Goal setting in anorexia recovery. This is what we are often encouraged to do to help with our recovery. Set ourselves anorexia recovery goals – things we want to do, things we want to achieve. Write them down. Then, whenever we are struggling with anorexia, we are to remind ourselves of our goals. We look at them, we read them, and we get the focus and motivation we need again to fight anorexia. That is how it is meant to work. And often it does. Setting anorexia recovery goals is a very common and successfully used tool. But what about regret writing?
Recently, I wrote down a list of regrets. I gave myself 15 minutes to write down everything that came to mind from my life which I regretted. Some may see this as a really negative thing to do but actually for me, it is really helpful in keeping me on track in recovery when I am having a wobble. Because generally, most of my regrets were things that anorexia had stopped me from doing, or had taken away from me. So when my mind is more in anorexic mode, I think about my regrets. When my head says I shouldn’t eat this or that, I remind myself that one of my regrets is not eating foods that I wanted to. So then I eat the food. And for me now, reminding myself of my regrets is more of a motivation and more useful than setting anorexia recovery goals.
I have used goal setting in anorexia recovery in the past. It wasn’t quite as structured as sitting down and writing goals, but I did have things I wanted to be able to do. I saw them more as wishes rather than goals. Some wishes were big, some wishes were small. I would wish to be able to go out with friends and to eat my mum’s cooking. There were several things on my wish list – things that I desperately wanted to do but which anorexia stopped me from doing, or made me too scared to.
When I would struggle to go against anorexia, I would remind myself of my wishes, exactly the same as you would with goal setting. If I was scared of a meal, or wanting to over exercise, whatever the struggle, I would remind myself that I HAD to do the right thing in order to be able to achieve my wish. For example, I had to be able to eat food if I wanted to go out to dinner with friends. Having these wishes was really key for starting me off in anorexia recovery and helping to keep me going when things were tough.
So I do see the benefits of goal setting in anorexia recovery. However, now I am no longer at the start of my recovery journey, setting anorexia recovery goals is less useful to me. I have been in recovery now for years and I keep anorexia at bay. Being in recovery now is normal, rather than something I have to fight for on an hourly basis. It is normal for me to eat lunch and I do it without thinking whereas before, it was a huge struggle and I would have to remind myself of my wishes in order to eat. Anorexia is still there, but it is in the corner rather than dominating the whole room. But sometimes it does still creep out of the corner and take up more space. It is on these occasions that I use regrets more than I use goals.
I suppose my list of regrets is my anorexia recovery goals. My goal is to avoid making more of these regrets. We are told to not have regrets. But I think it is quite hard to get through life without regretting one single thing. Regrets are generally seen as negative, bad things that you should not think about. But actually, regrets don’t have to be banished to the dark side. What is important, is what we do with our regrets. If we learn from them and use them for making positive change, then regrets can be a force for good. So if goal setting isn’t for you, you could always try regret writing. It has been really useful for me and if you give it a go, hopefully you won’t regret it!
Here are my top 6 regrets that I use to help me keep fighting in anorexia recovery.
1. How I treated my parents and impacted their life
How I treated my parents when in the depths of anorexia is something I wholeheartedly regret and will never forgive myself for. I know others may say that I was very unwell and it was a result of my eating disorder that I behaved how I did with my parents. But I will never not feel guilty for how I treated them, and how much anorexia has ruined their life as well as it did mine. So I remind myself that I never want to go back to being like that. I never, ever want to put my parents through all that again. So that regret keeps me fighting anorexia.
2. Losing my athletic ability
If you didn’t know, I used to be an athlete (if you want to read more about it have a look at my blog Athlete to Anorexia to Athlete). Anorexia took my athletic dreams away from me. I hate it for that. I regret that. So if anorexia ever tries to tempt me into believing it can make me feel better and give me a better life, I remind myself of this regret.
3. Staying in my comfort zone and not taking risks or opportunities
Anorexia made me terrified of stepping out of my comfort zone. I have missed out on an awful lot over the years through not taking risks and opportunities because anorexia made me too scared. Anorexia convinced me that staying in my anorexic comfort zone was better than stepping out and taking a risk. I do still tend to to stay in my comfort zone and not take risks or opportunities. But I do try and challenge this. And reminding myself that not doing so has been one of my biggest regrets gives me that motivation to take the risks and opportunities when they arise.
4. Wasting so much time and energy worrying about my weight
I have lost years and years of life worrying about my weight. For years, every second of every day was spent worrying about my weight. It isn’t just the time that has been lost with it, but the importance I have given it. Now this is not to say that I don’t still worry about my weight, because I do. But not to the same extent that I used to. And I am now trying to use this regret to limit the time and energy I give to the weight worry.
When I find myself really stressing and worrying about my weight, I remind myself that I don’t want to waste more of my life simply worrying about my weight. The regret reminds me that there is more to life than my weight. It is not a cure to stop the worry or the focus on weight, but it certainly helps limit it.
5. Wasting time thinking about food I shouldn’t eat
This is one I have been using really recently. Often, I will think to myself – “I shouldn’t eat x.” I would try hard to resist eating it, even though I would really want to eat it. If I did eat it, I would feel guilty. But when I wrote this list of regrets, I thought that I really do regret wasting so much of my time telling myself I should not eat certain foods. Like why?! Seriously! Why can’t I frigging eat the cereal, or biscuit, or whatever it is. I still have these thoughts that I shouldn’t eat x but now when I do, I remind myself how it is on my list of regrets and that it isn’t something I want to continue. So I eat the food. Because I no longer want to regret not eating it.
6. Lost time with family
Anorexia is a very isolating illness. It makes you isolate yourself from everyone and everything. For so many years, anorexia stopped me being able to spend time and join in with my family. It was more important to me to be exercising, or doing whatever anorexia wanted me to do, rather than being with my family. So when I find my tendency to isolate and not join in or do things with my family, I remind myself of this regret and I do the opposite. I spend time with my family. And thinking of this regret does work every single time.
If you have ever written a regret list then I’d love to hear how you found it. And if you use goal setting I would also love for you to leave a comment about how/if it helps. And a little plug from me – my book Running Free: My Battle with Anorexia has recently been published and is available to buy. Please see the link below if you are interested.