A sentence I read quite often in my Instagram dm´s is: “I want to recover, but I don´t know how. Can you give me some tips on how to start and what I have to do?” So, let´s have a look at how navigating eating disorder recovery could look like for you. What I can tell you for sure ahead: Each and everyone´s recovery journey looks different. There is not the perfect given route for recovery you can just follow along. But what I am giving you here in this blog post is a rough guideline.
- finding motivation to recover
- becoming aware of the consequences
- Weight restoration
- normalization of your eating pattern
- Reframing core believes and healing the body image
- Cope with your emotions in a more helpful way
- social skill training
- Relapse prevention
- FINAL words
- Resources used in “navigating eating disorder recovery”
One of the best way to recover is to reach out for a professional, which will help you to turn the steering wheel in the right direction. However – not everyone has access to therapy, has to wait too long for being admitted to treatment or you´re just here to see what you can expect from recovery. So, I will explain each component shortly and give you some practical journal prompts, or daily life tips. It´s difficult to put them in a “
Sounds good? Than let´s hop into the recovery car and have a look at our first destination:
finding motivation to recover
Who would have guessed in order to actually make an effort to recover, you need motivation. The motivation at the beginning of recovery is usually very ambivalent. Either patients are forced into recovery by being admitted into a hospital/clinic or by parents, partners,.. But even the ones that want to recover themselves, usually don´t want to recover because of the little amounts of food they are eating or the low weight they might have. Building up your motivation will help you mastering bumpy parts of the journey.
- Why do you want to move on from your eating disorder?
- What will happen if you don´t make an effort to recover and stay right where you are right now?
- Set future goals for yourself (that have nothing to do with weight).
- How would your daily life would look like, when you successfully recovered from your eating disorder? What would you do, how would you feel, who would you spend time with?
becoming aware of the consequences
Psychoeducation provides you information about the causes, symptoms, prognosis, and treatments of your eating disorder. This also includes the realisation, that they are not alone with what they are going through. It is basically what my Blog and Instagram is about. Spreading awareness about the illness and showing you what you can expect from recovery and being a recovered person. A great example could be the Minnesota Starvation Experiment about the impact of starvation on the humans mind and body, or how restricting leads to “bingeing”.
This step can help in setting attainable goals, uncovering previously hidden causes and understanding how your own perception of the illness might have been flawed. Understanding your condition better will help you to stay motivated in recovery.
- read about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment
- read this blog article about Extreme hunger, in case this is what you are dealing with
- my favourite recovery accounts, I find save to follow: Impowering, Harrietfrew, Priscilla, edrecoveryblog, beatingeatingdisorders, the eating disorder center, followtheintuition
Now, that you know some details about how your eating disorder may impact the way you think and behave – let´s talk shortly about the “scary” part:
When you have read the Article about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, then you should know by now, that starvation has a greater impact on your mind than you previously asssumed. So, why is weight restoration important in eating disorder recovery?
“Weight restoration is not an optional part of recovery; it is an essential part. It is not just about facing fear foods, restoring hunger and fullness cues, eating mindfully, and discovering true balance and moderation. Even more, it is about returning your mind to a healthy place rather than one in starvation mode, so that you can actually do the emotional work” (Haglund, 2016).
- this is a lovely and relatable blog post on the “Beating eating disorders website”
- if possible – get weighed by someone else
- get rid of clothes that no longer fit, there is not need in keeping them
- learn to separate your worth from your weight
- as this will require moving your body less, find ways to stay busy
- be prepared for digestion issues like bloating, constipation, etc. If you keep eating your body will regulate itself.
Restoring your weight is THE milestone in recovery you have to reach to normalize your eating patters, do all the emotional work, etc.
normalization of your eating pattern
When my therapist once asked me, how I want to eat, I simply said: Normal. But what does normal mean? Normal means eating in a way that supports your mental and physical well being. That provides your body with plenty of nutrients and doesn´t cause anxiety around any kind of food. During my eating disorder I ate VERY chaotic. Nothing at all, way too little, or way too much, at random times of the day, I had weird eating rituals, …
- challenging any left over fear foods, food rules, eating rituals, …
- sticking to a given meal plan (if accessible)
- eating the damn three real meals, even when your mind is screaming or you completely overdid it the meal before. It is important to teach yourself to eat more structured again. How else is your body supposed to know, that it will be provided enough energy throughout the day from now on?
