Recovery From Eating Disorders

Many people have recovered from eating disorders and are living full and productive lives. They have developed a healthy relationship with food. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible, even after many years of illness. Remember this – with therapy you increase your chances of getting better.

It is very difficult to recover from an eating disorder on your own. You need help to deal with both the emotional and physical aspects of your illness. The aim will be to restore a regular eating pattern and a balanced diet in your life. Professional advice and psychological counseling is necessary. You will need help in tackling the emotional issues which lay beneath your eating disorder.

No one can force you to get well. That simply would not work. You must make the decision. Do you want to carry on living like this? Or do you want to change? You will probably feel scared at the thought of change. That is a normal feeling regarding recovery, and it is alright to feel scared. Just remember that many have recovered from eating disorders.

The process of recovering is about beginning to hope or rekindling the hope you once had for a productive present and a rewarding future – and believing that you deserve it! It involves having your own vision of the life you want to lead, seeing and changing old patterns and discovering that symptoms can be managed. It means doing more of what works and less of what does not.

Recovery is not just about getting rid of symptoms. It is about getting back any lost rights, roles, responsibilities, potential, decisions and support.

Recovery is about reclaiming your roles as a ‘healthy’ person, rather than living your life as a ‘sick one.’ Recovery is what you want in your life, how to get there and how others can support you in your journey.

Self Acceptance

Self-acceptance means to value yourself as you are, with all the weaknesses and strengths, and regardless of them. Denial is not acceptance. Rather, self-acceptance means adopting a non-judgmental attitude toward yourself. It is the ability to see things as they are in the moment without harmful, self-critical voices interrupting your view of yourself. Body image and self-acceptance are tied together since body image can affect how you feel about your whole self. When you put yourself down, it can lead to negative feelings about yourself in general.

  • Do you dislike your body because you are comparing yourself to someone you admire but who has a totally different body type and size? That is not a fair comparison and can only lead to frustration and an unhealthy body image. If you feel you need a role model, choose someone who has a similar body structure.
  • Monitor your self-talk. Challenge self-critical nagging. Deliberately choose to change the subject and count your blessings when you fall into negative thoughts about yourself, your appearance, your abilities, and your accomplishments.
  • Identify patterns of behavior. Look at the way you relate to others. Do you have equal give-and-take in relationships? If not look at books on assertiveness or join an assertion group.
  • Take a reality check and look at the people around you. Realize that very few people have “perfect” bodies. Do not be so hard on yourself.
  • Be aware that the models and celebrities you see in fashion and lifestyle magazines look the way they do because they have the advantage of fashion stylists, make up artists, hairdressers, professional lighting, and sometimes a little help from digital artists who can do magic with computer editing.
  • Analyze your body image. What situations make you feel fat? What do you do when you feel fat? Identify negative thoughts and challenge them with positive affirmations.
  • Look at your self esteem holistically: What is truly, ultimately important to you? What are your skills and talents? What kind of person do you want to be?
  • Realistically view your genetic shape. Study photos of your mother, grandmothers, aunts and sisters to get a sense of their family genes for body shape. Focus on how your body functionally serve you. Identify the ways you need your strength and physical capability or coordination to function and enjoy life through participation in sports, hiking, playing, etc. These aspects of body image (our physical strength, capabilities) often go unappreciated.
  • If you have negative thoughts about your body and the way you look, think about all of the traits that make you special and unique. Look at your whole self – body and mind – in a positive way and write down what you see.
  • Do not forget that you are not alone in your pursuit of self-acceptance. It is a life-long process that many people struggle with.

Self Help

The following tips are aimed at helping yourself with recovering from eating disorders.

  • Stick to regular mealtimes and eat at least 4 meals every day – breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. If you cannot manage this, try to think of one small step you could take towards a more healthy way of eating. For instance, you may be unable to eat breakfast. To start with, get into the routine of sitting at the table for a few minutes at breakfast time, and perhaps drink a glass of water. When you have got used to doing this, try having just a little to eat, even half a slice of toast – but do it every day.
  • Keep a diary of what you eat, when you eat it, and what your thoughts and feelings have been every day. You can use your diary to see if there seems to be any connection between how you feel, what you are thinking about, and how you eat.
  • Draw a family tree to include all friends and all those living or dead. Write down your family history noting dramatic or eventful periods of change.
  • Start nurturing and pampering yourself. Set aside time in the day for your own relaxation. Try yoga or meditation.
  • Try to be honest about what you are or are not eating, both with yourself and with other people.
  • Remind yourself that you do not have to be achieving things all the time – let yourself off the hook sometimes.
  • Make two lists – one of what your eating disorder has given you, one of what you have lost by it. A self-help book can help you to do this.
  • Do not overly criticize or judge yourself harshly. Self-criticism will drive the compulsion of the eating disorder.
  • Try to be kind to your body, do not punish it.
  • Remind yourself that, if you lose more weight, you will probably feel more anxious and depressed.
  • Make sure you know what a reasonable weight is for you, and that you understand why.
  • Get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise or physical activity three to five days a week.
  • Choose every day to bring pleasure into your life, at least for a couple minutes.
  • Read about stories of other people’s experiences of recovery. You can find these in self-help books or on the internet.
  • Your eating disorder has enabled you to cope with difficult circumstances. See if you can come up with other coping strategies which are less harmful.
  • Dare to say yes to yourself instead of no. Begin to appreciate and love yourself.
  • Think about joining a self-help group. Your doctor may be able to recommend one or you can contact an “Eating Disorders Association.”