5 Tips To Help You Recover From An Eating Disorder
1. Take It Slow
As much as we all wish there was a type of medication that could cure mental illness the way painkillers tackle a nasty headache, there is not. The brain and mind are complex things and you must allow yourself time to recover. Recovery is an ongoing process, and one that is more likely to be successful long term if you don’t expect overnight results.
2. Accept Your Body Is Going to Change
I will forever remember my therapist asking me: ‘Would you rather fit into your extra small shorts and be diagnosed with an eating disorder, or not have an eating disorder but wearing a different size of shorts?’ I am now about 1.5 stone heavier than when I was at my most ill, but my body is stronger and healthier than it has been in years. It does no good to linger on old photographs of lighter days; just because you may prefer your body, you should not prefer your past mind set. Body change is one of the hardest things to accept, but it is integral to the recovery process.
3. Be Prepared for Relapses
It was nearly two years since I finished treatment and was no longer diagnosed with bulimia. It took me nearly a year after this diagnosis to achieve what I recognise as full recovery, and to this day I have the occasional relapse. An eating disorder is something that is likely to stay with you for the rest of your life, but being prepared for this is something that helps significantly. You are likely to be always be faced with your old triggers, but finding different coping mechanisms provide an initial relapse prevention. If you do find you have returned to your old ways, it is ok. It does not mean you have an eating disorder all over again; take each day as it comes. In my experience when I find myself relapsing, I allow myself a pity party for one day. The next day, I get up, shake it off (thanks Taylor) and carry on being my healthy recovered self. Try not to dwell and do not let yourself believe you are a failure.
4. Accept There Will Be Some Habits You Cannot Break
I consider myself recovered, I do. But that does not mean I’m going to eat a pastry and feel 100% ok. I can enjoy it and keep it down, but I will probably mull over it slightly in my mind and maybe feel ever so slightly uncomfortable with myself for eating it. But I think that is ok. I know a lot of people who have not had eating disorders who suffer from food guilt, so don’t think that just because you’re ‘recovered’ you have to feel comfortable with eating anything and everything all the time. Adapt your recovery to your own personal preferences. As long as your diet is balanced and healthy, and you are happy and healthy, eat whatever keeps your recovery on track.
5. Carry on Talking About It
I have written a piece previously about what happens when you recover from an eating disorder and one of the issues I have found is people stop asking you how you are. Or, when they do ask, you find it easier to say you’re fine than open up about any struggles you are having. It is important however, that you keep this dialogue open. I have found that when I am having a bad day, if I just tell someone I am feeling low and I am worried, it prevents me from spiralling into a relapse that lasts for days. You don’t need to explicitly tell someone what is going on, just let someone know you are feeling low, or even just ask someone to provide you with a distraction. Although a lot of people don’t necessarily understand eating disorders, people do want to help, and there are many ways you can allow people to help without expecting them to act like a therapist.
Another way in which talking about my eating disorder has helped me recover is by talking about it openly, in casual conversations. I understand this is not for everyone; many people want to recover and put the experience behind them. As much as I do not want to dwell on an unhappy time in my life, I have reached the stage where I can discuss it and not feel vulnerable or ashamed. It may take people by surprise, or even make people feel slightly uncomfortable, to speak so candidly of an issue normally kept so quiet, but if it can help both my own recovery and tackle mental health stigma, I will probably carry on mentioning it when relevant.