So I’m not sure if everyone knows this, but eating disorders act as a major coping mechanism. Most of the people you will meet, me included, that have or have had an eating disorder, are most likely coping with something. What we are coping with can range anywhere from events like a death of a family member, rape, near death experiences, insecurity, confusion about identity, divorce, bullying, needing to be fit for sports, weight loss or gain, body image, painful relationships, you get the idea. I know for me, I had some big stuff happen and within a year I was anorexic and excessively exercising. It’s like something in my brained snapped and made my body, food and exercise the only thing I could care about and think about. If I was thinking about how many calories I was burning each day, I could ignore the extreme emotional pain I was feeling from the events that I did not know how to fix. I couldn’t control how people treated me, what they thought of me, when they would die or not, but I thought I COULD control how many calories I ate, how long I could run and how little I could eat.
When you enter treatment it is crucial to figure out what the root issues are in your life that keep the eating disorder thriving. Once you figure those out you can learn new, healthier ways to cope instead of using the eating disorder.
I want to make a quick note for those of you that have never had an eating disorder. Most people with eating disorders do not know they have one. I, for one, was anorexic for seven years. I didn’t start to realize I maaaaybe had an issue until year 6, and I really didn’t see that I had a problem until months into treatment and re-feeding. I say this because we are not consciously using the eating disorder to cope. It is something that just happens. It’s like when you are nervous and you are biting your nails. You don’t get nervous and think to yourself, “hmm I think I will bite my nails to feel better.” You just do it, and all of a sudden realize, shoot, I’m biting my nails again. I must be nervous. Eating disorders are similar. Something happens and you don’t consciously say, “Oh man, that person really hurt my feelings. I think I will count all the calories of the food I eat, not eat lunch and go for a six mile run today to feel better.” This doesn’t happen! We just find ourselves all of a sudden not eating, counting and running. Or in other cases, binging, cutting, purging and obsessing.
Once we recognize we have an eating disorder it is EXTREMELY difficult to overcome. I honestly do not have a solid comparison to anything as to how hard it is to recover from an eating disorder. I think this is because there just isn’t one. It’s in its own arena of difficult.
So once we are in treatment, or decide to recover, the hard work begins of finding the root problems, stopping the E.D. behaviors and replacing them with coping skills that are healthy. What’s hard about this is sometimes we don’t even know what the root problem is anymore. During my own recovery I have found that I sometimes don’t even realize I’m having a hard time with something until I notice that I keep trying to push off when I eat or I’m all of a sudden obsessing about losing weight again. For example, I was robbed a few months ago. It was actually incredibly traumatic. I still get anxiety from it today. Right after getting robbed my old ED behaviors came RIGHT back up. I started looking at numbers, worrying about my weight, and cut my meal portions in half. It wasn’t until my dietician and therapist looked at me and asked what the heck was going on that I noticed I was coping with being robbed with my eating disorder. I didn’t want to have to think about or feel the emotions that being robbed brought up. I didn’t want to face that I felt stupid for having it happen. That I felt literally scared for my life. That I was embarrassed to tell people about it. Instead of feeling those things and working through those things, it’s easier to concentrate on my weight, my body and food. The other stuff is too painful.
Enter in coping skills! When something is going wrong, or we find ourselves using our eating disorders to cope, it’s time to try a coping skill instead!!
This blogs coping skill is called F.A.S.T.
The F.A.S.T. skill is a DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) interpersonal effectiveness skill that is used to facilitate healthy relationships while keeping respect for yourself. Basically, when we are in a relationship with anyone, we want to do what it takes to maintain the relationship, meet it’s needs and have it flourish in a respectful way, but not at the cost of losing our own self respect, values and needs…
I don’t know about you but I have a REALLY hard time doing this.
There have been so many times where something has happened and I didn’t speak up because I didn’t feel confident enough. Other times I’ve found myself angry and hurt because I sacrificed my values and needs for the another persons and they could’ve cared less. There have been times that I have stuck to my values and it has really ticked someone off to the point that our relationship became severed. All of these times I end up ruminating on the situation, have no idea what to do about how I’m feeling, and end up with my eating disorder taking over.
F.A.S.T. is an acronym!
F - (be) FAIR
A - (no) APOLOGIES
S - STICK TO VALUES
T - (be) TRUTHFUL
Seems easy right?! Well sometimes it’s harder then you think! I recently had an event happened where I thought I did the right thing, but it really made some people mad. I hate having people mad at me and it gives me extreme stress and anxiety. I don’t know how to talk to them or reconcile that I feel I did the right thing, but also that I feel bad because they are now angry with me. Instead of allowing my eating disorder to take over, my therapist helped me remember the F.A.S.T. skill. I can use this skill to talk to the other person as well as calm my anxiety about the situation. The F.A.S.T. skill can help me to maintain my self respect during this conflict as well as care for the relationship. Here is how it works and how I’ve used it…
(btw - I’m not a therapist, I can only share this skill to the best of my ability and how I use it. I will be quoting from sources! I encourage everyone to work with a licensed therapist!)
