Somebody messaged me the other day and asked if I’ve got any idea how to stop immediately saying “no” when offered something. She questioned whether this was a problem that I had experienced. YES YES YES. I definitely have.
From reading this message, I realised that the automatic replies to offerings of food was exactly the same as mine had been: “I’m ok” or “no thanks” or “I’m not hungry”. I think for so many of us, it genuinely becomes a habitual response from months and months of teaching our brains that this is the only possible response. It seems so natural to answer in this way and ‘before I’ve had time to think of a real response, I’ve already answered’ as the message phrased it, was exactly how I felt too. I know for sure, it was my ED brain responding-my ED’s fight or flight response in action; shut down any source of fear upon the first instance of it without hesitation.
If I were to eat to my mental, physical and unrestricted hunger I can assure you it would always be a “yes please“. This, as I always say, is the most important thing to commit to.
How to resolve:
Saying, “I’m ok” may well be your primary response and this will not change overnight. Even at the stage of recovery I am at, my immediate thought when offered something is no thanks. Like many things in recovery, we have to accept that our brains have got used to giving an incorrect and automatic response. It’s like when people say we are looking healthier, and immediately we think “oh hell. That’s not a good thing.” These seemingly involuntary responses may be given for a number of months to come.
The most important thing to recognise here is: a primary response doesn’t have to be your final response. Change your mind. Use your secondary thoughts of, “actually, that slab of cake might actually be quite nice” to go back on your decision. Saying “no thanks” initially, does not mean you can’t allow your rational brain to intervene and say “actually, I will have some” a few seconds later. The boat hasn’t sailed if you correct your decision. Remember, you are in control. Practice accepting foods when offered.
Help from others:
My mum knows that my automatic reply is no thanks. She sometimes laughs at how quickly I say it. If somebody fancies dessert after dinner and mum asks if I want any, the speed I say “I’m ok thanks” is quite unbelievable. If it’s somebody close to you who is offering you food, it might be helpful to tell them that this negative response is an automatic reaction to you. Tell them that it might to helpful for them to offer it to you twice. Or question if you’re sure. Your loved ones might be scared to ask you twice or check if you’re sure in fear of upsetting you- give them this permission.
One of the things that I hated was when I wasn’t offered it at all. But, to be honest, I’d have probably got bored of my constant negative responses too. I know that can seem daunting, but I promise they won’t mind if you explain how it is hard to accept something ‘unplanned’ and that your immediate, negative response is out of fear. They will likely really appreciate you confiding in them. Similar to this, if somebody else is snacking and you wouldn’t mind trying some, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to ask for some or get yourself some. Even if they don’t ask, if you want it, you have to go out and get it. Don’t always wait for somebody else to act. This is your recovery.
Restricting is our norm. Our automatic response of ‘no‘ isn’t something we can just stop. But we can stop restriction. And it’s the secondary response that we have control of. Although our primary response aims to get us out of the ‘danger’ situation (aka. food), once we think rationally, we can go back and change our decision until our brains rewire to not give an immediate negative answer. Keep eating unrestricted and in time, this change will happen.
Something that has really helped me recently is putting the situation in front of me that I’m scared of, into the future. My mum made spaghetti with meatballs a few nights ago and when she told me thats what we were having, I started to cry. I went up to my room and sobbed on my bed. After a quick, much needed cry, I thought to myself :
‘Han, seriously. In 5 years time you want to be able to eat spaghetti and meatballs don’t you? If you don’t act now, you genuinely will be 24 and scared of pasta and meatballs still.’
It’s when I’m confronted with the source of fear that every single thought of the future seems to slip from my mind. I am only concerned about getting myself out of the danger now. I seem to lose any sense of perspective!! I’ve been think of the future basically every single time I get scared or am tempted to restrict recently. If my head tries to tell me that I only want soup for lunch, I ask myself: “Han, In 5 years time, do you want to only be allowing yourself soup for lunch?” and the thought of this immediately makes me prepare an accompanying bagel with cheese. In a situation where someone offers you food and you feel threatened, ask yourself: “If somebody offers me a biscuit in 5 years time, I want to be able to take it. So I’ll accept it today.” Actions in recovery are what get you places. Not thoughts about actions. Act today. Act now. Do you wan’t to be sitting their dreaming up a sandwich in 5 years time but not allowing yourself it? Or feeling hungry but denying yourself food? No. Act now. Otherwise the reality is that in 5 years time you’ll be exactly in the exact same circumstance that you are now. The prospect of still being this way in the future terrifies the REAL me. You may say: ‘but Han, it’s 5 years away-i’ll have changed by then.’ Trust me-time trickles away from you when tomorrow is the day that you’re going to start. Act now.
I hope you’re all fighting as hard as possible and have had a good start to the week.
Always keep fighting,