Routines: When They Help and When They Hinder

One feature of an eating disorder that I have noticed, and know others experience as well, is the tendency to cling to routine. Beginning my recovery journey, I had an incredibly difficult time accepting change. I had rigid rules about everything, from the order in which I shaved my legs and washed my hair in the shower, to how many times I had to heat and reheat food before I could eat, to having to put on makeup and do my hair before I made breakfast in the morning. My routines dictated every moment of my life, and until I challenged them they did not dissipate.

The changes happened gradually. I stopped reheating my food as often until eventually I didn’t do it at all. I intentionally shaved my legs after washing my hair a time or two, and now I never think about such trivial things. I decided to eat breakfast before finishing my makeup, and now I just do whatever I feel like doing in the morning. I know from research that quite a bit of rigidity found in eating disordered individuals seems to relate to malnutrition, which explains the loosening up that naturally comes with refeeding. However, I also know from experience that it sometimes takes actively challenging the routines that become too dominant for them to lose their power and dissolve. For me, my fear of getting out of routine related closely to my fear of being lazy. Even the most silly routines, such as the rules about showering, I saw as important in order to keep myself in line. Challenging these routines has helped me see that I do not immediately become lazy and unproductive because I do something differently than usual. In fact, it allows me to be a flexible person, somebody I genuinely want to be.

Routine does have an important place in my life, however. I know that I function best with roughly 8 hours of sleep, so it’s important for me to plan to have that much sleep each night when I can. I love the routine I have of drinking my first cup of coffee in the morning and I enjoy being able to do it when I can. I also love brushing up on my French with my Duolingo app each morning as I leisurely eat breakfast, even when it makes me translate ridiculous sentences like these ones:

 

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Routines give us predictability in life. At their best, they are things to look forward to that can help us feel safe. However, when they perpetuate disordered behaviors and mentalities, it is always a good idea to question them. I can’t deny that I’m a creature of habit, but I hope to cultivate habits that will help me grow as a person, feel comfortable and safe, and create a life where I am able to be at peace.

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