As an Eating Disorder therapist, one of the most common questions that I get asked from clients and carers is:
“How do I recover?” Or, “How do I help a loved one recover?”
True recovery from an eating disorder involves learning to:
- Listen to your feelings.
- Listen to your body.
- Accept yourself.
- Love yourself.
Each person’s eating disorder recovery can look different from individual to individual. Below are suggestions for recovery, which have helped many of my clients.
Take it slow
The road to recovery can be challenging and you can find yourself getting overwhelmed about life and want to be recovered as soon as possible. You may be living in the past or the future, and this can cause great stress and anxiety. Do your best to take it one day at a time and if that is too difficult, then one minute at a time, and if that is even too much, take it down to one breath at a time. Breathwork is very powerful and brings you right into the present moment.
Life is a journey not a destination
We are not meant to rush through life. It’s about savouring every moment of each day and by doing so we get to know ourselves better and learn to be more present. As the late famed tennis player Arthur Ashe once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.”
Remind yourself that you are experiencing an eating disorder in this moment. It is just an experience, it is not who you are. You are so much more than the Eating Disorder. You are a brother, sister, mother, father, daughter, son.
You will have many experiences in life that you label good or bad, but we are here to learn from them and move on. Be gentle with yourself. “This too shall pass.”
Learn to become more social
The very nature of eating disorders can keep you cut off from your family, friends and work colleagues. Eating disorders flourish in isolation and it can be hard to be social. By staying in and focusing on your ritualized eating patterns and your body, you are giving your eating disorder more control. Being free of the eating disorder means moving away from it, and becoming more social will help. It may feel uncomfortable at the start, do it in small steps. Do not put big expectations on yourself. Meet a friend for a coffee or a movie or some window-shopping. Bring a book you are reading to the park or beach and sit and read it while enjoying your surroundings.
Learn to self-care
Self-care means very different things for people. For those who are experiencing an Eating Disorder and have spare time, they may be in the cycle of using this time in destructive behaviour to help them deal with stress and anxiety; Binge Eating, Purging or Over-exercising.
Begin to use this time to educate yourself on your Eating Disorder recovery. Local libraries have a range of books and will even order a book you wish to read on a variety of topics. Find new ways to self-soothe without using destructive patterns. I recommend you read “50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food” by Susan Albers. Learn a new skill. Learn to Meditate. Meditation is very healing for the mind, body and soul.
Have a Recovery list. Place it everywhere.
The demands of life can get in the way of your recovery and can be a trigger or temptation. By making a list of what is motivating you to recover helps you to stay on track. Place your list everywhere - the refrigerator, bathroom window, in your wallet, on your laptop. This will reinforce your motivations and help you stay focused.
Affirmations are very powerful and help so many people who are in recovery from an eating disorder. Create an affirmation that best suits your needs right now. It can be hard to say, “I love myself” when you are starting out on the journey of self-love and acceptance. Find an affirmation that can help you to build up to it. “Today I am going to do my best to like one thing about myself.” “Today I choose to be at peace with my thoughts.” “Today I will feed my body and soul with good, nutritious food.” Repetition is the key with affirmations!
If you know you will act out a destructive behaviour you are trying to stop with certain people or places, don’t put yourself in those situations. If you binge on certain foods - for example cookies - don’t have them in the house. Have a strategy in place when you feel the need to binge or purge.
- Ring a friend – talk it out.
- Go for a walk.
- Write your feelings out now.
- Ask yourself what has happened in the last few days or day that has brought on this urge? Have you been eating enough? Has someone said something to you that has triggered a negative response?
Be Patient With Yourself!
What is inspiring you at this moment - books, famous quotes, nature? Spend time doing activities that are inspiring to you. This can help build confidence and gives us a sense of purpose.
If you feel connected to something larger than yourself, you are driven by the very highest level of achievement - greater than the people around you - whether that means God, spirituality, or a set of values you live by.
Reach out and ask for help, you don’t have to do it on your own.
“Love is the answer - what was the question?” John Lennon