Saturday, September 20, 2014

Conquering the Fear of Flying and Eating Disorder Recovery: What are the Similarities?

Professor Robert Bor, a clinical psychologist, is one of the authors of the book Overcome Your Fear of Flying.  As I was reading an article discussing his book I was struck by how some of his suggestions regarding conquering this phobia can apply when one is recovering from eating disorders, disordered eating and chronic dieting.  "Treat it as the irrational terror it truly is and travelling will be a breeze."  Wow.  Sounds kind of like telling someone who is terrified that eating pizza will make them fat to just treat that thought as an irrational fear and eating pizza will be a breeze!  If only it were that simple.  But, there is a nugget of truth in that admonition.  A phobia is defined as "an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance."  We all have waves of anxiety at times.  Phobias lead to a level of anxiety that negatively impacts your quality of life and  can be quite paralyzing. Recovering from an eating disorder or chronic dieting is quite a complex undertaking.  However, at some point in that process learning to confront irrational beliefs about food, eating, weight, and exercise is essential.  Let's explore how suggestions from the above mentioned book might be applicable in overcoming fears/phobias associated with dieting, eating disorders and disordered eating.

Don't Avoid Flying
Avoiding what we fear only compounds the problem and gives power to the phobia.  Someone who fears flying probably should not begin confronting that phobia by taking a transcontinental flight.  Perhaps they start with a brief one hour or so flight.  Likewise, do not avoid your fear food.  Start with a "planned/spontaneous food adventure".  I call them PSFAs.  You can read about them in a previous blog.  Go get one cookie or go somewhere you can purchase pizza by the slice.  Be brave!  Go with an understanding friend who can support you as you undertake this necessary step.
Think About the Destination, not the Journey
I love this suggestion.  In the case of fearing the flight, you focus on the fun you are going to have when you land.  The friends you will spend time with at the end of the flight, the wonderful experiences you will have.  In addressing food or weight fears, focus on the benefits and rewards that come with being able to eat freely, without guilt and shame!  Appreciating and optimizing the body you have vs. shagging after artificial thinness.  No compulsion to exercise as a means of compensating for what you have eaten.  Peace of mind!!  Recovery work can be an exhausting journey.  But, the destination is so worth that effort.
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
If you have a fear of flying and you experience turbulence during a flight you must challenge the catastrophic thought that turbulence = the plane is crashing.  Turbulence is merely a result of shifting air currents.  Not a sign of mechanical failure.  With food fears, you confront those with truths that you might tell someone else.  Imagine a friend saying "I can't believe I ate that burger.  I feel so guilty and fat.  I won't be able to get into my jeans by tomorrow morning."  You know how you would respond!  Learn to coach yourself.
Talk to the Cabin Crew
If you are flying and you hear an noise that spikes you flying phobia, speak with the cabin crew.  Ask them for an explanation and assurance.  Express your fears.  In eating disorder recovery your cabin crew is your treatment team and your other support systems.  Let those who want to see you recovered and whole assist you in working through your fears.

So, yes, there are some similarities between conquering the fear of flying and eating disorder recovery!  I challenge you to practice some of these suggestions and then share how they worked for you!

Wishing you peace of mind and true freedom,