Reframing core believes and healing the body image
Core believes are our most deeply held assumptions about ourselves, the world, and others. They shape our reality and unconsciously determine our behaviours. Those believes can be associated with certain types of food (f.e. what “unhealthy” food leads to”), weight (f.e. only when I am thin, people will find me attractive”), or about more general things (f.e. “I am a bothering others, if I am asking for help”, “I am never good enough”, …)
- identify your core believes. Observe your thoughts with a neutral attitude. They are allowed to come and go. Try to judge them as little as possible. First it is just about becoming aware of them
- Where do these believes come from? Is it something someone in the past told you?
- reframe those a more supporting and “reality” closer way “attractiveness has less to do with my weight, but I how feel about myself. Because how I feel determines how I interact with others”
- take consciously time to look in the mirror and ONLY focus on the things that are neutral/good
- use body lotion, go to the public swimming pool or beach, wear clothes that are tighter, give your best to not compare yourself to people on social media or “models”
don´t wait for a certain body look or shape. Start living your life as you want to NOW. Write a list of things you want to do and get started!
Cope with your emotions in a more helpful way
Your eating disorder served a purpose in your life until now. But when you are here, you probably already realized, that it is not a very beneficial tool. The restriction, bingeing, purging, … – it all triggers your rewarding system for a very short time. That´s why you are engaging in it over and over again. It´s not “bad” it´s just not helpful, as on the long term it will increase your negative emotions.
- Journal about your daily thoughts as this will help you to identify your emotions
- make sure to sleep enough
- talk with someone about the mess in your head. A friend, a family member, a professional – as this well help you to structured it all a bit
- sometimes the best thing you can do it to starfish it out on the bedroom floor.
- Find ways to feel the serotonin boost in a more helpful way: nature, dancing, shaking it all out, try laugh yoga, …
social skill training
Personally- a tough one. But it is very effective in improving the quality of life and preventing a relapse. Because many eating disorder patients are isolating themselves from peers – they become pretty good at staying at home alone. But humans are social beings. We need social interaction to learn, grow, feel appreciated, …
- to make new friends – you actually have to go out. Join a club, study in the library instead your room, go to a coffee shop, …
- practice finding a balance between “I rather want to stay at home” and “yes, I want to come”
- ask someone to meet, don´t wait for them to ask
- try to take more communication parts over, ask questions, express what you want, make suggestions, …
- get to know yourself. What are your values, what are you good at, what do you like doing? All these things define you as a person.
- be aware, that disordered eating will always be somehow a predisposition. Skipping meals, going without food for too long, excessive exercising might be never “safe” for you. Especially when life is rough/stressful/any changes occur – make sure that nourishing yourself properly is your top priority
- try to see a relapse not as failing but as potential to learn and grow
- remind yourself of what it has REALLY been like during your eating disorder. We tend to glamourize the whole thing.
When you made it until here – I appreciate it a lot, that you took the time to read all of this. But getting educated about eating disorders and the recovery process alone will not make you a recovered person. It´s an important step – but now it is time to work on it. It might take a few months – maybe years. Take you time. Don´t rush the process. Whenever you feel stuck – come back to this article to find out what you could be working on next.
Recovery is a bumpy road. Sometimes you might take the wrong exist at a roundabout – but the only thing that matters is, to keep your goals in mind an that you always decide to get back on track.
If you took anything out of this post – please share it with other fighters, in your IG story, with friends or your family. In case there are any questions open – use the comment option down below. I am sure going to come back to you!
Resources used in “navigating eating disorder recovery”
- https://www.oliverpyattcenters.com/eating-disorders-therapies-how-they-work/ (06.02.2022)
- Haglund, K. (2016). How to Work Through the Weight Restoration Phase of Anorexia Nervosa. Eating Disorder Hope. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/work-weight-restoration-phase-anorexia-nervosa
- Herpertz, S., Zwaan, M. de & Zipfel, S. (Hrsg.). (2015). Handbuch Essstörungen und Adipositas (2., überarb. Aufl. 2015). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Verfügbar unter: http://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:bsz:31-epflicht-1563772