You have porbably heard that the more you do something, the more it becomes a habit. People say different things - some say it takes 21 days (3 weeks), some say a few months, and others say a year. However long it takes, it is well-known that things become a habit if you do them more often.
I want to talk about this 'habit-forming' process in terms of thinking and mood, but that is for another post. What this post will talk about is how ED and exposure therapy (or habits) are related.
When I was sick, it was a habit not to eat. At first, this was really hard. I was hungry all the time and my stomach hurt so much. But each day, it got 'easier'. I became less hungry and I stopped thinking about the food that I so desperately missed. Thus, restricting became a habit, and so did my excuses for not eating. 'I am not hungry', 'I ate already', 'I don't like that food', etc. Strangely enough, these are the same phrases that most people with ED say. This suggests that people who are predisposed to ED actually have something similar in that their bodies eventually adapt to the lack of food, turn of their hunger signals (remember the leptin theory?!), and thus, the person loses weight and becomes very ill with ED. So, how does one recover with ED, if their body is attuned to not eating? If my leptin is so high that I never feel hungry, how in the world am I supposed to force myself to eat when I do not want to?! How am I expected to face my worst fears - food, and lots of it - and get myself healthy again?
Think of what you fear most. Spiders, a person, an event, snakes, whatever. Now imagine facing that situation five or six times a day. Scarey, right? This is what I do everyday. I face food in abundant amounts. And I have to eat. It is frightening. But now it is a bit easier. Why?
Habit-forming is the answer. The more you do something, the more you get used to it. Researchers have indeed found that 'exposure' therapy may help those with ED (see http://journals.lww.com/practicalpsychiatry/Abstract/2007/07000/The_Application_of_Exposure_Therapy_and.4.aspx)
Let me make it easier to understand: when I first started recovery, it was so hard. I was so scared of the food - of any food. And now I had to eat many times a day. How? Exposre. Habit-forming. The more frequently I ate and day after day, it slowly became easier. The first time I fed myself, I was terrified. I cried. I screamed. Literally. I am not kidding. I was hysterical. But, each day after, it slowly (and VERY SLOWLY!) became simpler. Breakfast? Not a problem. Make breakfast, grab a book to read, and eat. Done. Lunch? Same thing. Dinner? Repeat. And the next day, the exposure continued.
I am now at the point when eating is no problem. I know when I need to eat and what I need to eat, and I do it. I'm still struggling though, to be perfectly honest. Sometimes I'm frustrated because I have to eat even when not hungry. Other times I feel so fat that I do not want to put anything past my lips. But I know that I need to build this habit. I need to get my body and brain used to eating again. It's like training a puppy - if you practice with it over and over again, it will learn tricks and manners.
So, there is hope for those with ED. Eating really does get easier. I am proof of it. You CAN do it. The same goes with those without ED. If you have a habit that you really need to learn, expose yourself to it and make it constant in your life. Perhaps you need to wake up at the same each day. Then set your alarm and make yourself get up when it rings. It will become easier. Or perhaps you need to clean your room more often. Force yourself to do it weekly, and soon, it will be no problem. Try this experiment on yourself with something you want to learn to do (or a habit you need to form). It really does work.
So, ED, I outsmarted you again! It's interesting how ED can be so strong, but we are stronger. Faith, patience, strength, support, and determination. Recovering from ED is possible, one bite at a time.