Eating disorders love to punish. It is their primary goal. “You’re hungry and want to eat?” Too bad. “You’re tired and want to stop exercising?” Tough luck. However, this kind of thinking can transfer over into other aspects of one’s life. What if you are working on a big paper or studying for a big exam, but you want to take a break? This can feel very similar to the punishment many ED sufferers endure(d). How can you differentiate between working hard and pushing yourself in order to achieve your dreams and aspirations, all the while maintaining self-compassion? Is it necessary to ‘punish’ yourself (sometimes) in order to get what you desire? That A+ on the final exam, the big promotion at work? Or, are we going about this all wrong? Is studying for an exam for hours on end the same as the punishment inflicted by an ED?
These are tough questions and ones that I have struggled with for some time now. During recovery, you learn that you must start loving yourself (as cliche as it sounds). You also discover that you LIKE being kind to yourself, and enjoy treating your body and mind gently. Furthermore, I am also cognizant of the fact that most people who struggle with disordered eating, or eating disorders tend to be Type A, perfectionists who are extremely driven. We push ourselves in all aspects of our life, always expecting perfection and nothing less. And these attributes can be very helpful and contribute to much of one’s academic and professional success. Nevertheless, these qualities can also be our greatest downfall.
Maybe it’s all about perspective… Maybe you need to realize that studying or working hard simply comes with the territory of being a student. Or maybe you need to take more breaks while studying and give yourself compassionate, loving things to look forward to. “If I study for X amount of time, I will watch my favourite funny movie or call up my best friend.” And maybe sometimes we just need to realize that the goal that we are striving for may be so important to us, and although we want to love and nurture ourselves 100% of the time during recovery, we need to make some sacrifices. Our all-or-nothing attitude needs to change. We need to go with the flow more. Maybe we work really hard for a few days, knowing we will have a few days with a lighter work load. I think what works best for everyone is very personal. I am still trying to wrap my head around studying non-stop for that big test, while not going back into the ED mindset. For me, perceived self-punishment in any form can often strengthen my ED and provide it with a vessel to creep back in.
I think the most important thing for us to realize is that we have two forces which can drive us- one, which is our ED, and a second which is our ‘true self.’ Dr. Lissa Rankin (M.D.) would call this second voice our “Inner Pilot Light.” This ‘true self’ only wants the best for us and wants us to achieve all of our hopes and dreams for the purest, most genuine of reasons. It wants us to ace that test so that we can get into medical school and ultimately have a voice within our community and initiate positive change. It wants us to run that extra mile just to show ourselves WE CAN. Bottom line: our ‘true self ‘ only wants the best for us. We must learn to distinguish between the ED voice and our ‘true voice.’ What does Lauren want? Why does she want to achieve this? What are her intentions? If working hard feels right for you in that moment, then DO IT. Pour your heart and soul into that project and kick its little behind. But remember, when hard work begins to feel like punishment, especially if reminiscent of ED times, take a step back and reflect. Why am I doing this? Who wants me to achieve this? Does this line up with everything I feel to be true? You cannot be steered wrong when you tune into your true self. It always knows what is best for you. Its just waiting for you to ask.
Much love and health,