You Are Not A Citizen of One Emotional State

…you are not even required to be a landed immigrant. You are a traveler.

As you may have noticed the last few posts have focused on the neurological aspects of restrictive eating disorders: that they are founded in anxiety; result sometimes in depressive states or moods; and reinforce a sense that a current reality you face is the indisputable and immutable reality for you and your life.

Perception is Malleable

We create our own self-fulfilling prophecies for the most part. Now we must not confuse that concept with using positive thinking as some kind of misguided protective talisman: “If I am positive and don’t let any negative emotions see the light of day, then I will realize my hopes and dreams and chase away any possible negative outcomes.”

We cannot change our circumstance, or the outcome necessarily, but we can change how we might feel about that circumstance or outcome. That may seem like a subtle distinction, but it is not. You actually don’t go too far wrong when you follow the age-old serenity prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.”

If you think you cannot change the way you feel, then you will not change the way you feel.

Emotions are not the sum total of existence, and bad feelings are as much a part of life as good feelings. But they are both merely temporary states in our minds.

And when your emotional landscape essentially experiences a hostile takeover by anomalies in the function of the amygdala (a part of the brain responsible for threat identification and the fear response), and those anomalies essentially represent a restrictive eating disorder, tell me what is real?

Is it really true that fatness is a synonym for stupidity, laziness, inferiority and pathos? Clearly, for many in our society today, it is. But that is a state of mind.

For the BMI 30 woman who loves her body and really relishes everything her body can do and everything it has seen her through, is she deluded? And again, many would answer: “Yes”.

I can get really existential on this topic. In our existence in the middle world of three dimensions, we experience solids as "solid" when in fact they are only marginally more "solid" than air, on a molecular level. Your fat is fairly inconsequential as a solid, if we consider the estimated number of dimensions that are likely to exist: dimensions of timespace are estimated at 10 and 11, according to string theory) [S Carroll, Discover Magazine, December 7, 2005].

You have 10 times the amount of bacterial cells than human cells in your body [J Sliwa, Press Release, 108th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston, 2008]. What makes us feel like “us” in some kind of a constant state is really a sleight of hand on a cerebral level. I don’t sense that my gastrointestinal tract is predominantly only 15 years old on a cellular level, as just one example of my sense of self being quite limited in many ways [K Spalding et al., 2005].

There is a parasite that can infect humans and it makes females more attractive, males less so. The parasite is also correlated with the number of sexual partners an infected subject has, and the level of emotional lability he or she experiences throughout life as well [J Flegr, 2007]. It’s called Toxoplasmosis gondii and has a life cycle that includes the feces of cats.

Who knows, maybe a parasite is to blame for restrictive eating disorders? Not entirely joking here.

So now, let’s just say for argument’s sake you are infected by some parasite and it makes you feel emotionally desperate and miserable when you are at an optimal weight. In that case, do you believe that BMI 30 is a fate worse than death because you have an infection and not because it is truly a fate worse than death? Are you deluded, or is it the woman who is happily BMI 30?

Is there a parasite involved in developing a restrictive eating disorder? Well I certainly would not rule it out, given how little we know. But I use that possibility only as a hypothetical argument to point out that you have to (in the immortal words of the group En Vogue): “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.”

I suggest people attempting recovery give it time when it comes to the process of physical repairs and body shape, as it does indeed take time to fix all the ravages of restriction.

However when it comes to the emotional landscape that is entirely skewed by the restrictive eating disorder (because it is a neurobiological condition— it lives in the brain), then no—“giving it time” is a fruitless approach.

That is why I also suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or an equivalent therapy that supports replacing maladaptive behaviors with more adaptive ones.

You have to go into training to reach remission—brain training. It doesn't just happen by dutifully restoring your weight.

And to train, you have to have some intrinsic motivation to change. If you don't then CBT does not work and nor will any of the books I suggest for self-study purposes either.

Important takeaway:

How you arrive at any kind of motivation is as critical as any subsequent training you undergo to shift your eating disorder-driven reality.

When you are ready, you are ready. Which sounds like another equally irritating concept akin to “give it time” doesn't it? And here again, you can prepare to be ready by undergoing motivational interviewing with a trained therapist or counselor if you are feeling particularly stuck and unsure of what to do next.

There have been several who have pointed out that CBT, as well as numerous other forms of therapy, have failed them. However, these types of therapies are not designed for passive patients. Recovery from neurobiological conditions (all of them) is not passive in nature. It’s your brain, so you have to learn how to shape it and use it.

Tools for Recovery are available in the youreatopia.com Shop