Moving on from an active eating disorder (ED) is not easy. Speak to most people who have some ED recovery, and they’ll tell you that it’s a lifelong journey. There are a whole lot of new behaviours to get your mind around, including reaching out to others, being honest with yourself, and eating regular, appropriately sized meals.
If all that makes you feel pretty overwhelmed, you are certainly not alone. But with time, you’ll see that this new lifestyle is not only possible, but it’s also fulfilling. Having said that, no matter how much experience you have there will always be times when staying in ED recovery is harder than others. That’s when the “Seven hacks to eating disorder recovery” described below can be really helpful.
1. Just do “the next right thing”
Clinician Erin Gilmore, who specialises in treating eating disorders, says thinking about long-term recovery can feel daunting – deciding where you want to be in a year or even a month can be too much. But you can probably say where you want to be in 5 minutes relatively easily.
Take things second by second as you need to, and keep doing whatever you determine the next right thing to be. Sometimes that’s getting dressed and leaving the house; sometimes it’s as small as brushing your teeth. Meet yourself wherever you are.
2. Picture yourself as a child
This can seem a little esoteric, but it actually works really well. Most sufferers are very hard or even abusive towards themselves, but chances are you wouldn’t treat any child – including the one that you once were – in this way. Remembering that younger self can help you to be gentle with who you are now. As ED survivor Blythe Baird says, the “precious little girl” inside her deserves to live and be happy.
3. Socialise regularly
In her years of practice, Gilmore has also found that anorexics, bulimics, binge eaters and other ED sufferers have used their disordered behaviour to isolate themselves. Usually, the longer they’ve been acting out, the greater this isolation is.
Connecting with others, no matter how difficult this feels, is essential to recovery. You can even stick to small half-hour engagements but meet with people regularly. Don’t let those fears crystallise and cause you to miss out.
4. Put yourself in anxiety-provoking situations
Interacting with people is not the only situation that can stir up anxiety. As specialised counsellors Susan Cowden and Barbie Cervoni explain, you need to face the scenarios that you’ve been avoiding so that you can get accustomed to them. Introduce the foods and activities that make you nervous, and do your best to sit with uncomfortable feelings rather than suppressing them.
5. Be as honest as you can about your eating disorder
One of the reasons for the isolation of an active eating disorder is the level of secrecy that it requires. If you’re constantly covering up your behaviour and lying about what you’re doing, you can’t really connect with anybody.
Cowden and Cervoni also note that if the people around you don’t know what’s going on, you’re less likely to offer support and they’re less likely to realise that you might need it. Share your condition with those you trust, as plainly as possible.
6. Work on identifying your feelings
Emotions are a lot easier to deal with if you know what they actually are. When you feel upset or uncomfortable, do your best to understand why. Once you understand your reaction, you are empowered to decide what you want to do about it. With time, you’ll be able to identify your emotions more easily. If you suppress these feelings, they’ll get both stronger and more mysterious, making them a lot harder to handle.
7. Express yourself creatively
Whether you choose to write, draw, dance or even find a song that resonates with you, it’s important to find ways of expressing your emotions once you’ve identified them. As an ED survivor who chose only to be identified as Michael says, feelings are much less likely to be toxic if you find a creative outlet for them.
Every Moment Counts
Sweeping declarations of “never acting out again” are not helpful to someone trying to recover from an eating disorder, or from any other kind of self-destructive or addictive behaviour. Instead, try to focus on being healthy in each moment.
If you know you’re acting in an ED way, or are giving into negative or intrusive thoughts, take a moment to reset the pattern. Those moments become hours, those hours become days, and then those days become weeks, months and even years. Every breath can be a step on your road to recovery.