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7 Eating Disorder Recovery Strategies
I want to preface this by emphasizing that this is merely one perspective, and a fairly privileged one at that (as a white, queer, cis woman). Treatment for eating disorders is scarce and the waitlists for publicly funded treatment are painfully, even dangerously, long. This blog will focus on recovery after receiving 3 months of private inpatient treatment — a privilege that, without it, I’m not confident I would be here to write this.
With that in mind, the following are some of the factors or strategies, in no particular order, that I have found helpful in maintaining my recovery from anorexia binge-purge subtype:
Radical Acceptance - This was a skill we learned in treatment as a part of dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT). Radical acceptance is about acknowledging something that is bringing you pain, and wholeheartedly, compassionately accepting it as it is. Does this mean you like it? Absolutely not. It just means accepting that, for right now, this is your reality and it’s important to show yourself kindness in that. I specifically applied radical acceptance to the reality of my changing body. I knew going in that part of my treatment experience was going to involve gaining weight, perhaps to a number I had never seen. Did I like this? As a person who felt it was her mission to shrink herself, no I did not like it. And yet, in order to give recovery a proper try, I had to accept the changes that my body needed to make. For a more in depth explanation of radical acceptance, check out this NY Times article, Radical Acceptance Can Keep Emotional Pain From Turning Into Suffering.
Inner Child Work - This is a therapeutic approach that seeks to connect, understand, show love to, and heal your inner child. In general, inner child work is often about caring for wounds we may have received in our childhood. This has been a very important part of my overall healing, and continues to be. In regards to the eating disorder, it has been helpful to have my supports (professional and otherwise) remind me that I would never want to deprive a child of food, or deliver any other form of punishment through food or the body, and if I dig deep enough, I can acknowledge that I wouldn’t want to do that to child Scarlett either.
Opposite Action - This is another skill learned in DBT that essentially encourages you to choose the opposite of what your overwhelming or harmful emotions are telling you to do. It’s important to keep in mind that opposite action doesn’t suit all situations, and is best used when your emotions are leading to urges that are NOT effective for your healing goals. For example, if your depression is telling you to isolate, a powerful response can be challenging yourself to reach out to someone. In eating disorder treatment, work is often done to help tease apart the inner dialogue that is coming from the eating disorder versus the inner dialogue that belongs to our healthy selves. In this case, opposite action would involve rejecting the eating disorder voice and making space for the healthy self, e.g. if I notice I’m having the urge to restrict, I know that the healthy choice would be to challenge myself to eat something despite (or perhaps, in spite of) these urges. I have found this skill very helpful for eating disorder urges and otherwise!
“Just for Today” - This is a sentiment attributed to Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea is that sometimes it can feel really overwhelming to think about making a commitment to changing long-term, and it can be easier to just focus on getting through each day at a time. Eating disorders have been compared to addictions for a variety of reasons, and I find this statement to be helpful in my eating disorder recovery and beyond. When I’m feeling overwhelmed about having to potentially fight these urges in the long-term, it really helps for me to tell myself that “just for today” I’m going to fight through these urges, and for now (until tomorrow) that is enough.
Ongoing Therapy - For me, at least for the time being, therapy is crucial for my recovery. It’s truly heartbreaking how inaccessible and unaffordable it is to so many, so again, I recognize this is a privilege that not all have access to. I believe therapy is an important part of recovery because it helps you to work through the underlying factors that drive your eating disorder to begin with — if you work only on eliminating symptoms, and not also on the forces that led you to cope that way in the first place, it would be no wonder that the symptoms keep occurring.
Reaching Out to Supports - I feel so grateful for the people in my life who have offered their love and support to me. A lot of times, we don’t necessarily need advice, we just need a compassionate listener and it’s incredible the impact that some compassion and validation can have. I used to really struggle with allowing myself to reach out, but I’ve done a lot of work towards understanding that most humans aren’t built to heal in isolation, we heal in community — if people offer a supportive ear, it’s more than okay to take them up on it! I think it’s also important to be mindful of the other person’s wellness, so if you’re thinking of reaching out to someone, it can be a good idea to ask them first if they’re in an okay space to provide support. In addition to feeling less alone in your struggle, reaching out to your supports can be a great opportunity (if you feel up to it) to hear things from a different, and perhaps less disordered, point of view. It’s also nice to simply hear reminders that you’re loved and cared about.
Curating Your Social Media - You might be surprised by the impact that your social media feeds are having on your mental health. In an effort to aid my recovery, I did some reflecting on the accounts that I was following on Instagram (the social media platform I spend the most time on). If I spent more time negatively comparing myself to someone than I did learning from them or being inspired by them (in a healthy way), then I made the decision to unfollow. This can be a really difficult process for some, myself included. It’s okay to feel some grief over people or accounts that just weren’t good for you at this point in your journey; it doesn’t necessarily mean they are toxic or that you may not rekindle with them in the future, but for now, it’s okay to make changes that support your recovery. I then went out of my way to follow various accounts that promote healthy Scarlett’s values, such as body diversity, anti-diet and Health at Every Size (HAES) approaches, etc. If you want to know some of my favourite accounts that promote body diversity, you can check out this blog, Social Media, Body Image, and Body Diversity. Now for some of my favourite Instagram accounts that promote an anti-diet and HAES approach, or body image healing:
I hope these strategies can be helpful for you if you’re trying to recover from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or even the throes of dieting. I won’t lie, recovery can be incredibly difficult, exhausting, and at times painful, work. However, so too is the experience of continuously punishing yourself. Keep fighting for healing, you deserve it!
Scarlett started as a volunteer with mindyourmind in 2012 and has been a member of the staff team since 2016. As a Psychology graduate from King's University College at Western, she is passionate about all things related to the subject and is a proud mental health advocate with lived experience.
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