Eating Disorder Recovery: Tips for Perfectionists - Ellie Herman Pike
Many people with eating disorders have an inborn temperament that tends to be on the more perfectionistic and rigid side.
Black and white thinking (the opposite of flexible thinking) is common in perfectionists and is addressed in many treatment modalities as rigid thinking and cognitive inflexibility.
As a clinician, one of my main goals has always been to help my clients move towards a more balanced, flexible way of thinking. Here’s how that might work:
We might talk about changing rigid and inflexible statements like, “I have to…” to more flexible statements that start with “I may or I may not…”
In doing this, one can increase their cognitive flexibility.
But, lo and behold, my friends in eating disorder recovery often surprise me!
Recently, one of our ERC Alums, Savannah Kerr, told me that her rigid way of thinking was actually helping her with some parts of the eating disorder recovery process!
In each decision, however inflexible it may seem, she recognizes that she has the power to choose recovery or she can choose the illness. To her, the benefits of recovery outweigh the benefits of the eating disorder, and she would like to choose to stay in recovery each step of the way.
Savannah shared with me that, once she decided to trust in her treatment team, she could do what they said in a definitive, compliant way. While it was a rigid way to think, she believed that she had to stop running because it was her treatment team’s recommendation for her. Again, this was a rigid way to think, but she had to eat the prescribed amount of food that her dietician recommended. This rigid thinking actually encouraged her to follow her treatment team’s recommendations to stay in recovery!
Along the way, while this was all happening, Savannah was also growing in her ability to think flexibly by being willing to try new things.
Here are some of the ways Savannah chooses to use rigidity for good—even if it means that she has to plan to be flexible:
- I have to accept life as it comes in order to be in recovery
- I have to be willing to take new steps/try new things in order to be in recovery
- I have to pay attention to thoughts and emotions in order to be in recovery
- I have to stick to the meal plan that keeps me in recovery while living in a diet culture
- I have to notice eating disorder thoughts and choose not to act on them in order to stay in recovery
Savannah shared her thoughts with me — regarding this new way of thinking,
“It’s worked for me, because a lot of us have perfectionistic black and white thinking. So, I ask myself, ‘can I use it in a more productive way?’”
Reframing rigid thinking and using it to her benefit has allowed her to plan for flexibility, willingness and openness. This flexibility and willingness has been one of her greatest keys to recovery success.
Ellie Herman Pike, MA, LPC, NCC shares, “I’m a licensed therapist and I manage our Alumni/Family Team and Multi-Media efforts for Eating Recovery Center. I enjoy seeing where recovery takes people—and I love how most stories usually result in various ways to experience freedom.”