I have a very “Type A” personality. I love schedules and plans and lists, and if anything deviates in the slightest from my original plan, it stresses me out. If I’m working on a project or task, I cannot stop until it is done. I also strive for perfection… and that perfectionist in me thrives on ‘black and white’ thinking. If something is not completely successful, then it’s a failure. If I’m not the best at something, then I’m the worst. In arguments, to my husbands dismay, if he tells me that I’m wrong about something, I’ll normally respond with something along the lines of “well I guess I’m just a stupid idiot then!” I tend to take things to the extreme on either side of the spectrum. (It’s a work in progress!)
This black and white way of thinking has played a major role in both my experiences with anorexia and binge eating. In my book, food was either healthy or unhealthy. If I didn’t do my complete planned workout or run over five miles in a day, then I considered my workouts useless. If I didn’t have a perfectly toned body, then I was fat. If I ate one ‘bad thing’ in a day, then my day was ‘messed up’ so I ate all the ‘bad things’ until I was absolutely sick…. and then I felt the need to restrict and eat perfectly to compensate. I found my comfort in the extremes. With my personality, rigid rules seemed like the only rules which were acceptable to have. And when I broke one of these strict rules, I seemed to loose all control. Once I lost control, I thought the answer was to implement more rigid rules. As you can guess, living this way gets pretty exhausting, and the cycle seems to never end.
The only way out of the cycle is to start living in the gray area. For me, that meant letting a lot of things go. As I mentioned previously, living in the extremes had become natural to me, so trying to start to forget all of my rigid rules seemed pretty impossible. I was afraid that without my rules of eating only the healthiest of foods, completing the most vigorous of workouts, and not straying a single bite from my meal plan, that I would become lazy and gain extreme amounts of weight. My fears were compelling (and clearly still in the ‘black and white’ mindset), but the desire to get out of the cycle was even more compelling. So I’ve had to work on moving from either side of the extremes on the spectrum, and find a happy medium in the gray area.
The first step to working on changing this mindset was to become aware of the fact that this way of thinking wasn’t healthy or productive. Simply becoming aware helped me to be able to slow down when I had an irrational thought like, “I can’t eat that ice cream or else I will get fat”, or “I ate too much at breakfast this morning so I’m just going to binge the rest of the day”. In the beginning of my therapy for anorexia, I was told to read the book “Life Without Ed” (Jenni Schaefer) in which she discusses some of these irrational thoughts in which she called “Ed” and thought of them like an abusive boyfriend in which she had to rid herself of. Although the book is very good (I would highly recommend!!!), I guess I just wasn’t that creative and couldn’t actually think of ‘an abusive boyfriend living in my thoughts trying to dictate what to/what not to eat’. I couldn’t actually separate my eating disorder from myself… I knew that my very own brain was producing the thoughts that I was having! So instead, I owned those irrational thoughts, but I understood that they were not helpful in my life. So instead when they started swarming in, I could ask myself, “Am I getting caught up in black and white thinking?”
If the answer was “yes, I am getting caught up in black and white thinking”, I could proceed to reason through it. “Will eating one serving of ice cream honestly make me gain enough weight for it to be noticeable?” or “Is overeating during one meal of a day honestly going to ‘ruin’ all progress I have made?” Even if I truly believed that the answer was “yes” to those… I would then have to ask myself, “so what?” So what if eating ice cream once made me gain five pounds? Is my e n t i r e life going to be effected by five pounds more weight on my body? Are people going to stop talking to me because of five pounds? Will my legs not be able to carry me when I run because of five pounds? Is my family not going to accept me? Will I never find love because of five pounds? Really… what would be the WORST thing that could happen from gaining five pounds? Nothing that would immediately effect the outcome of my life. So, I would proceed to eat the ice cream, see that I didn’t gain five pounds, and I would find reinforcement for the next time I had to face an irrational thought.
Breaking this habit of unhelpful thinking is difficult, and I’m still working on it after YEARS. However, it saves a whole lotta stress learning to let go of irrational thoughts, rigid rules, and ‘perfect’ expectations placed upon our own selves. I have learned that those times when I can take a deep breath, rationalize with myself, and choose to find the happy medium are the times that make life real. Life isn’t supposed to be lived ‘black and white’. Life is messy, things don’t go the way that we want them to, and nothing can turn out perfectly, especially not in the way that we eat or the way that we look.