Yes, ED likes to creep around, especially in June, July and August. ED isn’t my husband, or my best friend, or my dog; ED is my eating disorder. They say it takes 45 days to break a habit, right? Breaking up with ED completely has taken … well, longer. Though I’ve been in recovery for 2 years and 8 months (but who’s counting) the old habits of my ED still creep some days, especially in the scantily clad hot summer months where less clothes and more pool time are all the hype.
Though considered a healthy weight and no longer fitting the criteria of a full-blown ED according to the DSM V descriptions (thank God!), my old habits still hold strong. Skip a meal here. Run another mile there. Order the salad without any dressing here. Hold the ice cream there. The list goes on.
The difference, though, is I actively catch these thought processes, challenge them and change them to the best of my ability; whereas before, I would have listened to that little voice: “You’re not thin enough”; “You don’t deserve that treat”; “You need to run faster”; “You are a failure”. Being “almost recovered” isn’t something I’m going to settle for.
As I sit here at the townhouse pool in my bathing suit and think back upon my day, I realize how FAR I’ve come, and it’s great to recognize and celebrate the small daily victories over ED. I joined a co-worker for lunch today, had a great conversation, eating until I was full. I enjoyed crispy chicken salad with full fat honey mustard salad, and I didn’t think twice. That would NOT have happened just a few short years ago! And, like I said, I’m at the POOL in my BATHING SUIT and enjoying typing away, not giving a hoot about who can see me and what they might think about my body. In all reality, I’ve found no one really cares about anybody’s body but their own!
Recovery is an active process with many ups and downs. I can’t grow complacent. Luckily, I’m armed with many coping mechanisms from my time in treatment out in Arizona. Instead of turning to restricting or over exercising when I’m stressed, I can take Otto for a walk or read a good book. I can catch my unrealistic thoughts, challenge them and make an effort to change them before they become destructive.
Like we’ve discussed before, eating disorders among female long-distance runners are not alien and perfectionistic tendencies are, in fact, quite common among this cohort, so perhaps you can relate to the obsessive thoughts that still seem to linger from my ED and sometimes push me toward unhealthy actions. If so, I challenge you to try the following exercise: The 3 C’s: Catch It, Challenge It, CHANGE it! It has helped me stay in the moment and prevent slip ups when temptation to turn toward familiarity frequents.
Step 1: Catch It
Identify the specific negative thought or message, then answer the following questions:
1. What effect does this negative message have on me?
2. When and where do I experience it strongest?
3. What feelings does it trigger?
4. What behaviors follow those feelings or maybe a reaction to the message?
5. Where might the message have originated?
6. Is there a specific event or life experience tied to the message?
Step 2: Challenge It
Temporarily stop or interrupt the negative message by identifying a very strong or startling statement and saying it to yourself.
1. Is there any evidence the message is true?
2. Is it an exaggeration or global judgment?
3. What is a more realistic statement?
Step 3: Change It
Identify a truthful, realistic, or positive message that you can use to replace the negative message.
And, that’s it! Below are some real life scenarios that have happened to me over the past couple of weeks. I’ve caught my negative thoughts, challenged them, and changed them before my ED took control. And, it felt SO good! I am winning, ED.
#1: Running in road races still trigger comparing myself to others, in a negative light. I’ll have negative thoughts, like, wow: that girl is SO thin and perfect, toned and strong, why do I even bother! I should pack up and go home before I embarrass myself. I’ll challenge it by saying (in my head, of course, so people don’t think I’m crazy): ‘Who cares! My body is capable and will bring me to the finish line, too! My body has finished a marathon before for heaven’s sake, and it deserves more credit than I give it!’. Then, I’ll change it by doing things like putting on my favorite pre-race playlist and rethinking my race strategy instead of focusing on my thighs, my belly, or my hips!
#2: I had a dinner party the other night with three other couples and almost cancelled because I wasn’t “feeling so hot”. I knew it was my ED talking, though! He didn’t want me to go in fear of being “out of control” and not being able to specifically select what was on the menu. I challenged this by remembering that it’s NOT about the food but the people! One couple is expecting their first baby in another month, the other two couples recently went on a cruise to the Mediterranian and I’d been dying to hear all about it, and Sam and I had since gotten married! Needless to say, we had A LOT to catch up on! I changed my thought process and focused on the people, not the food. I was able to enjoy a healthy array of summer cook-out items and enjoy a few hours with some great buds! I know I would have kicked myself in the butt if I hadn’t gone.
#3: I went to Hilton Head for a long weekend with the fam and worried about my post-ED body changes and that people would see me as “fat” in my bikini. I challenged this, reminding myself that I was healthy, fit and beautiful. My family does NOT love me for being “skinny” or “fat” or any of that superficial BS. I changed my thought process that first day on the beach, by taking a long walk with my mom and dad and keeping my tank top on for a sense of security. The second day, I played on the beach with my 2-year-old niece, Mollie, who frolicked around carelessly in her little bathing suit! She helped me remember that the human body is a beautiful thing and life on the beach is AWESOME. I soon was frolicking around in my bathing suit, too! I mean in all reality, when you look back at your life, do you want to be remembered as that thin girl who only weighed such and such, OR, that really awesome aunt, sister, friend and mentor who was genuinely compassionate and caring? Yep, makes you put it in perspective, huh?
As a runner who has struggled with ED, I’ve always found I struggle most during the summer months and the holidays, so I have to take extra care to use my techniques and stay on track. Do you ever use the 3C technique or something similar when negative body image thoughts come creeping around?