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Why ALL IN RECOVERY didn't work for me (and what to do instead)

autism recovery

This post has been my mind for a long time. I'll be sharing why "all in" recovery didn't work for me and why it’s probably not working for you. Or, if you’re reading this because you believe all in recovery did save your life, I have no doubt this post will give you an entirely new perspective on recovery and what’s really the key to achieving a life of freedom.

Before diving in, let's make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to defining all in recovery. If you’ve listened to any of my previous podcast episodes or read my previous blog posts, you know I love unpacking definitions because they give us clarity, which is ultimately what drives action. And come to think of it, this idea of clarity driving action is actually very relevant to today’s topic, so buckle up and keep on reading!

What is all in recovery?

Because there’s obviously no dictionary definition of the term “all in recovery,” we can’t refer to objective facts when unpacking the topic. We can, however, dive into the origins of the term. From my understanding and research, “all in” is an approach coined by Nicola Rinaldi, co-author of the book “No Period, Now What?”. I have read the book and believe it can act as a very helpful for guide for people recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, but if you are in recovery from an eating disorder and tend to be very numbers-focused, I believe the book can be harmful with its mention of certain calorie amounts. I mean, I had to eat at least quadruple the amount of “minimum calories” mentioned in that book to get my period back!

Anyways, Nicola Rinaldi uses the term “all in” to describe a method of recovering your menstrual cycle through increasing your food intake and reducing your stress, including exercise. Due to the strong overlap of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, eating disorders, and disordered eating, along with certain influencers documenting their all in journeys, the term has gained popularity within the eating disorder community. But I’m sure this is no new information to you, as it seems every “recovery account” on social media nowadays is announcing they are going “all in”!

So what exactly does it mean to go “all in” when you are in recovery from an eating disorder? Well, because the approach wasn’t initially intended for eating disorder treatment and rather created to heal a common symptom of disordered eating – a missing period – the all in approach is subject to subjectiveness. What I mean by this, is that everyone will have their own interpretation of the approach, which is logical, considering going “all in” may look entirely different for one person than it does for the next!

All in is black & white

And this is exactly where the first problem lies with the “all in” approach – it’s very black & white. Eating disorder brains are already super black & white in how they think, and the term “all in” implies you’re either all in or you’re not. The reality of recovering from an eating disorder is that it isn’t linear and will look messy. On top of that, the process will look different for each individual. Therefore, if you have a setback while being “all in” while believing “all in” is the only way to fully recover, you’re perpetuating the black & white thinking. This can then result in you believing you’ve “failed” at recovery, which, of course, brings you right back to square one as you return to your eating disordered ways.

As I mention in my post on Black & White Thinking in Autism and Anorexia, autistic individuals are much more prone to black & white thinking than neurotypical people, which is why I also believe autistic people are much more likely to develop eating disorders. For this reason, the majority of people that will have to face the decision of going “all in” or not, will, by nature, often be autistic. Personally for me, this is one of the main reasons all in recovery did not work. But when I decided to go “all in” several years ago, was before I even knew I am autistic.

Why all in recovery didn't work for me.

At that time, the approach had been glamorized by individuals online, individuals that were claiming going “all in” had saved them. The approach was so appealing to me because it was so black & white. By choosing to go all in, I wouldn’t have any other option than to eat whatever and whenever I wanted. By choosing to go all in, I wouldn’t have any other option than to rest. By choosing to go all in, the only option was fighting my eating disorder every second of every day, which meant getting rid of it would be an inevitability, right?

Wrong.

My hyper-focus on all in recovery and making sure I was doing it “perfectly” was actually the very thing that prevented me from the true point of recovery: becoming recoverED, past tense!

