September 27

Using Your Imagination as Part of the Recovery Process

Body Acceptance, Body Positive, Body Struggles, Food Struggles, Recovery


Here’s a part of a talk that I gave in Kamuela on the Big Island of Hawaii for the launching of our new treatment program, ‘Ai Pono Kamuela. I thought you might enjoy it.

Using Your Imagination as Part of the Recovery Process

When somebody can get an understanding of the meaning behind their eating behaviors, I see the lights go on in their eyes. I used to call it that, I actually would see it, a little spark. Now because neuroscientists can now map the brain, they know what is going on. There’s a part of your brain, and its right above your right ear called the anterior superior temporal gyrus. What the neuroscientists have discovered, is when somebody gets an insight, when they “get” a metaphor, this part of your brain sends out a burst of gamma waves — 30 milliseconds before you even are conscious of “getting it.”  And Gamma waves are the highest frequency that the brain emits.

I’ve been doing this for years and years, and now the scientists are mapping and able to say yeah, that’s really what’s going on. So the light that I’m seeing is the electrical charge that comes from the anterior superior temporal gyrus. That’s so exciting for me!

I use metaphor because often when somebody is struggling, they have developed the left side of their brain profoundly/ They are so smart and rational and analytical. So, the part of themselves that is hanging onto this eating disorder like nobody’s business has got a gazillion defenses all ready. But if I come in with a story, if I come in with imagery, I’m coming into the right side of the brain. And this is the side of the brain where new neural connections can be made. This is how come total complete recovery is possible.

It’s really only been the last 5-10 years, which neuroscientists have been saying that our brains are plastic. You’re making new neuro connections till the day you die. What it looks like when a neuro connection is being made, is cool — it’s like two little twigs side by side. A bud will come out of one, and a bud will come out of another, grow towards each other, and then, boom, they will connect. Then two more connect. Then two more and two more. The next thing you know, you have a full-on super highway, where there once used to be a tiny trail.

The neuron that was connected in one place (excuse my non-scientific language) has sticky stuff that anchors it down. It looks a little like a gecko’s foot with a little suction thing. But there’s only so much sticky stuff that’s available. So when the new neuro connection is being made, the old one gets released. So now, they can see in the brain what recovery looks like. It’s a very real thing.

So I’m going to tell you my very favorite metaphor. It’s my favorite metaphor just because I’ve gotten emails and letters from people all around the world that says this is their favorite metaphor. So now it is my favorite metaphor. And I’ll break it down for you afterward, to kind of tell you what I’m doing with this. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember sitting across from a client, and I was trying to explain to her about recovery. And she wasn’t getting it. And this imagery just came to me.

One of the things that are a valuable part of the recovery process is the use of imagination.

But using it in service of recovery rather than service of the eating disorder.

So imagine, imagine you’re on the banks of a raging river. It’s pouring down rain. You slip, and you fall in and you’re drowning. You get pulled down through the rapids. And along comes a big log and you grab on and the log saves your life. It keeps your head above water when surely, you would have gone down. And eventually, it carries you to a place in the river where the water is calm. And from there you can see the river bank. But, you can’t get there. Because of the log.

So the irony is the very thing that just saved your life is getting in the way of you getting where you want to go in life.

This is the eating disorder.

Make no mistake about it. It has served the function, a very important function. And it would behoove you and all of us to find out what that function is.

Now, to make it more complicated, though, there’s always someone on the riverbank shouting, let go of the log, let go of the log! And you feel like an absolute idiot because you can’t let go of that log.

Well, the way I see it, letting go of that log may not be the best thing to do initially. Because what happens if you let go of the log (because that person loves you more than life itself or is the top expert in the country) and you say okay, okay, and you let go of the log?

You start to swim, you get halfway there and realize, shoot, I don’t have the strength to make it. I don’t have the strength or the confidence, to make it. That means you don’t have the strength to make it back to the log either. And you’re sunk. So I believe that we all have a part of ourselves that will not, will not, will not, let us let go of anything until we are ready. And that’s a good thing.

So, what do you do instead?

Well, you let go of the log, and you practice treading water. And when you get tired, you grab back on. Then you let go of the log, and you try floating. And when you start to sink, you grab back on. Then you let go of the log, and you swim around it once, grab back on. Twice, grab back on. Ten times, a hundred times, two hundred times. Whatever it takes to have the strength and confidence to make it to shore. Then, you let go of the log.

Why? Because it has no function any longer.

So this is what we do at ‘Ai Pono Eating Disorder Programs. We’re all about helping someone find out, okay, in what way is your eating behavior, your food, and fat obsession, keeping you afloat? Let’s find out if you can get to what that is. And

Because it has no function any longer. So this is what we do at ‘Ai Pono Eating Disorder Programs. We’re all about helping someone find out, okay, in what way is your eating behavior, your food, and fat obsession, keeping you afloat? Let’s find out if you can get to what that is. And they're not a thousand and one reasons; there’s usually just a small handful of the regulars that show up over and over. If you can find that, it will point you towards the skillset you need to develop. Maybe you’re not very good at saying no, so you need to learn how to create some boundaries in your life. Or maybe you’re not good at saying yes. And you need to learn how to reach out and ask for the help you want.

There're some skills that are essential for recovery. And if you can start to look at what someone is doing with food and eating, it’s going to show you exactly what those skills need to be.

I would love to hear what you think, share a comment below!

Till next time,




awareness, belong, destiny, eating disorders, ed, empathy, fate, hunger signals, intuitiveeating, metaphors, thoughts, thoughts and feelings, truth, weightstruggles

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  • Yes! Your metaphor and imagery are what helped me make the connections to the dysregulated emotions behind my Eating Disorder. In our time together, when you helped me see when and how it first began, I received tremendous enlightenment helping to serve my recovery going forward. The understanding wasn’t sudden, but like a warm glow spreading through me and then it was, “Oh! That makes sense!” Because I am very much an anylitical thinker, your approach spoke to me, and reached me in my darkest hours. Metaphor made sense! ‘Ai Pono gave me the tools to tread water. Now, at home, I’m swimming to shore – to recovery – but still grab onto the log at times. I think of it as pulling the log to shore with me, as a safety net, until I get close enough to ignore it altogether – until I can stand in ankle-deep water and walk the rest of the way. Your approach to ED Treatment is unique and it worked for me. I have made the ‘Ai Pono philosophy my personal one. I’m not recovered yet, but I’m getting closer to shore and the water isn’t so high or murky anymore. I’m approaching with clarity, reason, and confidence. Love your reminders. Mahalo!


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