What Makes Recovery “Work”? Part III (You Don’t Need to Work so Hard)

This is the 3rd and final post in my blog series, “What Makes Recovery Work?”.  In Part I, I talked about expectations surrounding what it means for a recovery method to work.  In Part II, I discussed the work you personally need to do in recovery, which is to dismiss each urge to binge (and also eat enough food).  Now in Part III, I want to talk about eliminating unnecessary work in recovery.

When I was in therapy for binge eating, it felt like I had a lifelong journey of work ahead of me in order to stop the harmful behavior and then to maintain my recovery.  But, since then, I’ve seen that it’s not necessary to work so hard to put aside the binge eating habit.

I know you aren’t afraid of doing work; I know you aren’t expecting recovery to be effortless; and I know you are willing to do what it takes to stop your binge eating. Working hard is certainly not a bad thing, but if right now, you feel that your hard work hasn’t gotten you closer to freedom from binge eating, you may be doing work that isn’t actually targeting the binge eating problem.

Commonly, in traditional eating disorder therapy, the work that is required has to do with managing emotions, healing pain from your past, and learning to cope better with daily stress. This is meaningful work that can help improve your life, but if it isn’t helping you avoid acting on the binge urges, it’s not helping with the binge eating specifically.

It can be baffling when you feel you are doing all of the hard work that therapy requires and you are still binge eating.  If you find yourself in this situation, you may understandably start to look for something else to work on, and then something else after that.  This can lead to a constant state of trying to find another problem to solve, or something else within yourself to fix, hoping it will eventually put an end to your binge eating.

You may also be working on improving and fixing the way you are eating, thinking that will get rid of the binge episodes.  You may be trying to create the perfect meal plan, or trying to adhere to strict eating guidelines, so you may be working hard every day measuring, counting, and weighing your food intake.  Additionally, you could be going through a lot of trouble to avoid certain foods that you believe are problematic or addicting, or you may be trying to research nutrition and take all of the right supplements.

Although improving your eating in ways that feel good to you is a positive thing, and although it’s certainly important to make sure you eat adequately, it’s possible you are putting a lot of unnecessary time and energy into your eating plan, without it making much of a difference in your binge eating.  It can feel like a never-ending quest when you are always looking for something else to fix or change about your diet, hoping that will put a stop to the binges.

If you think a lot of hard work is required for recovery, it only makes sense that you would keep looking for something else to solve or fix, whether that’s in your life, your relationships, your personality, your emotions, or the way you are eating. It’s admirable, and shows determination and resilience.  But, I know how frustrating it feels when it seems like no matter what you work on, you still end up binge eating.

What if working harder in recovery is not the answer?

It is my belief that no matter how much you improve your life, your emotional state, your relationships, your ability to cope, or the way you are eating, binge urges will still inevitably come up.  Even if you work very hard in all of those areas, you’ll still be left with the fundamental work of recovery: not acting on the binge urges.

To stop acting on the binge urges, what if less work is actually more effective?

I had a conversation with Dr. Amy Johnson* on my podcast last week (you can listen to the episode here), and part of what we talked about was how just seeing your binge eating habit differently can allow change to occur without the struggle or without needing to work so hard. When you have a fundamental shift in the way you view your urges and respond to them, it suddenly seems unnecessary to sort out and deal with all of your other problems or have a perfect eating plan in order to stop binge eating.

With a different mindset, instead of thinking “what else can I work on?” when things aren’t going well in recovery, you can try thinking, “how can I see this differently?”

Ending binge eating doesn’t need to feel like intense, complicated, or tedious work.  The work can be simply having your own deep insight or learning a new perspective, like the one Amy shared on the podcast, that allows you to feel your own power to avoid acting on the binge urges.

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*Dr. Amy Johnson is a psychologist, coach, author, and recovered binge eater who helps women and men with all types of unwanted habits and unnecessary worries.  Learn more about Amy’s approach and her online school for ending habits here.

 

One thought on “What Makes Recovery “Work”? Part III (You Don’t Need to Work so Hard)

  1. First, let me say that I appreciate the amazing work that both you and Dr. Amy Johnson do! Truly wonderful stuff. I listened to the podcast interview with Dr. Amy and gained some interesting insights. One thing I felt compelled to bring up was on the topic of thought. Dr. Amy discussed how an urge is a thought that’s really no different than the thought of what socks to wear or to take out the dog. But I think it’s important to note that because of the chemical reactions going on in the brain during the urge, those thoughts are highly charged and far more compelling. In fact, I would say the discomfort that comes along with the urge is what really drives us to do the behavior (to obtain relief). And learning to accept that discomfort without giving in to the urge is the key to breaking free. Does that make sense?

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