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“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars.
You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
Change is hard. You’ve likely heard this statement before. It’s also likely you’ve experienced it firsthand because, well, we all have. It’s one of those universal truths. Perhaps you’ve gone through the end of a relationship, relocated to a different city, started a new job, or maybe even changed careers completely. It’s never easy, even when it is exciting. Inherent to every change, including those that are ultimately positive, are feelings of discomfort and fear. Why? It can be uncomfortable, even painful, to do things in a new way, particularly if you’ve been doing them the old way for a very long time. Given that we as humans are naturally programmed to avoid pain and discomfort, it can also mean we find ourselves unmotivated to change.
Deciding to pursue recovery from an eating disorder after several years or even decades of illness is extremely hard. Doing the work of recovery after years of using eating disordered behaviors can, for many individuals, invoke a lot of fear. Eating disorder behaviors and thoughts may have become so entrenched that ceasing these behaviors will require change to all other parts of life as well…rekindling old interests, developing new hobbies, re-building relationships around recovery instead of the disorder, possibly getting new clothes, implementing new routines and learning new coping skills. Knowing that change can be perceived as danger, even when it’s actually beneficial, can help individuals understand their resistance to it. More importantly, this knowledge can help individuals to move past it.
“Fear, Uncertainty and discomfort are
your compasses towards growth.”
Eating Disorders, The Brain & Change
Understanding change is particularly relevant in the field of eating disorders because of the various factors that drive the disorders. Many people already understand that certain social and cultural pressures (like our diet-obsessed culture or excessively retouched advertising) can impact thoughts about food and weight and may serve to maintain eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. It can, however, be just as important to understand the biological pressures that maintain symptoms and decrease motivation to recover. For example, malnourishment and low body weight are biological markers that can impact the brain’s ability to react to new or changing situations. In other words, when someone is not nourished well, they are more likely to struggle with rigidity of thoughts, otherwise known as “cognitive inflexibility” or “poor set shifting”. Research has found that, even at healthy weights, individuals with eating disorders are more likely to be wired for cognitive inflexibility which can mean more resistant to change.
“This characteristic rigidity or inflexible way of thinking and behaving can act as a real hindrance to those who exhibit it. For example, an inflexible thinking style is likely to mean that an individual relies on strict habits and rules to order his/her life. This rule-bound way of living can impede the individual’s involvement in new opportunities and experiences, monopolize time that could be used more productively, and result in relationship difficulties if the rules become extremely rigid. (2010, Tchanturia & Hambrook)
When it comes to eating disorders, there are daily consequences of being set in your ways since those ways are ultimately harmful. When faced with a decision to pursue change or not, it can be helpful to take a closer look at the specific psychological, sociocultural, and biological barriers keeping you stuck or unmotivated. Only then can you make an informed decision.
Motivation to Change- A Model for Understanding How and Why Change Happens
Motivation to Change is a theoretical model that explores the process of behavior change – from wearing sunscreen to smoking cigarettes, drinking excessively to eating disorders. The model proposes that we all participate in the stages of change whenever we are about to make a change in our lives. Research has shown that when therapeutic intervention is matched to a patient’s stage of change and the therapy is conducted within that stage, a more positive and long-lasting result is more likely.
The Motivation to Change model is divided into the following 5 Stages of Change:
- Precontemplation – a lack of awareness of the problem; no intention to change
- Contemplation – awareness of the problem but uncertainty about making a change; someone is thinking about change, but is not committed
- Preparation – intending to take action; there is a desire to make a change and some planning prior to making the change
- Action – the actual time spent making the change and modifying behavior
- Maintenance – life once the change has been made, including relapse prevention
This is not a linear model. It is expected that individuals may move backward and forward through these stages and that there will be an ebb and flow of motivation. Even during the action phase, individuals will experience indecision and ambivalence. Understanding this process, and having the support of a therapist along the way, is important in reducing discouragement and increasing long-term success. After all, change is hard. But despite the fear and discomfort, change can also be a very beautiful thing.
“Your life does not get better by chance,
it gets better by change.”
Motivation to Change at The Center for Eating Disorders
The Center for Eating Disorders incorporates the motivation to change model and concepts in individual therapy at all levels of care and in specialized treatment groups throughout our inpatient, partial hospital and intensive outpatient programs. This summer we are announcing the addition of an outpatient, once weekly, Motivation to Change Therapy Group for individuals with eating disorders. From the first to last session, group members will be asked to participate in discussion and homework activities designed to explore where they are in the model and how ready they feel to move to the next stage. The group will be offered on Saturdays from 4:00-5:00 PM beginning in June 2014.
Anyone interested in participating can contact Rachel Hendricks at (410) 427-3862 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The group is offered as a complete module, and participants will be encouraged to participate in each session as the sessions will be progressive.
While the Motivation to Change groups at The Center are exclusively for people with eating disorders, anyone can benefit from understanding motivation to change and using the principles to assess, prepare, and make change in their own lives.
Find details about the Motivation to Change group and a long list of other outpatient groups offered at The Center for Eating Disorders by clicking here.
“By changing nothing, nothing changes.”
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Tchanturia, K. & Hambrook, D. (2010). Cognitive Remediation Therapy for Anorexia Nervosa. In C.M. Grilo & J.E. Mitchell (Eds.), The Treatment of Eating Disorders: A clinical handbook ( pp. 130-149). New York, NY: Guilford.
Monkey Bars Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Arrows image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net