It's not easy, but you're not alone. Having practiced as a dietitian I have counselled many clients with various forms of eating disorders. It can be a difficult road to travel, but know that with the right support you can take back control of your mental, physical and spiritual health. The eating disorder does not define you. You will overcome this.
The following are some tips on what to do if you feel you currently have an eating disorder, or disordered eating behaviours:
1. Reach Out for Support
Above all else, it's crucial that you reach out. Often people with mental health illnesses, be this eating disorders, or depression or anxiety, feel that it's a battle they have to overcome on their own. That it's simply a matter of strength and willpower. This could not be further from the truth.
If you haven't talked to anyone about it before, in the beginning it might be easier to get support from someone close that you trust: a partner, friend, 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 what you've just told them. They too need to be educated on the eating disorder to be able to support you, and this can take time.
Now it’s absolutely necessary to seek professional help as well: be it a doctor, dietitian or certified therapist. If you don't know where to begin, try seeing your family doctor first: they can guide to you to support centres or therapists that can help. If you don't have a family doctor, you can always Google for certified counsellors and dietitians in your area.
Depending on where you live, you may also have access to anonymous group meetings such as Overeaters Anonymous, and Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous. Some people find these groups helpful in releasing pent up feelings and emotions, and as a way to realize they are not alone in the journey to overcoming disordered eating habits.
Simply put: asking for help is a sign of strength, and not weakness. You don't need to do this alone. Reach out.
2. Learn More… but not too much
Of course when we are afflicted with an illness it's important to read more about it and learn about tips on how to overcome it. The problem with eating disorders is there is 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 because your therapist can better connect you with resources, or provide you with activities and tips - and in this way you know it's coming from a reputable and safe source.
3. Separate Yourself from the Illness
You are not the illness. Separate yourself from it. If you need to get angry, get angry at it and not yourself.
For many people, they think, "What's wrong with me? Why do I keep doing this? Why am I'm so weak?"
This doesn’t help. You're taking the aggression out on yourself, and this only makes matters worse. Instead start to recognize and observe your thoughts and behaviours. Does it feel like you, or does it feel like your body's been hijacked by the illness? Maybe you're about to eat because you'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." That's not you. That's the illness. Recognizing that it's not you is the first step. Disobeying the illness is the next step.
Now the tips and strategies for this are much more than I can share in a single post, so I 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 and but please don't just read them, actually do them!
It's also helpful if you can read the book with your therapist or with your support person so that they can check in to make sure you're actually putting some of the tools into practice. And even if you're doing it on your own, use this book as a tool to learn how to separate yourself from the illness. You're stronger than it is, and don't ever believe otherwise.
4. Develop a Healthier Relationship with Food
Food is not your enemy. The disorder is. Many people with eating disorder struggle when it comes to control, often swinging from being completely rigid to allowing absolute chaos. If you follow Pick Up Limes, you'll know I encourage finding balance in your eating routine. No rules. No restrictions. No calorie counting. No measuring or weighing. Rules and restrictions only encourage us to become more preoccupied and obsessed with food.
Important consideration: if you're struggling with an eating disorder, it may be best to avoid titles like "veganism" or "vegetarianism". Indeed, you know what's best, and it's important to be honest with yourself: are you using the title as a way to justify restrictive eating behaviours, or is it genuinely for the sake of the animals and/or environment? Remember you can always return to a plant-based way of living when you are feeling your relationship with food has normalized. If you feel you need extra support in this decision, speak 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 does not mean a strict eating schedule, but a regular one. One that allows for meals and snacks at reasonable intervals in the day so as to avoid restrictions that may perhaps lead to a binge or purge.
Keep reminding yourself that food is there to nourish, not punish.
Now one tip often mentioned is to listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues, but if you've been intrenched in the eating disorder for some time, you may not even recognize them anymore. It takes some time to get back in touch with these sensations. For now, sticking with a regular eating schedule can help your body re-learn what it feels like to be full and hungry.
5. Learn Healthier Ways to Cope with your Emotions
Eating disorders are often more psychological than anything else. It might be helpful to identify what your emotional state is: are you sad, stressed, lonely, depressed? Are you eating to comfort yourself, or relieve boredom?
Take a moment and write it down. Bring awareness to it.
So one thing you do want to do is allow yourself to be vulnerable with people you trust. Allow them to be your comfort, instead of food. Allow yourself to fully feel the emotions without judgement, and this can be the hardest part sometimes. But by leaning into the discomfort, you might find the emotions get very intense and peak, but then wash away. What's destructive and doesn't work is if you pretend you don't feel anything when you do. Don't let yourself avoid feelings because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Again if you're afraid of doing this on your own, doing it with a therapist or other support member at first will help.
6. Focus on Accomplishments, Not Set-backs
It's easy for us to point out our downfalls, and areas in which in which we want to improve. We live in a goal-oriented society were we are encouraged to always improve ourselves, working harder and harder to reach this ideal end-point. But often this makes us lose sight of the progress and accomplishments we've made so far.
So set your goal list aside for a moment, and create an accomplishments list.
Add to the list all the things that have imporved and that you are proud of. Did you reach out and ask for support?
Add it to the list.
Did you have a snack today when normally you would have skipped?
Add it to the list.
Did you notice that the voice in your head was the eating disorder and not you?
Keep this list visible and keep adding to it as a reminder of how far you've come.
I hope this has offered some strategies that you might be willing to put into practice. Above, all else, remember you don't have to do this alone. You can and will overcome this with support.
A Brief Disclaimer
An article or video cannot possibly provide enough tips and resources to help overcome any mental health illness. The road to recovery is a journey that takes times. Advice, tips, and resources need to be tailored to your individual needs, and this can only be done if you seek help. If you aren't sure where to start, please see your family doctor. Remember everything is confidential and they can help refer you to the place where they feel you will be best supported. Wishing you strength, and an abundance of health and wellness,
Want To Learn More?
Read this previous nutrition article called BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO VEGANISM » covering the basics
❤ Written by: Sadia