What to do when you feel totally defeated

Humans are pleasure-seeking missiles, and we repeat behaviour that makes us feel good!  So it stands to reason that if recovery makes us feel good then we’ll do more of it, right?

The problem comes in when you’re doing your best but you’re not seeing the results you were hoping for. Or worse, you fall right off the horse despite all your best intentions.

It’s hard to feel good, much less celebratory, under those circumstances.
Instead you’ll more likely feel disappointed, frustrated, ashamed, and maybe even a deep sense of hopelessness or defeat.

“Suffering occurs when our expectations don’t match our reality, and we feel powerless to change it”.
– Tony Robbins

As suffering in this case is the feeling of guilt, shame, disappointment, frustration or hopelessness that washes over you when you ‘relapse’, then your reality is not matching your expectations and you feel powerless to do anything about it.


1. In early recovery the odds are stacked against you.
You’ve been wiring this behaviour into your brain and body for many years, and you are trying to wire it out overnight!
In recovery coaching circles the rule of thumb for recovery is 1 month for every year in the disorder.
That sounds fair, right?  
But … that doesn’t have to be you!
As with learning anything new, you can wire in new behaviours faster the more you practise.  (You’ll learn to swim in a few days if you do nothing but spend all day in the pool with a great trainer and then practise, practise, practise.) 
So, the odds are that your recovery is going to take some time, and there will be setbacks.  Just like learning to swim you can speed up the recovery process by front loading ‘the skills and drills work’ and then practising tirelessly until new behaviours are automatic. And the faster that you get back on the horse after making a mistake,  the faster you’ll wire in the new behaviour. 
So, dust yourself off and get back on that recovery horse AFAP! (As Fast As Possible)

2. You can’t take a time out.
You are being forced to practise multiple times a day!
You can’t avoid or isolate yourself from food. You simply have no choice but to practise new behaviours and thoughts around food and your body image again and again and again, multiple times a day, day after day. Practising new thoughts and behaviours takes time, energy, and determination, and you only have so much of that in your bag each day.  Yes, you can get better at sustaining your level of focus, energy and determination, but ultimately it runs out, and when it does, you might make mistakes. 
So, be patient with yourself, expect setbacks, and keep going.

3. Setbacks are not a sign that this won’t work.
Setbacks are a sign that you still have some learning to do.
Henry Ford reminds us that “failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” If you have fallen off the horse, what do you still need to learn?  Perhaps you need to tweak your actions and try again differently.  Perhaps you just need to persist with the same strategy until it sticks.
So, learn intelligently from each setback and move on swiftly.

4. Some of the tools you’ve tried before didn’t work. 
In the past you may have been flying East to look for a sunset.
Traditional Psychotherapy focuses your energy and attention on understanding the past, not necessarily on taking practical steps to change the future.
Medication (the disease model) treats disordered eating as an illness and uses pills to treat symptoms such as anxiety, depression and binge urges.  Sadly pharmaceuticals are rarely designed to treat the cause (which in this case include restriction, self-loathing and distorted body image).
Inpatient treatment can be fantastic for rewiring behaviours, but has limited effect when the “patient” (ahem, disease model) is back in the real world.
The 12 Steps (the addiction model) provides a wonderful life-skill tool for many, however in ED recovery it has some unhelpful tenets.  For example, unlike booze or drugs, avoiding food is not possible – we simply cannot go cold turkey or wean ourselves off food.  (And yes, I’ve heard the argument that not all foods are addictive, just like not all drinks are addictive … but I know plenty of ED sufferers who will binge on kale if needs be, and I know no alcoholics who will binge drink water!). 

Few traditional ED recovery models offer practical advice as to how to listen to your body, how to love and accept your body, and how to eat intuitively.  Whereas the new model of neuroplastic ED recovery works to rewire new thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours using skills and drills in a process of repetitive action, mental rehearsal and constant re-evaluation.
Done the new way, recovery is not a question of “if” but “when”.

So, you can rest assured that you have the right tools now.  Practice, patience and persistence is all that is required.

When you feel despondent after a setback, what expectation did you have that was not met?
Did you think, “I should be able to do this by now?”, or “this will never work (because it hasn’t in the past)”.
Your expectations might be too high. 
If you’re continually struggling in a specific area then there’s a good chance you’re trying to walk before you can crawl.  Make your expectations realistic and your daily recovery skills, drills and goals simple and manageable. 
A great principle to recover by is “make it so small that you can’t fail to achieve it”. 

You are NOT powerless over your disorder.
Perhaps, the higher power to which you do need to surrender in ED recovery is your body’s incredible innate intelligence.  And that’s where it ends.
You always have the power of choice.
You can always choose to learn from setbacks and to try again more intelligently.
You may well be humbled along the way, and yet you can always get up and give it another go.

You will need to use this power repeatedly to practise the skills of self love, intuitive eating and positive self talk day by day, even minute by minute, for as long as it takes….until they become automatic.

As long as you are working to improve each day, and as long as you’re putting in the time, energy and focus that your recovery deserves, then you have the power to make freedom from disordered eating your reality.

So, if you’ve had a big setback and are feeling awful then do these 3 things:

1. Give yourself a reality check.  Learning a new behaviour takes time and setbacks are par for the course.  Be kind to yourself, learn from each setback and move on swiftly.

2. Check your expectations.  Make your daily incremental goals so doable that you cannot fail to achieve them.  Build on each small win one at a time, until they turn into big wins.

3. Reclaim your power over the disorder through taking new action repeatedly, until the new actions become the new default.

And remember…. you can ONLY truly fail if you give up.
So don’t give up.
Keep at it.
You got this!



p.s. If you’d like to find out more about the new Neuroplastic Recovery Model and how it would work for you, then apply for a Free 45 minute Breakthrough Session with me (if you haven’t already): Click here.