Grit and Growth Mindset for Anorexia Recovery

As a higher education professional for 15 years, I have learned a thing or two about two concepts that are HUGE in the world of student success: grit and growth mindset.

I’ve been working hard to develop a workshop for my students on Resilience, Grit, and Growth Mindset and realized, “Oh…I should probably practice what I preach.” Alas, those who can’t do…teach. And there it was: the enemy of the growth mindset – the word “can’t.”

A couple of quick definitions so we’re on the same page:

Grit – passion and perseverance for long-term goals, a concept by Angela Duckworth; there’s a fantastic 6 minute TED Talk video if interested

Growth Mindset – intelligence and ability can be improved and developed with effort and commitment, a concept by Carol Dweck; there’s a great 3 minute video if interested

So. Here I am, preaching all kinds of grit and growth mindset to my students about how they can achieve this wonderful, but awfully daunting goal, of becoming a rocket scientist (no, for real, I advise Aerospace Engineering students).

And yet…

Let’s say my ultimate goal is anorexia recovery (let’s be honest, becoming a rocket scientist often seems a lot more plausible).

Breaking down GRIT, Duckworth emphasizes this is:

  • passion and perseverance (waxes and wanes on even my best days)
  • for long-term goals (my dietitian say recovery is usually 5-7 years)
  • in the face of adversity and challenges (I’m going to say lots of family deaths, having a baby, inheriting clinical depression, and living across the country from my husband while working full-time and caring for a toddler meet this criteria)

I’m going to be honest. I have not been very gritty in my recovery. I literally waffle from minute to minute on whether to starve or binge. My goal changes several times a day. I face my challenges with a very negative inner dialogue that makes it difficult to hope.

But I’m still here. Still meeting with my dietitian. Still educating myself about recovery via books, podcasts, etc. Still writing this blog.

As for having a growth mindset, let me explain (assuming most of you did not watch the 3 minute video) that the opposite is a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset says, “I was born this way and can’t really do much, if anything, to change it.” The fixed mindset focuses on weaknesses and like to blame everyone but herself. THIS IS SO ME.

It takes a LOT of grit for me to think with a growth mindset. For me to think:

  • I don’t have to be depressed because my mom was
  • I matter, even though I don’t have parents, siblings, or grandparents
  • I am okay just by being a person
  • If I gain weight, everyone isn’t looking at me thinking I’m a lazy, undisciplined, out of control person

It’s exhausting but IMPERATIVE for healing, to develop my grit and growth mindset. The way to change your mindset is shockingly similar to what I spent months learning in eating disorder recovery treatment:

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice” (i.e. Ana)
  2. Recognize that you have a choice (so hard for someone whose brain has literally been damaged from malnourishment)
  3. Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice (Shut up, Ana)
  4. Take the growth mindset action (intuitive eating, self-care option)

Time to start advising myself, not just my students.

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