F - (be) FAIR -
“to yourself and others. This includes both your thoughts and your actions. When you're being fair, you are not using dramatic or judgmental thoughts or statements such as "I'm powerless in this situation" or "They're the worst!" Instead, your thoughts may be along the lines of, "What's going on for that person, and what's going on for me?" or "I didn't agree with most of what he just said, but what were the elements of truth?”(1)
“Don’t expect the other person to always accommodate your preferences, and don’t accept never having yours considered or honored.”(2)
This one took me a long time to be able to do. I think it takes a certain level of humility and I have to be in my wise mind, not emotional mind in order to implement it. It reminds me to be fair to myself AND the person I am speaking with. In the situation that happened recently it helped me to figure out what my thoughts were, but also to sit back and see it from their point of view as well.
A - (no) APOLOGIES -
“this doesn't mean you never apologize--apologizing can be incredibly powerful in relationships. However, you don't need to apologize when you haven't done anything wrong.” (1)
Many people struggle with over-apologizing, something that can serve to perpetuate low self-esteem and feelings of frustration, resentment, self-loathing, or self-betrayal. This is the opposite of self-respect! If you find yourself apologizing several times a day, start asking yourself, “What am I apologizing for?” “Did I do or say something that legitimately warrants an apology, or am I over-apologizing?” “Often, people apologize to avoid conflict or because they have difficulty tolerating someone being angry with them, so they apologize to smooth things over or keep the peace. Here is an important point to keep in mind: if you apologize for every little thing, you may appear insincere when it comes to a situation where an apology is actually warranted. Building mindfulness around over-apologizing can help you to break the habit and raise your self-respect.” (2)
This one speaks to me a LOT! I’m the type of person that if you bump into me, I say sorry! I say sorry all the time and it has led me to have low self-esteem, insecurity and feeling like I lack value. I’ve learned and am still learning to only apologize for things that I actually need to apologize for. I don’t need to apologize just to avoid awkwardness or get others to stop being mad at me. I only need to apologies for things that I have done wrong.
S - STICK TO VALUES -
“Stand up for what you believe in. If you're not sure what you believe in, do some self-examination to determine your values. Be honest about what you value. If you say you value family but you avoid them at all costs, then you're not valuing family. You may want to make a list of your current values, and what you hope your values will be in the future.” (1)
“Don’t do anything that goes against what you know to be right for YOU. Speak up and make other suggestions or make alternate plans. Don’t abandon your friends, religion, or hobbies for your new boyfriend or girlfriend. Make time to do the things that are important to you, and both you and your new relationship will be healthier for it. If another person expects you to compromise things that are important to you, then the relationship may not be the best fit for you anyway.” (2)
This one is a biggie for me! I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the past couple of years and wrote down my values. They ranged from what I valued in my marriage to what kind of business I want to have. Once I knew my values, it was a LOT easier to stick to them. When I had my eating disorder I still had values, but being thin and perfect trumped them all. Now I value my faith, my family, honesty and humility WAY more then the number on the scale and I stick to those values no matter what. In my current situation I’m able to sit back and know that I stuck to my values and that really is what matters to me!
T - (be) TRUTHFUL -
“Be honest with yourself and others. Are you exaggerating the situation? Are you minimizing it? Are your words true?” (1)
“Whether telling a little white lie or a blatant tale, people can be untruthful for many reasons. Often, they are trying to avoid confrontation, conflict, or getting into trouble. Perhaps they are trying not to hurt another person’s feelings. And sometimes, people lie in an effort to try to manipulate or control a situation. Making it a habit of telling lies has a way of eventually tripping us up when one forgets what they have said and to whom they have said it. Play it safe and create a situation for yourself in which you never have to worry about what you have or have not said, thereby keeping anxiety, guilt, and shame away. Remember, telling only partial truths or omitting facts are also ways of being untruthful and can be harmful to relationships!” (2)
I’m not a person that struggles a lot with lying. In fact, people might say I’m honest to a fault! But I do struggle with being honest about how I feel. I might say something is ok, when really it is not, or I might appease someone else, when really I should have told them no. Sometimes I have to take a step back and think about how I feel, and then have the courage to be honest about it. Every time I do though, I feel so much better!
Using the F.A.S.T. skill takes practice and I actually use to get even more anxiety trying it out. But the more I did it, the easier it became. My relationships, at least on my side, have became a lot healthier as well.
This skill is great to use in almost any situation. It doesn’t just have to be used with another person, it can be used in the relationship you have with yourself. Sometimes we need to sit back and be fair to ourselves, not apologize for how we feel, really figure out our value in a situation and be honest with ourselves about what is going on!
Next time you feel sense that your eating disorder is helping you cope with a relationship issue, remember F.A.S.T!!! Maintain your self respect as well as your relationship and tell that eating disorder to take a hike!
- Sara -
1 - https://www.sunrisertc.com/interpersonal-effectiveness/#fast