Tips and resources for overcoming an eating disorder
As a disclaimer, an article or video can't possibly provide enough tips and resources to help overcome any mental health illness. The road to recovery is a journey that takes time. Advice, tips, and resources need to be tailored to our individual needs, and this can only be done by seeking help. Seeing a family doctor is a great way to start. Remember everything is confidential and they can refer us to places they believe we'll be best supported. Sending all of us reading this article continued strength and an abundance of health and wellness.
1. Reach out for support
Above all else, we believe it's crucial to reach out. Often people with mental health illnesses, be this eating disorders, depression, or anxiety, feel that it's a battle they have to overcome on their own, with strength and willpower. There are countless ways we can get support, though, whether it's from our loved ones or even complete strangers.
If we haven't talked to anyone about it before, it might be easier to get support from someone close that we trust. This may be a partner, friend, or family member. Know in advance they may feel shocked, helpless, confused, sad or even angry. They might not know how to respond or even help. Give them time to digest everything. They too need to be educated on the eating disorder to provide support, and this can take time.
We also believe it’s absolutely necessary to seek professional help. Be it a doctor, dietitian, or certified therapist. A family doctor is a great first step if we don't know where to begin. They can guide us to support centres or therapists that can help.
Depending on where we live, there may be access to anonymous group meetings such as Overeaters Anonymous, and Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous. These groups are often safe spaces for everyone to be reassured that they're not alone in the journey to overcoming disordered eating habits. They may also be helpful in releasing pent up feelings and emotions. Asking for help is truly a sign of strength and not weakness. There's no need to go through this journey alone.
2. Be aware of what's out there
When we experience an illness we often read more about it and learn about tips on how to overcome it. The problem with eating disorders is there's a lot of information online, and it's difficult to know which sources to trust. In some cases, impressionable people can go out well-intentioned looking for help, only to find more strategies and ways to delve deeper into their eating disorders. Again, this is why professional therapy can help. A therapist can better connect us with resources, or provide us with credible activities and tips. In this way, we know it's coming from a reputable and safe source.
3. Separate from the illness
We aren't defined by the illnesses we encounter. We can separate ourselves from them. If we need to get angry, it can help to be angry at the illness and not ourselves.
Many of us may think, "What's wrong with me? Why do I keep doing this? Why am I so weak?"
When we take aggression out on ourselves, it tends to make matters worse. Instead, we can start to recognize and observe our thoughts and behaviours. For example, maybe we're about to eat because we're actually hungry and it's been a few hours, but then a thought creeps in that says, "No, you don't need to eat that. You need to lose weight. Skip this meal." We're telling ourselves that we're hungry, but there's another pesky demon telling us that we shouldn't eat even if we're hungry. Recognizing that this voice isn't us is the first step. Disobeying the illness is the next step.
The tips and strategies for this are much more than can be shared in a single post. We highly recommend a very insightful book that explains this in much more detail. The book is called Life Without Ed which is written by a woman who overcame her eating disorder by personifying the eating disorder as an abusive partner that she wanted to separate from. The book is filled with helpful activities. It's a great resource to help us learn how to separate from the illness. We may find it helpful to read the book with a therapist or someone from our support system so they can help us put some of the tools into practice.
You're so much stronger than it is.
4. Work on building a better relationship with food
Food isn't our enemy. The disorder is. Many people with eating disorders struggle when it comes to control. Often swinging from being completely rigid with rules to allowing absolute chaos. Here at PUL, we encourage finding a nourishing balance in our eating routine. We support avoiding rules, restrictions, calorie counting and measuring or weighing of foods. This is because rules and restrictions promote us to become more preoccupied and obsessed with food.
If we're struggling with an eating disorder, it may also be helpful to avoid titles like "veganism" or "vegetarianism". Are we using the title as a way to justify restrictive eating behaviours, or is it genuinely for the sake of the animals and/or the environment? We can always return to a plant-based way of living once our relationship with food has healed. For extra support when making this decision, we recommend speaking with a dietitian.
There are so many variations of eating disorders but regardless of the type, following a regular eating schedule can certainly help. Please note this doesn't mean a strict eating schedule, but rather a more consistent one. One that allows for meals and snacks to be enjoyed at frequent intervals throughout the day, and so helps avoid restrictions that may perhaps lead to a binge or purge.
Food is there to nourish, not punish us. One tip often mentioned is to listen to our body's hunger and fullness cues. If we've been entrenched in an eating disorder for some time, though, we may not even recognize these cues anymore. It takes some time to get back in touch with these sensations. Sticking with a regular eating schedule can help our body re-learn what it feels like to be full and hungry.
5. Learn alternative ways to cope with emotions
Eating disorders are often more psychological than anything else. It might be helpful to identify what our emotional state is. Are we sad, stressed, lonely, depressed? Are we eating to provide comfort or to relieve boredom?
Take a moment and write it down. Bring awareness to it.
Some alternative ways to cope with emotions may be to write, draw, garden, enjoy movement, try relaxation exercises, listen to music, chat with a loved one, or perhaps even embrace a good ole cry.
Another thing we encourage here at PUL is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with the people that we trust. Allow them to be our comfort, rather than food. Although it can be difficult, we're all able to fully feel our emotions without judgement. We can choose to accept our feelings along with any discomfort they may bring. By leaning into this discomfort, we might find the emotions get very intense and peak, but then wash away. What generally doesn't work as well is to pretend that we don't' feel anything when we in fact do. Talking with a therapist or other individual in our support system can tremendously help us manage our emotions.
6. Focus on accomplishments, not set-backs
It's easy for us to point out our downfalls, and areas in which we want to improve. We live in a goal-oriented society where we're encouraged to always improve ourselves, working harder and harder to reach this ideal end-point. This often makes us lose sight of the progress and accomplishments we've made so far.
Try to set this goal list aside for a moment, and create an accomplishments list. Add to the list all the things that have improved and that we're proud of. Did we reach out and ask for support? Did we have a snack today when normally we would've skipped? Did we notice that the voice in our head was the eating disorder and actually us? These are all the accomplishments that we can add to our list. Keep this list visible. Continue to add to it as a reminder of just how far we've come.
We hope this has offered some strategies that can be put into practice. It's not easy and may not feel like it, but know that we're never truly alone. It can be a difficult road to travel but, with the right support, we can regain control of our mental, physical and spiritual health. Having an eating disorder doesn't define us. We're so loved and supported. We will overcome this.