my work schedule while being under-nourished
Eat hastily and never leave food around me or my area that was not already entered into my calorie-counting app
But, my autopilot actually went deeper than that!
Never be fully present in a conversation because I was too distracted planning my remaining meals for the day
I couldn’t have ‘unhealthy’ food in the house or in my desk drawer at work because I was too terrified I would binge on it!
I couldn’t have an unplanned agenda, so if my friends wanted to go on an adventure, I needed to know when and where we would eat days in advance
I couldn't ’Look and order’ from a menu at a restaurant. I was just choosing the lowest-calorie option they had and never what I actually wanted to eat
I couldn't share food or take a bite of something from someone else because what I had portioned out for myself was all I was allowed to enjoy that day and so if someone took from my portion, I was left with less, and already eating less and less, that terrified me!
I never realized these things and there’s a reason for that. I was never self-aware.
I viewed myself and my eating disorder as something I should be ashamed of and guilty around! I never talked to someone about it; I never checked in with myself either. I was angry that this was my life and I was never going to let my self-judgement go and if you’re filled with self-hatred that leaves little space for self-awareness.
Let me ask you, “Why?”
Why do you feel like you can’t share food? Why do you feel like you can’t eat snacks lacking a nutrition label? Why do you worry about meals weeks in advance? What’s going to happen?
If you’re serious about your recovery and living a life of food freedom, and I’m SERIOUSLY determined to help you do just that, you need to fill out your own report card.
Where are you with food? What are small things you do regarding food, calories, your weight or your body image? What are things you do, but you may realize others do not?
And when you’re asking yourself these questions, come at them judgement-free. There is not right or wrong reason. There are no bad or good actions. There is a sweet soul, that’s you, who deserves to take a self-interest in his or herself.
The autopilot comes from when you give up.
It comes from completely buying into the empty promises and emptier plates your eating disorder has tricked you into dedicating and entire life for. The autopilot comes from when you value your ED voice more than yourself and…. From when you identify with it.
Time for a psychology lesson:)
Your brain is AMAZING! It is one of the most incredible tools and unique characteristics that each of us possess! But, it’s easily manipulated. It’s easily swayed. And it’s swayed most easily by your conscious brain. You have a conscious and subconscious brain. Your conscious brain may at one point have seen a magazine cover glistening with ‘Lose 10 lbs. In a week!’ And your conscious brain made a connection-maybe I should lose weight-losing weight makes you attractive-being thin is being successful-being smaller is more beautiful and boys or people or the planet will like me more when I’m more beautiful and successful.
Sounds familiar? That was my conscious brain, so I completely understand! Your conscious brain made the decision and your subconscious brain made your lifestyle/identity regarding it. Had your conscious brain said, “I am going to be a straight-A student.” Your subconscious brain may have done some rewiring around that! It may have made you more aware of your time management without you even realizing it! Maybe you began to wake up earlier with no alarm, perhaps you started to give yourself pep-talks before a big exam, maybe you were replaying flash cards in your brain without you even realizing it at the gym that morning.
Your subconscious is your autopilot.
Whatever you tell it to do, it stores that information as valid, as life-altering, as lifestyle changing, as important.
For me and my eating disorder, my conscious brain picked a poor story. It picked poor variables of importance. It decided that I had to be thin to matter and being thin would only come from eating less…. Way less.
So, what did my subconscious brain do? Accept it as an unwavering truth.
It began to shift my habits, autopilot, and everyday movements, thoughts, and steps to work towards this new goal.
And my goal was harmful.
So, I adopted this identity of an eating disorder and it not only ran my plate, but it ran my life! It was flying the plane and I didn’t even realize it at the time! Because the thing with autopilot is, you think it never was nor never will be different.
It becomes your norm. Your natural state, but you decided it to be that way in the first place! You and your brain! Your brain chose that story, that important equation, that new goal for you and yourself.
It just chose a shitty goal.
So, we now choose a new goal. And we begin with opposite action therapy.
Opposite action therapy consists of three steps:
This is the awareness I was talking to you about! You have to dedicate to your recovery! You have to be willing to be vulnerable and sad and struggling and you have to support yourself through it all! Can you do that? Are you ready?
You should be because you can and you will do this! Carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. Write down EVERY SINGLE THING that may have come from your eating disorder. Every thought, action, or choice that you are learning is not you, but rather your conscious shitty story that we are going to now alter.
For example, if you find yourself at the coffee shop and you think, “I would LOVE a latte, no, no, I’ll get black coffee instead. It has fewer calories.”
That goes in the notebook.
Or maybe you are in the bathroom washing your hands and as you leave, you turn sideways to check your stomach in the mirror→ Notebook
Anything you do that is stemming from your poor relationship to food or your body needs to be written down, at least at first! Because this will help you begin to recognize and DISASSOCIATE your eating disorder habits from yourself.
You are not your eating disorder.
You are just struggling with eating disorder habits.
This first step should also carry with it self-love and acceptance and gratitude and praise because the more you disconnect that you are the shame, guilt, hatred, insecurity, all the negative things that ARE NOT YOU, but rather your eating disorder story, the more you realize you are beauty, kind, caring, light, and love and the more you realize you are goodness and not ‘bad.’ Not deserving of your disorder. Not deserving of starvation. Not deserving of that pain. You are deserving of freedom.
This is the opposite action step! When you realize you are mkaing decisions or doing habitual acts from your eating disorder like we talked about above--you write them down and then you do the opposite.
It’s hard, trust me it is.
I did it.
So, if you find yourself at the cafe again and you think, “A latte sounds amazing!” You order the latte. Immediately. You order the latte even when your ED voice chimes in with, “But, it’s a lot of calories and we can’t track it and we only drink black coffee.”
You order it even after that!
Opposite action therapy is a psychology tool to rewrite your brain and body. You are retraining that subconscious mind that, “We don’t do that anymore.”
This is one of my favorite affirmations for someone going through recovery.
“We don’t do that anymore.” We do this now→ opposite action
If you start to check your body in the mirror, IMMEDIATELY stop yourself and walk out! You can even throw in a small smile and think, “Yes, Em, we don’t do that anymore.”
In the beginning it’s hard, it can feel nearly impossible, but it’s worth it.
And the more and more you do the opposite, the more you rebel against that eating disorder voice, the better. Because the more you are rewriting and retraining your brain that you are no longer your eating disorder and you no longer live by its rules or restrictions or restraints… you are Emily. And Emily loves lattes.
Repeat, Repeat, REPEAT! Your habits that you have adopted, your eating disorder tendencies and your life that is currently running on autopilot was a simple repetition of a shitty story.
Remember, you picked the story, so you can change it and the way you change it is through repetition of a new plot line.
Continuously be aware, do the opposite, new, self-serving action, smile, and repeat.
If you have to cry, DO IT! If you have to have someone hold your hand, call me up! The more and more you repeat this new story, the more you read from this new script and change your conscious AND subconscious around you, your identity, and your plate→ that they are not the same things→ the better, my love.
And before you know it, you’ll be flying your own plane again! This I promise you. I didn’t fly my own plane for 10 years, but now I’m in control and for every single second of my struggle, it was worth soaring my own skies today.