Did you know? Sööma has a YouTube channel and has prepared several videos to help you understand and explore various concepts related to food and eating disorders.
One of these videos discusses a trauma-informed analogy for eating disorders and eating disorder recovery, which offers a different perspective than the usual one. Keep on reading to get a sense of what’s covered in the video.
0:22 – Typical Perception of ED Recovery
We often see eating disorders as this big bad mental illness that we need to get rid of as soon as possible, often making recovery feel really overwhelming and people seeing themselves as either succeeding or failing in recovery.
0:40 – Different Perspective of ED Recovery
Eating disorders may actually be protective mechanisms that have been put in place for people that have experienced really painful situations or really traumatic events over their lifetime.
1:01 – Living in the Forest
We can think of life as a forest, where we are born. In this forest, there are trees, wild animals, and various temperatures. Sometimes, it’s sunny and sometimes it rains. Some people may never encounter bears and some people encounter bears everyday since the beginning of their lives. All of these different things that exist in the forest represent peoples’ experiences. If you were born in this forest and you encountered really scary things and you didn’t know how to cope, your mind said “OK, this forest is really dangerous. I need to find a way to exist in the forest, but feel safe and protected.”
1:58 – Building the Hut
So then you build yourself a Hut, which is the beginning of the eating disorder. In this Hut, you decorate it as you like, you don’t let anyone come in, you have your routine in the Hut, and this is your experience throughout the months and years of your eating disorder.
2:21 – The Cost of the Hut
You end up feeling really safe and comfortable in the Hut, but eventually you realize that while you’re very safe and comfortable, you actually can’t experience anything in the Forest. You start feeling very lonely and you might get very ill because you can’t access the things you need in the Forest. You realize that the Hut has been very safe and protective, but maybe you want something else. That’s when you may seek help for your eating disorder.
2:51 – The Goal of Recovery, Part 1
The goal of eating disorder recovery is to build capacity, build tolerance and retrain your brain that the Forest is actually a safe space. But you can’t just tell yourself that, even if your adult brain or more developed brain knows that, as it’s related to your experience. So everytime you step out of the Hut and step into the Forest, your mind is saying “this place is extremely dangerous, I cannot be here”. If you encounter something that your mind perceives as dangerous, there’s an urgency to run back in the Hut and seek safety.
3:25 – The Goal of Recovery, Part 2
The goal of eating disorder recovery is to continue to come out of the Hut and spend a bit more time in the Forest, to experience different animals, different weather systems and allow your mind to develop a new relationship with these experiences over time.Then your brain says “OK, maybe I’m okay here, maybe I’m safe here, maybe I don’t need my Hut anymore.” Throughout that process, let’s say you spent four days in the Forest and everything’s fine, then there’s a thunderstorm and everything’s dark out. Perhaps the reflex is to run back to Hut, shut the door and say “Maybe life in the Forest isn’t interesting after all”. This is absolutely normal and okay. The goal of recovery is to open the door the next day, take a step outside and tell yourself “Today is a new day and I can try again”.
4:19 – Conclusion
Hopefully this helps share a different perspective on your eating disorder and eating disorder recovery. It’s important to remember that your Hut isn’t all that bad, it was something that you built to protect yourself and it allowed you to survive in the Forest. Maybe now you just want a life outside the Hut and in the Forest and that is totally possible. It doesn’t need to be black and white. It’s a process to learn to live in the Forest and trust that you don’t need your Hut to survive.
An ED recovery process isn’t linear and many ups and downs can present themselves along the way. It’s important that you choose a provider that will normalize your experience with your eating disorder, seek to understand how it’s been protective and accompany you in building capacity to live in the Forest. If you’re not sure where to start or you’re looking for additional support in your recovery journey, please reach out to our team to see how we can help. You can contact us at (202) 738-4726 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
By: Jess Francis and Annyck Besso, Registered Dietitians
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