When recovering from an Eating Disorder you have good days and bad days, days when recovery is almost effortless, and other days when you want to claw your skin off and embrace the urges fully. But what makes the difference between a good day and a bad day? Is it chance, completely random or is there more to it?
Everyone has something called Vulnerability Factors, these are things (big or small) that make one more vulnerable and susceptible to eating disordered thoughts and urges. When these factors occur in our daily lives they wear down our resolve and not only make it harder to deal with these thoughts and urges, but allow them to happen more frequently and stronger.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to figure out your personal vulnerability factors and they are different for everyone. Figuring out your factors will take a bit of work, but TRUST ME it’s worth it. When having any thoughts or urges, take the time to notice your surroundings and write them down. At first, write down EVERYTHING:
- Where you are
- Who you are with
- What time of day it is
- The last time you ate, what you ate
- The next time you plan on eating, what you plan on eating
- How you are feeling
- How much sleep you got
- Have you missed any medication in the last week
- Anything that may have happened to stress you out in the last day or 2
- Anything else – whether you think it’s important or not
Once you have your list, start to notice patterns in your environment, when a few things start to occur around most (if not every) thought and urge, you have found your vulnerability factors! Personally, my vulnerable times are:
- I’m tired
- I’ve missed some medication
- I’m waiting for someone or something
- I’m anxious
- I’m running late or rushing
- I’m in a new social situation
- I have a doctor’s appointment coming up (or just passed) where I will be weighed
- I’m with my family (especially my mom)
- I’m with thin people or people who obsess about their weight
- I’m wearing something that shows my body (short sleeves, dress, skirt, yoga clothes)
- I’m alone
- I’m bored
This is a list that is constantly being revised as I learn more about myself and the things that make me more susceptible to the lure of my eating disorder. Now that I know what these factors are, I can be on the look out for these thoughts at these vulnerable times. Often times urges come and you don’t know why you have to do them – you just do. Being home alone used to mean that I HAD to skip dinner – why? Because I was fat and pathetic and I could get away with it. Now I realize that all those reasons are excuses ED is feeding me that would not exist if I wasn’t already vulnerable. When you realize why you feel you need to do things, it makes it easier to recognize that no, you really don’t.
For instance, I know that if I am home alone for dinner, I’m going to have a hard time. Because I have an explanation for the urges and thoughts I have they are easier to dismiss. I don’t want to eat dinner not because of all the reasons ED says – these thoughts are in my head because I am alone at home. What ED says it not true, and these thoughts would not exist if Carson was home.
I get anxious when I am waiting for something to happen – someone to pick me up, waiting to go out with a friend or for groceries, waiting for meal time or bed time. When this happens, I am more likely to get purging and exercising urges and thoughts berating my body and myself. When these thoughts come up, I know that I don’t NEED to purge – that thought only exists because I am waiting for someone. Do instead, I do something else while I wait and it’s easier to dismiss the urges.
Take the time to explore your own vulnerabilities. Use this knowledge to fight your disorder. Remember that this will take time and effort, also that knowledge does not equal freedom, it’s what you do with the knowledge that matters. Knowing your vulnerabilities is not enough – you must actively avoid the ones you can, and be hyper vigilant when faced with one you can’t avoid.