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Phase 2: Deciding to Take Action

Phase 2 involves deciding to change your situation. If you're one of those people who can understand your problem and happily embrace each action required to solve it, then feel free to skip ahead.

I wasn't one of those people... I struggled mightily in this department. I couldn’t commit to an honest recovery straight away. I skirted around it several times and my, what a frustrating experience that was. I was torn between truly wanting to become a healthier and happier athlete in the long-term but also being afraid to embrace what change might bring. Deep down I knew that what I was doing wasn't going to make me a better athlete. I also knew I wanted to make a change, but the strength of my motivation never seemed to prevail over the fear of taking actions I didn't want to take.

I later came to realise how much 'cognitive dissonance' was feeding into inability to change my situation. This can be described as, “the mental discomfort experienced when two or more modes of thought contradict one another”. In essence, we have a tendency to dismiss information that doesn’t align with what we already believe to be true. In the context of RED-S recovery, when you learn new information that challenges your deep-rooted beliefs (e.g. less weight = more success or more work = more reward), it can create a discord between wanting to do something about your situation but not wanting to believe the answer lies in changing your current behaviours. This is even more of a tricky business if you did happen to experience some level of success during the early stages of your energy deficit. The belief that certain behaviours led to this success (and should continue to do so) can be extremely difficult to challenge and often result in a continued tendency to over-train, under-eat or resist doing what is required to recover.

In my experience, cognitive dissonance led me to avoid confronting the fear of change, whilst simultaneously feeling like a failure for continually putting off what I knew I needed to do. My sense of identity, success and self-worth were so deep-rooted in the initial results my energy deficit had brought that letting go just felt impossible. Instead, it was easier to believe I didn't really need to. The trouble was I did. Anyone who has reached a diagnosis of RED-S - no matter how severe - needs to take action and see it through.

My advice on this is to recognise that the same behaviours you may have attributed to any initial success, self-worth or emotional comfort are the same behaviours that led you to where you are now. Whatever they are, they are no longer working. Chances are, they will never work again. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to confront the fear that surrounds changing them. Fear stands in the way of taking action. Fear is what's stopping you reaching your full health and potential. It may take courage and intense effort to confront it, but you're an athlete with a strong work ethic and a determination to succeed. If you’ve got the drive to train and compete in your sport, regardless of how motivated you are every single day, then you’ve got the drive and ability to do this. Then, all you have to do is take action.