How do you eat an elephant?

Does something in your life seem so out of reach that you don’t know where to start? For me, peace with my body feels like that sometimes. As does the idea that I may one day establish a truly healthy attitude to food. This past month I have relearned a valuable lesson that helps in my recovery. This lesson? Sometimes, it is not what you do that matters, but that you just ‘do something’. As the saying goes – ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!’

Even beyond my eating issues, I am often overwhelmed with indecision about the best way to get what I want or to become who I desire to be. But, by applying the principle of taking small well-intended steps, I know I will find my way eventually.

Changing the small things bit by bit gives me the confidence in my ability to eventually change the big things. If the ability to successfully make a positive change was a muscle, I wouldn’t be looking at lifting the 10kg dumbbell first, I would start small and practice until my muscle was able to handle more weight without breaking. Recovery and personal development are like muscles and I have spent the last month on the smallest weight with some great results.

This has worked for me before

In my mid 20’s, I came to one of the lowest parts of my life and my illness. I was severely underweight and had lost almost all hope of ever turning my life around. My physical health was at a dangerous deficit with regular trips to the hospital because of the effects of purging on my heart. My mental health was unstable. I wasn’t clinically depressed but I suffered from extreme mood swings and had almost no self-esteem. I wanted to die but felt too concerned about how that would leave my family feeling. So, I was trying to keep myself alive – just.

It was at this time that I met a counselor in Ireland who shared with me a very useful exercise I was to use every day to help dig me out of my depressed mood. My counselor gave me homework after a session one day. He said I needed to do the following 5 small things each day. And it worked, my mood and self-confidence grew and over time. It was only then that I could work with my counselor on the bigger goals of my recovery, like reaching a healthier weight.

5 a day keeps you on your way!

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
  • The first of the five things I was to try each day was to be done with the intention of relaxing. I didn’t have to want to do it. I didn’t have to feel perfectly relaxed when doing it. And, most importantly, it didn’t have to be a significant or time-consuming activity. I didn’t have to choose meditation or mindfulness or getting a massage. It could be as simple as getting into a warm shower for 5 minutes. It could be more if I was able and had the time, money or motivation on the day; but it could be something that seemed insignificant. I just had to intend to relax.
  • The second thing was to move my body in some way. Again, this didn’t have to be a full-body workout or exercise class; it could be a short yoga sequence, a little dance in my living room or a short walk. I just had to get moving and use my body.
  • The third thing was to connect with someone. To talk to someone else other than myself every day. I didn’t have to have a deep-and-meaningful; I just had to allow myself to be connected to someone each day. Isolation is so tempting when we are at our lowest. Connecting with others helped me gain perspective. Hearing how someone else was doing reminded me that there is more to life than what was happening inside my head.
  • The fourth thing was something fun. This was the most challenging at times. But the doctor explained I didn’t have to go out for a meal or even a coffee with someone else; I didn’t have to paint the town red. I just needed to do something with the intention of bringing some fun into my life. For this task, I didn’t even have to involve others; I could watch a funny video or clip on YouTube or read a funny article. I just needed to look for something I may enjoy, even if just for a small moment in time.
  • The final task was to set a small goal each day and commit to achieving it. Sounded scary, but then my doctor explained I could have a goal of showering despite wanting to stay in my pajamas all day or to resist the urge to purge for just 10 minutes after just one meal. Just one small achievement each day.

After a while, I found myself seeking out some bigger tasks to make up my 5-a-day. I bought videos that taught me salsa and danced around my living room. I bought other videos that taught self-massage and I used the massage as part of a delaying tactic when faced with the urge-to-purge. There was no pressure to build-up to the next weight level, just to continue keeping my commitments to my recovery, doing small things each day. Some days I felt more able to attempt the larger tasks, others not so much. But I was consistent and this gave me confidence that I could stick to something.

My recent 30-day challenge

Back to the here-and-now, and I have recently completed a self-assigned 30-day challenge to make small commitments every day and keep them. This time, I was looking to become more of the person I wish to be rather than specifically tackling my mental health but the principle was the same. Small commitments, kept regularly, with good intentions.

I set small tasks in each of my key life areas each day with the goal of practicing being the person I desire to be in each area rather than dwelling on my shortcomings and the gap between who I am today and who I wish to become.

  • In my relationships with family and friends, I wish to be reliable and present. And so I committed to spending some time each day with my husband and daughter without other distractions. It wasn’t a long period each day. It was quality time, so quantity didn’t matter for now.
  • In my work, I desire to be authentic and lead by example. I wish to become self-aware by using personal development tools and I wish to help others grow and become self-aware and effective too. For this, I simply committed to one small thing a day which would help me grow or allow me to help someone else grow. It was sometimes as small as reflecting on my behaviors on a given day.
  • In regards to my mental health, I desire to be well enough to fulfill my dreams in my other life areas. I started logging my meals again each day. That was one of the first steps I took in my recovery and so it made sense to me to keep it simple for now. I didn’t have to tackle my current unhealthy relationship with food all in one month.

In addition to these areas, I applied similar approaches in terms of physical health, finances, my contribution to society and my routine responsibilities as a wife and mother.

The areas I used could have been anything and I could have just tackled one at a time. The intention was good, that was that mattered. I intended to be consistent and reliable with my commitments and to grow and be true to my values. I desire to be these things in all areas of my life. And now that I have done this for a month, my self-esteem and self-confidence have increased exponentially. I feel confident I will continue. I feel hope that I am becoming who I wish to be. One day at a time.

Love always,

Aunty Pam x

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