Volunteering as Part of Eating Disorder Recovery

The benefits of volunteer work extend to everyone. Plenty of studies show that the connections with others and the time spent thinking of more than your own life and needs, foster psychological and physiological health. For those recovering from eating disorders, or any other kind of process like substance addiction, these positive effects are truly profound.

Healing the Spirit

When most people start to work on recovering from anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating or whatever specific eating disorder they struggle with, their spirit is in a very broken state. If helping others reduces stress and affirms the humanity of everybody, imagine how soothing it can be to someone who is on the verge of giving up.

If feeling valuable and productive has a generally good impact on an individuals’ self-esteem, think about the change it could make in how an eating disorder sufferer feels about themselves. For someone whose life has been reduced to obsessing about their body and controlling their weight, being reminded of how much bigger the world is, and that they can make a positive difference, is pretty incredible.

Activating Skills and Self-Esteem

Volunteering also helps to develop or awaken interests. For anorexics, bulimics, overeaters, compulsive exercisers or other eating disorders, this also helps to expand their horizons and give them a sense that life is worth living. Spending time at a dog shelter or a local underprivileged school, for example, can easily ignite a passion for working with animals or children.

Other skills, such as interpersonal relations and leadership, emerge and grow in volunteer situations too. If someone has cut or damaged their connections with the important people in their life, as often happens during an active eating disorder, these skills are especially underdeveloped. Often confidence has also been eroded thanks to the vicious nature of eating disorders.

Completing tasks in a relatively stress-free environment – people tend to feel less pressured when money is not involved – is a good way to prove to yourself that you are capable. The more that volunteers tackle, within reason, the more this confidence and sense of purpose will flourish. If someone is feeling ashamed of their disordered eating behaviour, this could be the first time they have felt pride in what they are doing in months or even years.

Fertile Ground for Recovery to Bloom

Volunteering is more than just a balm for the wounds that are on the soul of an eating disorder sufferer or addict. As individuals start to feel better about their current behaviour and to see the bigger picture of society, they’re more able to make important changes to their lives. Having gained some self-respect, they find it harder to restrict, binge or purge with the same disregard for their bodies or psyches. Helping others exposes them to more stories and shows that everyone deserves help and dignity – themselves included. Old scars heal and clear the way for new growth at the same time.

To Sum Up, Volunteering is Beneficial for Those Recovering from an Eating Disorder Because:

  • Connections with others and the community at large are fostered.
  • People begin to think of others and understand that everyone has difficulties.
  • The obsessive focus on body weight and the image is lessened.
  • Physical stress is relieved.
  • New or old interests and skills are awakened and developed.
  • Creative thinking and problem-solving are fostered.
  • People feel like productive members of society, and begin to regain their self-respect.
  • Individuals can practice social interactions and develop better interpersonal relations.
  • Since people must be accountable, getting out of bed and showing up, volunteering can help to alleviate generalised depression and anxiety.

Some researchers also report direct correlations between an individual’s volunteer work and their ability to maintain their recovery. To maximise the benefits, try to choose volunteering opportunities that are especially close to your heart; help to clean up a beach if you want to be in nature, or spend time at an old age home to feel more connected to your grandparents. We are hardwired to help others, and in so doing we end up helping ourselves.