Anorexia: What helps? What doesn't help?

What Helps?

- Menu plan
My menu plan, consisting of 3 meals and 3 snacks, was constructed whilst I was an in-patient in Marchwood Priory Eating disorder Unit. This is a vital part of my recovery and my main weapon against anorexia. I have since adapted the menu plan with the help of a dietitian. My menu plan enables me (also health professionals) to keep track of my intake so if I drop in weight then it can be easily adapted for weight restoration. Experience has taught me that messing around with my menu plan always leads to a relapse. The best thing about having a plan is that it keeps things simple – even if I’m having a wobbly day I know that as long as I stick to it I will be alright.

- Exercise contract
By my second admission to the EDU I found my exercise was completely out of control. Before being discharged my therapist helped me to work out a sensible, ‘recovery-focused’ exercise contract. As with the menu plan I found the contract a helpful tool to keep me on an even keel. Again, going off contract and giving in to my exercise addiction is an alarm bell for relapse.

- CBT tools
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has been a fantastic tool. My CBT therapist (Paul Murray) has helped me no end to recognise the link between my thought patterns and how they impact upon my anorexia and depression. Through using thought records, setting up behaviour experiments and most significantly being reminded that I cannot predict the future or read other people’s minds I am now much less afraid of my thoughts and more able to challenge them. Paul helped me to understand that having anorexia and depression does not make me unintelligent or hopeless at all. In fact the friends I have made whilst in hospital are some of the most caring, bright, selfless, likeable people I have ever met!

- Medication
In the early days of my illness at about age 17, I was completely opposed to all medication. Over the years I have been prescribed sertraline, dothiepin, prozac, mirtazipine, diazepam, temazepam, impramine and none of it helped very much at all. It was only very recently when I was hospitalized in 2008 that after trying literally everything else that I agreed to give medication one more go. My consultant (Dr Millin) put me on Venlafaxine and Quetiepine and apart from a setback later that year when I was on Olanzapine to regain weight, I have found this combination has hand on heart transformed my life. Though I still struggle with anorexia ‘blips’ and continue to find weight restoration a real battle it is nowhere near as hard as it was without medication. My advice is to keep trying until you find the right one for you – if something is not helping then don’t stick with it longer than a few months see your GP/consultant to try something else.

- Cognitive analytical therapy
Since 2008 I have worked with a CAT therapist who has helped me make a states of mind map which shows me where my behaviour/thinking traps are and provides me with different exit strategies. I would strongly recommend finding a CAT therapist to work with as it is another useful tool.

- Memorizing Scripture/recovery quotes
Especially in the early days of recovery I found I had an awful lot of time that I’d preciously dedicated to anorexia free so memorising both Bible verses and recovery quotes proved to be a great help.

What doesn't help?

- Weighing too often
Weighing anymore than weekly can be triggering and all-consuming.

- Celebrity/Diet magazines
Filling your mind with diets, celebrity weights can make the illness trigger your competitive side

- Isolating yourself
Anorexia thrives on secrecy so often the best thing to do is arrange to eat with someone you trust as friends can provide a challenge to the eating disorder mindset.

- Comparing yourself
My therapist says, ‘Compare and despair.’ You are unique and it is important to resist comparing weight/diet with others whether they have an ed or not.