There’s no question that letting go of an eating disorder is one of the hardest things a person can do. Each individual will follow their own unique path to ED recovery. While there is no magic wand to wave away all the stress, challenges and difficult moments, I’ll try to provide the next best thing.
Here are suggestions shared by individuals who have had success with their ED recovery journey:
1) Practice self-compassion.
Decide that you are worthy of recovery and living a joyous life, which means full of ups and downs. Forgive yourself when you have a bad day. Acknowledge when you are tired and need rest. And keep reminding yourself that you are doing the best that you can.
2) Feed your soul.
If your body and brain are being deprived, you are less likely to reap the benefits of therapy or your mindfulness practice. Regardless of body shape or size, malnourishment increases the risk of medical complications, co-morbid psychiatric symptoms and distorted thinking. Consider ways to nourish yourself beyond just the physical piece. Look at ways to feed your soul. That might be through journaling, creative expression like art or poetry, or playing an instrument or listening to music. We nourish our bodies with food, and our minds and hearts with knowledge and love.
3) It takes a village.
One person can’t give you the keys to eating disorder recovery. Rather, it takes a team. One who holds you accountable and provides the knowledge and skills you need for recovery. A dietitian specialized in eating disorders helps navigate your food rules and ultimately normalize eating. A medical doctor or nurse practitioner monitors for medical complications and can provide a reality check regarding the seriousness of your illness. A therapist who you genuinely connect with will be your ally to help you better understand yourself and your eating disorder. While it isn’t unheard of for people to recover on their own, it is immeasurably easier with a strong team of professionals by your side.
4) Look forward to future fun.
You have your clinical team, but remember your squad. Don’t let ED isolate you from those you care about and those who care about you, too! As one recovery pro said,
“Think about your friends who want to do things with you to help keep you out of your head and nudge you to go to meals. Eventually, the future fun with your friends will outweigh the fear of eating. Your friends can also provide a good model for more normalized eating patterns.”
5) Don’t forget that honesty is the best policy.
Many recovered individuals will stress that honesty is key to success. Because an eating disorder thrives in secrecy, being honest is a way to defy ED and stake a claim on recovery. In addition, being open with your family and friends can be a great motivator to keep going on your recovery journey.
6) Use your tools.
An eating disorder is an incredibly effective coping mechanism…until it isn’t. And while this is an oversimplification of a very complex disease that can involve genetics, temperament, trauma and a host of other contributors, it is undeniable that the use of eating disorder behaviors meets a very immediate need to dull or distract from unpleasant feelings or things. You cannot take away a coping mechanism, whether it is maladaptive or not, without replacing it with something else. How about adding healthy coping skills to your toolkit? This is where all those hours of DBT are going to come in handy. Other skills can be mindfulness, meditation, art or yoga. Have your pick.
Furthermore, the key to internalizing skills is to practice them often throughout the day. Repetition and time will help the brain form new neural pathways, and slowly but surely, these habits will replace the old, unhealthful ones.
7) Rediscover your sense of self
Eating disorders are often ego-syntonic, or in other words, consistent with one’s sense of self. When you make the decision to break free of ED, it can feel like giving up a part of your identity, maybe one that you have held on to for a long time.
In the same way you must add new ways to self-regulate when you begin to abstain from your eating disorder behaviors, rediscovering your sense of self is key to maintaining your recovery. A journal can be a great way to do this, especially if you use writing prompts.
Thought starters for journaling throughout eating disorder recovery:
What defines you outside of your eating disorder?
Explore your relationship to others in your life, as a child, parent, spouse or friend.
What are you passionate about?
What subjects do you like best in school, or what is your favorite thing about your job?
What makes you feel connected?
What are your pet peeves?
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
As the eating disorder identity fades away, making sure that YOU are there to take its place is the best way to ensure it never comes back.
Ongoing change is achieved by building a life that has meaning to you, as an individual. Be open and willing to try anything, stick with what works, be kind to yourself and never forget:
Recovery is possible.
We know finding care can be tough. Walden is here for you. If you are concerned that you, or a loved one, may have an eating disorder, please reach out by completing the form on this page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This blog post does not necessarily represent the views of Walden Behavioral Care and its management. The Walden Blog is meant to represent a broad variety of opinions relating to eating disorders and their treatment.
Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES (she/her/hers) has been providing school communities with specialized addiction prevention education since 1999 and has taught students of all ages in most U.S. states and more than 25 countries across five continents. After completing her graduate work at Plymouth State University’s Eating Disorders Institute in 2013, Stephanie joined Walden Behavioral Care as their Prevention Education Specialist, creating an eating disorders prevention curriculum designed for use in school communities.