Rose-colored ED goggles

We've probably all done it: had some nasty side effects (or a health scare) due to ED behaviors and then vowed to do better next time. Except next time comes and we're still doing the same behaviors. Raise your hand if this sounds familiar.  I know my hand is raised.  

Of course, people with eating disorders aren't the only people to do things like this.  We all do, it's just that people with addictive-esque behaviors tend to do it more frequently. The question is why: if we know an ED behavior will make us feel like crap, why do we keep doing it?

The answer is simple.  We don't remember the bad bits (the ER visits, the being too weak to drag ourselves off the couch), we remember the good stuff (how good it felt to see the numbers on the scale going down, the endorphin highs).

Researchers studied a group of college-aged binge drinkers to figure out exactly why they continued to binge drink even when they regularly blacked out and wound up with a nasty hangover. From a news story on the study:

The college students rated the upsides to drinking as more positive, and more likely to happen in the future. And the researchers call this positive outlook "rose-colored beer goggles."

"It's as though they think that the good effects of drinking keep getting better and more likely to happen again," Diane Logan, study author and a UW clinical psychology graduate student, said in the statement.

And by letting the good times roll, some of these students lose perspective on the bad times. The psychologists found those that experienced small to moderate negative consequences from drinking didn't consider the episodes so bad, and didn't think they were likely to experience them again. The authors call this effect cognitive-dissonance reasoning.

Like I said: sound familiar?

It's easy to romanticize the eating disorder in our heads.  It wasn't that bad and damn if we didn't feel better.  Certainly parts of my eating disorder felt better than recovery, but they were both small and fleeting.  When I do the math--total up all the negatives and all the positives--it's much easier to see that the bad times were both a) actually quite bad and b) lasted a lot longer than the good times.

I think I forget this.  The other factor that accelerates my anorexia amnesia is that the anxiety relief from ED behaviors is immediate.  The nasty bits, the health issues and general life destruction, often take a lot longer to kick in.  So our brains immediately remember that ED=feel better while forgetting that ED=feel worse, too.

Said one of the study's authors:

The authors hope their findings will influence alcohol counseling programs at universities. "We should take into account how people don't think of negative consequences as all that bad or likely to happen again," Logan said.

It's a lesson I think the ED community could use, too. A lot of sufferers (and I include myself in this) hope that by sharing all the nasty bits of the illness, we can prevent others from going down the same path. After all, how many times have I said that if I only knew how damaging the ED was going to be, I never would have started down this path. Except that I probably would have told myself that I wasn't stupid enough to let it get "that bad." And I'm guessing those who knew a lot about eating disorders were the same way.

Taking off the rose-colored glasses hurts. It's not pleasant. Or easy. But it is necessary.

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hm said...

Good call, Carrie- and so true- "I can keep it in check" is a dangerous way to think- but oh, so tempting- but I don't know- I think the pain of being in recovery and having years and years of squelched memories and feelings come crashing back in on me is worse than anything I ever felt while engaging in my ed- I avoided some pretty major shit that way- still- all this pain and stress won't kill me, and the ed could- at this point, it's not even about how the ed felt or how I feel now- it's only about my family- and doing what it takes to stay with them, even if it's excruciating-

sonya topaz said...

this reminds me of a quote from Trainspotting: "
Why take heroin? He answers, "For the pleasure of it. Otherwise, we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not stupid. Not that stupid, anyway."

and it's true, we're not stupid, and there were positives, we just have to reassess how congruent the positives of an Ed are with where we want to be in our lives.
and sometimes we have to do it again and again and again.

Cathy (UK) said...

This post interested me mainly because I never viewed my AN as either an 'addiction' or a 'choice'.

You write:

" many times have I said that if I only knew how damaging the ED was going to be, I never would have started down this path."

I wonder whether you, or others with EDs consciously thought about adopting a pattern of behaviours at the outset or prior to a relapse, or whether the behaviours developed more unconsciously?

I know that when my AN began as an 11-12 year old, I didn't set out consciously to lose weight. In fact, throughout my long history of AN, which included big relapses and small recoveries, I never consciously made a decision to lose weight. My AN began with over-exercising because I was anxious. I became exercise-dependent, which provoked weight loss. I was then frightened of re-gaining the weight, but not because I feared getting bigger. Rather, I feared the anxiety associated with behaviour change.

You sound a bit more positive :) I'm glad to hear that.

Take care!

HikerRD said...

I often use the analogy (for those struggling with EDZ) of reflecting on an old relationship. Generally, we romanticize it, recalling the good times, longing for those times. But when fairly considered, we realized, "I hated him--he treated me like crap, I was miserable...."

Christina said...

I really needed to read this right now.

Niika said...

I knew, on an intellectual level, all the consequences of ED. I had read loads and loads of books and articles and blog entries that described all the health problems severe anoretics had, etc etc, and I knew all the medical consequences of my bulimia as well. But on an emotional level, I believed they either would never really happen to me (the most severe consequences), or they weren't happening NOW, so I just didn't care if in some remote point in the future they did happen. Add to that my surprisingly (to me) stable body, physiologically speaking, and I was convinced I was practically immune. To be honest, I still sort of am. I always say "If it's been 5+ years of ED, and my bloodwork still never comes back bad (short of one bout of anemia) and I've never been hospitalized for ED, it really can't be that bad." Which I realize, intellectually, is ignorant on my part... but emotionally it simply does not compute.

Incredible Eating Anorexics said...

"It won't happen to me"

or if something does,

"It was due to X - not Y" (Y being the ED.)

Anonymous said...

yes Carie, this is so true. I find myself now, even in a much better mindset, remembering that relief that I experienced from behaviors, but not remembering the lack of energy, the anger, the short fuse I had. Keeping this in the back of my head, really REALLY helpful :) Thanks so much for reminding me <3

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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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