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  • Helly Barnes

Cognitive Reappraisal in Eating Disorder Recovery - Make it a Game!

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

What if you change the way you view your situation and the challenges that you face in overcoming an eating disorder or disordered eating and instead of looking at it through a negative lens (as impossibly hard, emotive, terrifying), you actually perceive it as a game that is challenging but actually can be quite fun?

And yes, I am being serious about this. I have not lost the plot and I would encourage you to hear me out as this approach worked for me and I reckon it might just work for you too.

What is Cognitive Reappraisal?

First off, let me explain a bit about 'cognitive reappraisal' as this is really just a fancy term for taking a different perspective on something than the one that your brain has automatically jumped to.

The brain will create stories hundreds of times a day about our situation and what is happening around us in an attempt to make sense of things for us and to determine how we react to things, but it does not always get it right (in fact very often it probably doesn't!).

When we decide to change the perspective we take on something, we can decide to view a situation that the brain decided originally was boring, as fun or something that our brain decided was anxiety provoking as exciting. And we can actively choose to make these decisions and when we do decide to use a bit of cognitive reappraisal in our lives, it can make life much more interesting and entertaining!

First, let me give some examples of where we put different perspectives on things in our daily lives...

Consider the fact that someone might sit and do a numbers puzzle or crossword as a relaxing and leisurely way to spend their time, but then will view doing their taxes as mundane and brain numbing.

When our governments tried to get people to wash their hands during Covid... when they told the public the science and that hand washing was the way to stop the spread, people were bored. When the approach used was to show the public how to wash their hands while singing happy birthday and doing a little dance... suddenly it is fun and they want to give it a go!

Change the story, REAPPRAISE the situation and the seemingly difficult, boring, challenging and even seemingly impossible can become something completely different. It can become a game, with captivating challenges that you feel determined to meet and overcome and, dare I say it, it might even become fun.

Reappraise Your Recovery

So.. I think you know where I am going with this!

Reappraise the way you view recovery and it could just make that whole recovery path you are on something that is less of an uphill battle and more of an enticing and stimulating game which you are choosing to play, engage in and not be defeated by!

In changing the perspective you take on your recovery, by turning how you view it into a game and telling yourself a completely different story about it, those old and exhausting battles of willpower you have each day over whether or not you will eat a couple of measly cookies become something new altogether.

Willpower can be similar to a muscle that will get tired and strained when we overuse it. In eating disorder recovery, you can be straining that muscle hundreds of times a day (seriously!) and so that willpower muscle of yours has probably worn right down.

Turn the willpower battles into something new... something of a game and these new games will change the struggle, making them fun so that you can keep going longer and not have the same level of depletion to your willpower and mental exhaustion. You might even find that you will WANT to keep going because the thrill of the game is so much more enticing and the rewards feel even more rewarding!

Apply games to recovery - make the willpower battles less intensive and more engaging and you will become not just stronger in recovery but grittier too!

But how do you Introduce Games to Recovery?

For a game to be enticing and fun it needs to be challenging but ultimately something in which you know winning is hard but not impossible. You need to know that you have control over the game. You should regularly introduce novelty to it - bring in new challenges, new ways of doing things and don't let boredom in the door.

Keep pushing up to new levels in the game and keep yourself engaged. Set goals that are challenging but attainable and focus on them - then when you achieve the goal set, have a mini victory celebration and go straight onto the next level of the game (or goal!).

In eating disorder recovery, when you eat to a meal plan that is the same old thing day after day and each day is the same battle of wills over whether you will have that snack or cut a bit off lunch and the rules never change... well, is it any wonder that you are exhausted and bored?

Instead, set the recovery game in motion.

Change the plan - eat dinner for breakfast; don't just eat two cookies but see how many out the packet you can eat and then still eat lunch (with no compensation!); challenge yourself to eating cheese (if that is a fear) not just for one meal in the day but to see how many times in the day you can have it; if you have a problem with compulsive movement then challenge yourself to 'feet off the floor days' with as little movement as possible and when you start to notice your brain saying, 'don't eat that' or 'too much'; turn it into 'I will eat double or triple'!

Use cognitive reappraisal in your recovery and make it into a game each day and yes, it might still be scary but your brain will be more engaged and you might find the fear becomes exhilaration and the mundane is fun and enticing, with the huge bonus that you stop staying stuck in recovery and really find your way to meaningful forward momentum which takes you to mental and physical healing.

As a coach and mentor, I work with people who are overcoming eating disorders, disordered eating or low body confidence, enabling them to find freedom in body and mind to live a more full and happy life. If you are interested in knowing more about my services or booking some time with me, then please have a read of my website here and contact me if you want to know more.

Thank you for reading. Please share your comments or questions below and start enjoying some good recovery games!

Helly x

PS... If this post has helped you at all, please consider sharing it with others who might also find it helpful.


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