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The Log: An Analogy by Anita Johnston

What is The Log?

If you have ever suffered with an eating disorder or work with those struggling with disordered eating you may have found them difficult to explain or understand.  We have to accept the fact that eating disorders do not make logical sense.   No one chooses to have an eating disorder.   

Eating disorders are mental illnesses that have a genetic component. They are often triggered by a life event or experience for those with high risk factors.  These mental illnesses come with severe physical health consequences.  Since eating disorders can not be easily explained sometimes the best way explain them to my patients, their family and friends.

As a reminder to myself I use the analogy of “The Log”. Please watch the video and see how your understanding of eating disorders changes.

Anita Johnston explains

This Youtube video by Anita Johnston, “The Log”, is one of the most important videos I watch with my clients.


Anita Johnston

This video is under 5 minutes yet it is so incredibly powerful.  I almost always play it for all my clients during our work together.  Timing is key. The video is relatable in different ways depending on what stage of phase of recovery they are in.  

We often rewatch the video together at different points in recovery where it takes on new meaning and provides new insight.  

The video itself moves me. It increases my understanding of the client I am with as I watch it through the filter their recovery, their struggles, and successes.  

First without any explanation I encourage you to watch the video at least one time through.  As I do with my clients, take a minute to explore what the meaning of the video is to you, in this moment.  

Anita Johnston impacts our clients

See below for my opinion as I break down the meaning of “The Log”.  

Imagine yourself standing in the rain on the bank of a raging river. Suddenly, the water-swollen bank gives way. You fall in and find yourself being tossed around in the rapids.

My clients are some of the strongest people I have ever met.  Their tenacity in seeking recovery inspires me daily.  These recovery warriors have often been through so much.  Life has not been floating down the river in an inner tube peacefully with lemonade in hand.  The waters have been tumultuous and perhaps even life threatening.

Anita Johnston continues…Your efforts to keep afloat are futile and you are drowning. By chance, along comes a huge log and you grab it and hold on tight. The log keeps your head above water and saves your life.

Here the log is your eating disorder that gives you what you need when you are unable to get it otherwise.  The eating disorder momentarily serves a purpose, as dangerous as it is. 

Clinging to the log you are swept downstream and eventually come to a place where the water is calm.

Coping with an eating disorder keeps you surviving in that moment.  However, the behaviors with eating disorders can be life threatening from the very beginning.  There is no safe amount of time to partake in symptoms. Once beginning recovery you come to find out, while you may have been surviving, the eating disorder prevents you from thriving.  

There, in the distance, you see the riverbank and attempt to swim to shore. You are unable to do so, however, because you are still clinging to the huge log with one arm as you stroke with the other. How ironic. The very thing that saved your life is now getting in the way of you getting where you want to go.

Now ready move on in recovery you are attempting to swim away from the eating disorder. Things are a shaky on your own.  Even though you want to leave the eating disorder behind, it takes time and can be more scary than holding onto the log.  

To make matters more complicated there is someone on the shore screaming, “Let go of the log, let go of the log.”  And you feel like a complete idiot because you can’t let go.

This may be your treatment team, your parents, your friends, your significant other, or even YOURSELF!  

Anita Johnston continues:

As Anita Johnston continues she describes:

There is a wise part of ourselves that will not let us let go until we are ready.  Try letting go of the log and floating, treading water, when you get tired grab back on.  Next you practice swimming around the log once, twice, 10 times, 100 times, 10000 times until you get the strength to get to shore. Whatever it takes, to have the strength and confidence to make it  to shore, then you let go of the log.

The laps you take around the log are the tools you use to conquer the eating disorder.  They can be meeting with your dietitian, therapist, doctor, and psychiatrist. You spend some laps attending meal support groups, working through recovery focused workbooks, and following recovery focused podcasts and blogs.  Some laps are spent doing food challenges and following your meal plan.  

Some are asking for support at meals, developing a self care plan, moving your body in a way that feels good, cooking yourself a meal that you enjoy, and eating out with others in social settings.  These laps around the log are tiring and can take some work, but I PROMISE they are so worth it.  Getting to shore is possible.

Recovery is possible.  

Standing on the shore with your recovery self, your friends, family treatment team and being able to soak up the sunshine on the beach will be the best reward for one of the hardest things you will ever do in your life.

Right now you might not be able to imagine letting go of the log- how dangerous and scary that must be. This is what you have known for so long and know we are asking you to let go. We all want to help you arrive safely at shore.

We want you to know we understand how challenging this journey is and how hard it will be to let go of the log. We are here for you every step of the way.  Reach out to us today, we can help you get to shore and leave your eating disorder behind.

We want to make eating disorder recovery more accessible to all who are recovering from eating disorders. Empowered Eating now works with health insurance providers. Reach out to us for more information.

Note: This blog was edited and re-posted on February 12, 2020.

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