The Importance of Taking Risks in Eating Disorder Recovery

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The recovery process is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone, facing fears, and defying the voice of the eating disorder - time and time again. However, there may come a point, either in the early or later stages of recovery, when you decide that you no longer need to push or challenge yourself as much.

The desire to stick to “what feels safe” is completely normal. Even for individuals who have not been affected by eating disorders, there is an impulse to stay with what is comfortable and familiar.

A comfort zone may feel like a “safe” place to be, however no major growth ever happens there. To truly grow and strengthen your recovery, it is critical to continue to challenge yourself on a regular basis, whether it’s trying new restaurants, facing “fear or trigger foods," being more flexible with exercise, or resisting the urge to engage in eating disorder behaviors.

In my work as a therapist helping people who are struggling with eating disorders, I express that the aim is to feel uncomfortable, but not unsafe. I help people to challenge themselves gradually in a way that is anxiety-provoking, yet doesn’t feel unmanageable. Thus, it is important to ensure that you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in small and gradual steps.

Feel The Fear And Take Action Anyway

Often people avoid taking risks because they think that they need to wait until they feel confident enough to do so. However, the paradox of this is that you will only begin to feel less afraid and gain confidence by gradually exposing yourself to what you are afraid of Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., exemplifies this in her book entitled "Feel The Fear... And Do it Anyway" when she says,

"I had grown up waiting for the fear to go away before I took any chances. When I am no longer afraid... then! For most of my life I had played the when/then game and it never worked... Fear of particular situations dissolved when I finally confronted them. The doing it comes before the fear goes away."

Rather than trying to get rid of your fear, keep in mind that it is normal and okay to feel afraid. Further, you can feel afraid and take the desired action anyway. The less that you give into the voice of fear and allow it to control your actions, the more empowered and free you will feel over time.

Instead of trying to “get rid,” of the fear, I help my clients to begin to change their relationship to fear. Any process of change and growth will typically bring up some fear and anxiety. Instead of “buying into” the fear-based beliefs or messages, it’s important to start by recognizing the stories that your mind is telling you.

Just because you have a thought does not mean that it is a fact. Rather then working to "get rid" of a fear based thought, I help people to learn how to acknowledge the thought and then take action, which aligns with their true values.

Seek Help From Professionals

Your eating disorder may desperately try to convince you that you “aren’t sick enough” to need help. However, it’s important to note that eating disorders are mental illnesses. You cannot tell the extent of someone’s suffering based on their physical appearance or weight. Further, it is important to note that someone can be malnourished, and can suffer from health complications, at any weight.

Additionally, you do not need to be suffering from health complications to be intensely struggling with an eating disorder. Living trapped in an eating disorder is a miserable place to be. Everyone who is suffering from an eating disorder deserves to seek help.

Reaching out for help when you are struggling is a sign of true strength, not weakness. No one should have to go through the recovery process alone. With access to the right treatment and support, full recovery is possible!

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, and depression. Jennifer offers eating disorder therapy to individuals in Maryland and D.C. and eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype.

This article was originally featured on Jennifer’s blog.

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