Something I always tell people who come to me for advice on problem solving or letting go of negativity, is where your attention goes, energy flows. This phenomenon is EXACTLY what causes eating disorder behaviors to become so entrenched, because you’re attending to the ED thoughts. If your eating disorder tells you to restrict and you act on this thought by restricting, you're fueling that very thought to keep returning. You're giving your brain the notion that this is the "right" course of action, therefore signaling to your brain that eating is "wrong," and again, here we see that black & white thinking. Giving attention to the ED thoughts — whether it be a thought to restrict, exercise, or compare – is what gives your ED energy to influence you and shape your belief system.

The purpose of all in recovery defeats the purpose of living

And I know what you may be thinking now, well isn’t that the whole purpose of going all in? To always do the opposite of what your ED tells you to neurally rewire your brain to have different thoughts? Yes, of course it is! But let’s take it a step further, a step that is beyond the label of “all in recovery.” Why do you want to neurally rewire your brain and have different thoughts? And now you’re probably thinking, “Oh, well that’s obvious! So I can recover from my eating disorder!” But again, why do you want to recover from your eating disorder? What does a recovered life actually look like for you? I seriously just want you to take a moment to think about this. Who would you be at your core if you were truly free?

I bet what’s coming up for you is things like, “being able to go out to eat,” and “not feeling tired,” and “being able to go on vacation,” and all the other beautiful things that can finally exist when you are no longer living at the mercy of your eating disorder. I mean, when I was in recovery from my eating disorder, I made a whole list of “reasons to recover” with many such opportunities. But no amount of external reasons is going to be strong enough to change you internally. In the end, being enslaved to circumstances outside of you is the very opposite of true freedom.

You want to want recovery more than you want to have it...wait WHAT?

I’m currently listening to an audiobook on Audible called “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle and he says something so incredibly powerful, which is: “The ego wants to want more than it wants to have.” And I had to replay that sentence again myself when I first heard it because I was like WOW...wait a minute, what’s actually being said here? So here it is again: the ego wants to want more than it wants to have. What this means, is that the ego – or your identity of self – wants to want so that it can never be satisfied. But why wouldn’t you want to be satisfied? Because to accept the present moment as it is, to accept your body as it is, to accept yourself as you are without labels and without the mask of an eating disorder, would mean that you are okay as you are and you are allowed to take off that mask.

But what this brings with it, is a feeling of emptiness and lack of purpose. So, your mind tricks you into thinking that salvation can be found in external circumstances—after you achieve this, have that, or if you have a particular experience. In terms of recovery, this may be achieving a certain weight, or choosing to go "all in." But if you actually DO achieve or experience what the ego seeks, your happiness will not last for more than a moment and you will be left still wanting and chasing the next illusion. Just as your eating disorder is never satisfied after one behavior, your will never remain satisfied after one accomplishment or decision.

I believe the state of being “in recovery” – whether this be eating disorder recovery, quasi recovery, all in recovery, Minnie Maud, or whatever label you use to describe your state of being, is that next illusion after an eating disorder. When I first decided to go “all in,” I felt so excited. I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired and no longer wanted to identify as someone with an eating disorder. Naturally, I chose to start recovery from my eating disorder, and THAT became my new identity: someone in recovery from an eating disorder.

Are you stuck in the recovery identity?

But bringing this back to that phrase where your attention goes, energy flows, what do you think will happen when you identify as someone in recovery from an eating disorder? You will continue to identify as someone in recovery from an eating disorder. And isn’t your goal to identify as yourself? To identify as someone who is free? And that actually brings me to another incredible quote from the book, which when I heard it, I was like HOLY $HIT THIS IS THE EPITOME OF LIV LABEL FREE! Here it is:

When you don't cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago...a depth returns to your life. Things regain their newness, their freshness. And the greatest miracle is the experiencing of your essential self as prior to any words, thoughts, mental labels, and images. For this to happen, you need to disentangle your sense of I... from all the things it has become mixed up with, that is to say, identified with.

I mean OMG isn’t that beautiful??? I highly highly highly recommend you check out this book, and you can actually listen to it completely free on Audible with the link www.audibletrial.com/livlabelfree.

