The Okay Plateau

I was reading a book called Moonwalking with Einstein the other day (it's about the science of memory and how one journalist became the US Memory Champion) and the author, Joshua Foer, mentioned something he called the "Okay Plateau." He was referring to said plateau in regards to his memory training. His skills had improved greatly, but he still wasn't good enough to compete at the national level.

{{Yes, there is such a thing as memory competitions. Although I have no real interest in personally competing, I'm probably better suited to these cerebral Olympics than the athletic variety.}}

The Okay Plateau is where a lot of wannabe experts stall. You're good, but you're not great. You rank most amateurs, but you're not in the pros. You get by.

It's where I think a lot of people stall in recovery, myself included. You might be doing much better with regards to behaviors, and many people might think that you're recovered. But the truth is, you're just getting by. You still obsess about food and weight, even though you're health is no longer in immediate danger. You can function, though not optimally. If people are around you for limited amounts of time, they might not even know about your lingering eating disorder.

To those who know, however, the signs are obvious. The silent calculations, the scale stuffed under the mattress, the sweaty gym clothes in the corner of the closet. For so many others in our messed-up culture, these things don't look disordered or even remotely out of place. They look pretty normal, really. Except that they're not, not for someone with an eating disorder.

Dislodging yourself from the Okay Plateau is hard, Foer says, because it takes a lot of effort. It takes a different kind of practice. People who are pros at some sort of skill, whether it's piano or ice skating, practice differently than amateurs. They practice the harder stuff. They push themselves. They pay attention most to where they're not doing as well in order to improve.

It's the same with recovery, really. Weight gain was hard and hellish, don't get me wrong. But it was also relatively straightforward. Progress was easily measured. But getting off the Okay Plateau was much more difficult. I couldn't just keep shoveling in food, I had to expand my food choices. I had to develop at least some flexibility around eating. I had to learn to manage urges. Then there were all the other recovery things I had to figure out that had nothing to do with food, things like social relationships and family stuff. Things like figuring out what had happened in the last twelve years.

Getting stuck is so easy not only because moving off the Okay Plateau is so damn hard. It's also because you can lull yourself into thinking that everything is just fine or that you're better off than you actually are. But real recovery doesn't happen on the Okay Plateau. Getting there is a crucial step, but so is moving on. It took me a long time to realize this, and understand the difference between where I was at and where I could be at.

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Anonymous said...

Carrie! I love this. Seriously, this could not have come at a better time. And it's so hard to explain this place (the Okay Plateau) to people, especially when things are looking a lot better on the outside. Oh man, this is just great. (I'm sounding a little creepy now, I'll stop.)

I linked to this post on my blog, hope that's okay!

Laura said...

Yup, I think it takes belief, motivation, and a vision of who you want to be and how you want to live and a belief that that vision is possible in order to do the work to get off the "okay plateau."

Rufty said...

Great post Carrie.
I think the professionals need to be aware of the "Okay Plateau", because this is when too many folk get discharged from services, with little support and end up toppling headlong off of the "Okay plateau".
It can be a long way to fall when there's nobody there to catch you. Hence revolving door syndrome...I've seen it far too many times.
Admittedly, I'm still trying to pull myself up to the plateau, and just getting very tired.

Abby said...

I'm not even to that "okay" plateau yet, but I do know that there's a bit difference between surviving and thriving. This is a great reminder that not only can it be done, it needs to be done.

A great kick in the (flat) ass that I needed today, so thank you. Again.

Andrea said...

I could so relate to this, even though I am not there yet. Thanks so much for your insightfulness on your blog, it helps me be a little more accountable!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I almost think the OK plateau is harder than my initial recovery. At least when I was underweight, people could see I was struggling. Now that I am at a healthy weight and I look better, people think everything is OK, but they still don't see the struggle. I think that is why relapse is so common. This is when the real work for me begins.

Abby said...

Damn. This hits home. It so accurately describes where I am but I've really been trying to convince myself that I'm fine, that this isn't a bad place to be. That I'm so much better than I was. Except last week I convinced my fiance go to the store at 11pm because I didn't have any tomato for the sandwich I eat for lunch at work every single day... You're right. I function but not optimally.

Cammy said...

My dietician and I were just talking about this yesterday. She and I agreed that I'm not likely to have a severe relapse at this point, but that my biggest risk is cruising along at a subclinical plateau in which I seem fine on the surface but the ED is still controlling many of my habits and decisions. I think this is SUCH a common issue for ED recovery, and am so glad that you're highlighting it. It's easy to rationalize complacency with continued behaviors/fears/issues when you compare your current self to a sicker on, but okay on a relative scale does NOT mean Recovered.

HikerRD said...

In some ways the "OK plateau" is more challenging to move from than, let's say inertia. The need to change feels less imminent, the consequences less dire. And as you point out, the inner struggle is suffered silently, while outwardly things may be looking ok. Such a valuable post to send my patients to! And so honestly described.

Anonymous said...

It looks like you posted this over a year ago, but wow - I felt like I was reading my own journal. It's amazing how just knowing that other people struggle with this "Okay Plateau" helps motivate me to overcome it. Tips on how to overcome also welcome :)

Anonymous said...

I am at the okay plateau and it is very difficult. Sometimes the aneroxia tells me I can stay here forever. I am trying to fight it cause its not type of life to be there forever.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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