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  • Helly Barnes

Reprogram Your Brain from a Restrictive Eating Disorder ~ Abstinence or Moderation?

Earlier posts have introduced the concept of an addiction to energy deficit, AKA a restrictive eating disorder, including some of the neuroscience. These included explanations of the deep learning and dopamine balance systems which are so powerful at holding a person in an addiction and making restrictive eating disorders as hard to overcome as they are (although not impossible!).

This post begins to explore what's needed to reprogram your brain from a restrictive eating disorder and addiction to energy deficit, considering whether to use what could be thought of as an abstinence or moderation approach to giving up the pursuit of your drug, which is energy deficit, to overcome the eating disorder.

What is Brain Reprogramming?

Think of your brain as a computer that's been hacked and now has harmful and unwanted programming. To get your computer running smoothly again, it will need to have the harmful programming removed and new programming added. This new programming needs to be on par with what was there before or be an improvement.

The same is true for your brain. An eating disorder has hacked your brain. However, you can repair your brain to override this harmful programming. For this, your brain needs to replace the faulty wiring and programming with systems and circuits that will allow you to function without an addiction to energy deficit ruining your life.

If we refer back then to the deep learning and dopamine balance models for the eating disorder's addictive pursuit of energy deficit, there are two ways in which your brain needs to be reprogrammed:

1. Unwire the eating disorder circuits and wire in new circuits that drive healthy new habits.

2. Adjust the levels of some key neurotransmitters and brain chemicals back to a stable baseline.

Effectively, this means that your brain needs to unwire the currently deeply embedded and automatic eating disordered habits and develop new learning and habits driving behaviours you want in your future life. This involves stopping the old behaviours so that those pathways in your brain are no longer being pursued and developing new behaviours to build new habits, which will allow new brain pathways to develop and grow into new and happy neural networks far removed from the eating disordered ones. And this is what we call unwiring and rewiring.

When you abstain from the behaviours that were also creating a deep dopamine deficit in your brain (see this post on dopamine balance), you will also be allowing it the time it needs to reset your dopamine levels so that you no longer carry so much anxiety and inner pain around.

All of this is possible—it just takes hard work. It means going against automatic habits to which you have difficulty applying rational reasoning. It means experiencing emotional pain that you have pushed deep within yourself through the eating disorder for years, possibly decades. Therefore, this will be the hardest thing you are likely to ever do in your lifetime. You will need support and time out from other life demands but if you are strong enough to have lived with an eating disorder for any length of time, you are strong enough to overcome it too.

Abstinence or Moderation to Reprogram Your Brain?

When you can understand an eating disorder as an addiction to energy deficit, where energy deficit can be considered your drug, then it's possible to start to consider how to overcome this addiction, with methods commonly used to address any form of addictive disorder—moderating engagement with the drug or abstaining from it.

At the end of the day, abstinence is usually going to be the gold standard approach.

Abstinence gives your brain the chance to fully reprogram both in terms of rewiring and resetting your dopamine levels, so those miserable withdrawal symptoms (the high anxiety, low mood, agitation and irritability) subside sooner rather than later. When dopamine fully resets in your brain, it’s restorative, and you will feel so much better. And when you can stop using old brain pathways and networks more completely and build entirely new ones, you also have a better chance of achieving the most effective rewiring.

Sometimes though, abstaining is just too hard or not possible, which is when you might consider a moderation approach, which can also be effective. Using a moderation approach can take longer to get where you need to be and it might be that you 'moderate' your engagement in the eating disorder behaviours initially before ultimately abstaining later. But moderation is better than taking no action to bash the eating disorder out of your life!

What though do abstinence or moderation from an eating disorder actually look like in relation to what you do (or don't do!) to follow these approaches to overcome the eating disorder?

Well… I think that's a topic for the next post or two so stay tuned for the next posts on how to abstain from a restrictive eating disorder to really and truly overcome it and then more about how you might otherwise use a moderation approach.

And if you can't wait for the next posts to learn more then you don't have to! My book called, Addicted to Energy Deficit covers all of this and so so so much more and it's available right now for you to buy as an e-book or paperback from Amazon and other online bookstores.

**The information here is taken from my newly available book, 'Addicted to Energy Deficit - A Neuroscience Based Guide to Restrictive Eating Disorders' which you can buy now!**

If you like to listen, as well as (or instead of read!) then this blog post is the transcript of a podcast episode which you will find on my podcast series,

available on this website, all mainstream podcast platforms and on YouTube.


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