Eating Disorder Recovery: Back to Basics
Let's be honest: my eating disorder recovery is...shaky at the moment. I admit this to you for two reasons. One: if you're also in recovery from an eating disorder and having a rough time of it, that's normal and you're not alone. Two: if you're on the outside looking in, don't be fooled into thinking that just because your loved one "looks" normal, or stopped purging, or stopped over-exercising, that they're not still struggling.
The fact is, struggling is part of the journey. Nobody said recovering from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or any other disordered eating pattern would be easy - and if they did, they were lying to you.
Eating Disorder Recovery is Hard
Recovery from an eating disorder is tough. It's especially tough at the beginning - those first few months when you're trying so desperately to replace your old behaviors with new, healthier ones. And even if you have been kicking butt in recovery for months or a year, you're still going to hit rough patches. The rough patches don't mean you're failing. They mean you're trying.
But sometimes, when things start to slip, you've got to go back to the basics - back to the things that got you through those first through months and to the point in recovery where you were solid and strong.
The Basics of Eating Disorder Recovery
Meal Plan: At the beginning of your recovery, you were probably on some sort of meal plan - be that exchanges, calories, whatever. Maybe you got to the point where you had progressed to intuitive eating - but a slip in recovery is not the time you want to try and eat "intuitively" - "intuitively" opens the door wide for eating disorder behaviors to creep back in. There is nothing wrong with going back on a meal plan to get you through a difficult period.
Talk About It: Those first few months of recovery are full of talking about your feelings, whining about your meal plan, whining about how difficult it is to refrain from behaviors. Sometimes, in treatment, it felt like all I did was talk and eat. But talking helps. Find friends and family that you can trust and let them in on just how difficult this can be. Let them know you're struggling. Let them support you. (Read: Secrets in Eating Disorder Recovery)
Coping Skills: Technically, yes, your eating disorder is a coping skill. So let me qualify that statement with: "the healthy ones"! Find things to do that are contrary to your eating disorder (don't let it trick you into thinking exercise is an acceptable coping skill!) and do them. Create art, read books, knit, crochet, watch your favorite television show. Do things that will allow you to sit through the discomfort of avoiding behaviors without completely imploding. (Which, yes, it does feel like you will do sometimes. You won't, I promise.)
Read Recovery-Oriented/Inspiring Writings: I am lucky enough to have an entire notebook of assignments that I completed while at inpatient and residential treatment. I have lists of affirmations. I have books that are recovery-oriented and remind me that all this pain is worth it.
I also have a recovery art journal that I work on when I'm in a strong place, full of inspiring quotations and things I've learned along the way. Use it to light a fire for your continued recovery.
Basic Self-Care: I actually got my hair cut a couple of weeks ago. Not because I don't like long hair, quite the contrary. But I realized that I was using my long hair as an excuse to just blow past taking care of my appearance in the morning. A shorter hair style requires me to spend all of 7 minutes in the morning blow drying and straightening my hair. But that is 7 minutes that says "I am worth the time" and makes me feel better all day. Take a few minutes each day to send that message to yourself, whether that's by doing your hair, putting on a bit of makeup, painting your nails, or doing something you find restful and enjoying.
Don't Ignore Your Other Diagnoses: They play into your eating disorder, without a doubt. If you have another psychiatric diagnosis, be sure you're taking care of that as well so that you're not putting your eating disorder recovery at risk.
Do any of you have other ideas for how to get through rough patches? I'd love to hear about them in the comments section and see an entire list of ways that we can work through these harder times!
Hudgens, J. (2013, February 14). Eating Disorder Recovery: Back to Basics, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2013/02/eating-disorder-recovery-back-to-basics
Author: Jessica Hudgens
I would love you to talk more of the work exercises you've done so people can do that on their own and with counsellors. Be nice to have some stuff to work on from treatment centers as they're hard and no always something ppl like myself have access to.
I would be happy to do that in a future post! I think it's a great idea, as I have a lot of great exercises that really aided a lot in my recovery. I appreciate the idea!
The art work from your journal is lovely, Jess. Thanks for sharing it. I knew you were talented in many ways, but that was a new one for me. ;)
Great suggestions. Your honesty is inspiring!
For me, getting through the rough patches is a little bit different. Not to say there aren't any rough patches, because as you said, it would be a lie if I said there weren't. I didn't go through an actual recovery-program as you and many others have. I did go through a little bit of therapy, but most of what my recovery was done on my own, and I didn't start with meal plans or some of the other basics you would see in a program. When I have rough patches, I have to keep myself on constant “watch.” I have to leave myself notes reminding myself to eat and to really listen to my body and its hunger signals. I've also compiled a list of healthy outlets I'm able to turn to when I'm going through a rough patch. It's important for me to have these on hand for days I'm about to turn to food or restriction. Basically, my rough patches just mean I need to be more aware until it passes.
I'm sorry though that you are going through a rough time. I'm sure writing about it has made you more aware of the ways to get through it. Keep strong girl!
You make a good point. I forget that not everyone reading this has been through a formal treatment program or has worked with a dietitian who helped them with a meal plan (though I certainly recommend it to all!). Whether you have a meal plan or not, keeping yourself on "watch" is crucial -- and being aware and mindful of our bodies' signals is crucial. I think I stress the meal plan, because for a lot of us, especially earlier in recovery, we can have a very difficult reading hunger and fullness cues. I certainly do -- and having a meal plan (at least a rough one) helps me ensure that I'm getting enough even though I may not feel "hungry." I love your idea of posting notes to remind yourself to eat -- I have set reminders in my phone before (especially for snack times) and that helps me a lot.
I'd love to see your list of healthy outlets and coping skills.
Thanks for the support and keep up the great work!