Looking back now, it wasn’t going all in that made me excited. It was everything that fell under the label of all in: eating whatever and whenever I wanted, resting, living without the rules my eating disorder had confined me to for so long. I thought that as long as I identified with this label of being “all in,” I could be someone who identified as eating whatever and whenever I wanted, listened to my body and its movement preferences, and I could live without rules and restriction. But as I mentioned before about how identifying as someone “in recovery” kept me stuck in recovery, these characteristics I thought were entangled with the label “all in,” weren’t part of that label at all. Those characteristics are all habits of someone who identifies as free. And when you’re free, you don’t need a label, because you have nothing to prove!

"All in" is just another restrictive label

The entire “recovery community” is filled with people who identify with certain labels. You have the vegans, the gym junkies, the foodies – hell, I know how convincing it is to believe that adhering to a certain label will save you from your eating disorder; I describe my entire journey through all the labels in my upcoming memoir! But the danger of these labels – especially as they are portrayed on social media in such a heroic light, causing you to compare and feel you need to do the same to achieve a life of freedom – is that they are simply that: labels. If someone’s definition of “recovered” is founded on something external, what do you think will happen when you remove that label? Just like a house will collapse if you remove the ground underneath it, your state of being “recovered” will collapse if you remove whatever circumstance you built it on. The only thing we ever have – always – is ourself. So if you look everywhere outside of you except for within, how do you ever expect to find yourself?

This was the very realization that prompted me to become Liv Label Free. After going through countless labels – both inflicted upon me by others and myself – I learned that nothing outside of me was going to save me. Only I could save me. And that realization is scary! Because it meant I had to stop acting like a victim and take responsibility for my life. But you know that saying, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will?” I think the more accurate words would be, “If you don’t prioritize your life, a label will.”

Each and every label I adopted – vegetarianism, veganism, following the “whole foods plant based” diet, trying to be like certain fitness influencers, then trying the “all in” approach – I turned to all of them to find the false freedom these people online were portraying. And I say false, because if these online people are basing their happiness and state of being on these labels, they are not truly free. Every label I ever adopted made me feel the opposite of why I had turned to them in the first place; they took away my freedom. And this is because the ego wants to want more than it wants to actually have! This is why new things feel so amazing until they’re not new anymore, because then you want the next new thing!

The same goes for eating disorder recovery. Starting recovery is exciting because it’s like a new adventure after your eating disorder. But then recovery becomes exhausting and you feel like you’re stuck in what people call “quasi recovery.” Then, you’re sick and tired of being in quasi recovery and you announce: “I’m going all in!”. But what’s next? I’d think it would be actually living your life. So why put yourself through the misery of any restrictive identity if you can choose to live NOW? 

Instead of choosing recovery, choose DISCOVERY!

One of my clients and I were talking about the fact that there should actually be another word to replace “recovery,” because focusing on recovery keeps you stuck in it…which is just as bad as being stuck in an eating disorder! We came up with the word “discovery,” because unlike “recovery” that is limiting and subjective, discovery opens you up to infinite possibilities. Unlike recovery, which most people fear to even start out of fear they’ll “fail” at it, you simply cannot fail at discovery. You either have a win, or a learning moment! There’s never any losing or failing because it’s all part of discovering who you are – without labels.

To bring this post full circle to what I said earlier about clarity driving action, is that the main reason people feel “all in” will save them is because it’s so clear cut. Just like an eating disorder’s rules don’t have any space for flexibility, neither does all in. It’s another form of black & white thinking, another form of attaching your identity to something outside of yourself, another label that restricts you from living life to the fullest – a life in which you are so free that you don’t need a label. 

After reading all of this, you now may be asking, well how do I get that clarity? How do I even know who I am without labels? Where do I even start? Well my friend, this is exactly why I would like to invite you to book a consultation call with me so we can work together to DISCOVER what true freedom means to you. Because freedom does look different for each individual, which is why my time with you will be 100% individualized to you and your needs. I’ve helped countless clients take massive steps towards the lives they’ve dreamed of living, and I would love to help you, too.

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