For those who struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, I want you to know I full heartedly believe having a healthy relationship with food is possible. You absolutely can have an accepting view of yourself and your body while eating normally.
How freeing would it be to not think about food constantly, how you will skip your next meal, burn off or compensate calories consumed, or plan your next binge?!
Here are my four must-do's for eating disorder recovery (based on what I've seen work for past clients and the research of others):
F: Follow your meal plan and eat your food, as best as you can day in and day out.
Please don't take this as a simplistic statement from me. I know it is incredibly challenging to refrain from binge, purging, and/or restricting behaviors when feeling on edge, down in the dumps, not "good enough" or especially insecure, when someone's said something triggering, or when the draw and allure of the eating disorder is just seems so entrancing and powerful.
But here's the thing, all the insight and awareness about why you struggle with having disordered eating is insufficient for recovery if you don't work to change your eating disorder behaviors daily. If it was possible for you to simply just think your way out of eating disorder, I promise you being the incredibly intelligent person that you are, you would have done so already.
I promise you though that despite the emotionally-draining process of normalizing your eating, there is immense benefit. Each time you make the conscious but difficult choice to eat regular meals, you are working to recreate new neural pathways in your brain. You are actually enhancing the neuroplasticity of your brain!
When you create new patterns in the brain through taking new actions you, allow for different patterns of reacting to food and emotional distress in your life. (If anybody else nerds out about brain research, feel free to click here to read for more information.)
R: Realistic expectations in recovery are crucial.
Perfectionistic tendencies have contributed one way or another to your eating disorder, so it makes sense why having reasonable expectations for yourself in recovery is necessary.
You have to work to challenge that self-critical voice when struggling and wanting to give in to that all-or-nothing mentality that says "I should just give up, if you can't get it right. I already ruined today by restricting/purging/binging, etc.) "
Give yourself credit for simply showing up in recovery. It can be hard when family, partners, or friends don't understand the nature of the disorder and assume that you should be 'all cured' after seeing a therapist for a couple months or going to treatment.
Find a minimum of one thing a day with which you can give yourself credit for doing that is in service of recovery. Trust me, there is ALWAYS at least one thing.
E: Emote the emotions!
I hate to break it to you, but avoiding addressing painful feelings fueling your eating disorder and living a recovered life simply cannot go hand in hand. Therapy that is all about analyzing your thoughts, etc. and sidesteps getting in touch with your feelings would be a disservice because inevitably, if you are to live a rich, meaningful life and take risks, you will encounter of anxiety, sadness, anger, etc. at some point.
When you stop numbing or running away from your feelings, and when you can trust that different coping skills suggested in therapy will help you move through them, you will be equipped to better handle recovery, and life! Cheesy as it it may be, you have to "feel it, to heal it".
E: Encouragement and support--allow yourself to receive it.
Recovery is an arduous process with moments that can make you question if it's possible. Eating disorders can be very isolating. Whether it's using positive online communities (such as Recovery Warriors) , friends, dietitian and/or a therapist, having a caring, non-judgmental someone who believes in your resiliency and gently reminds you of other options at your darkest moments in recovery is invaluable.
Finding your 'recovery tribe' is so important. I believe so much in the need and power of healthy support, and offer support groups for that reason. Group attendees often feel a tremendous sense of relief and are encouraged to continue to fight for their recovery. If you are unsure if a group setting is right for you, that is completely that is completely normal; free free to contact me though with questions.
With that, I encourage you all to continue the messy, challenging but valuable work that allows you to truly be FREE of your eating disorder and accepting of yourself. You are worth it, without a doubt.
If you find that you are alone in this process and/or have more questions, please, please, please reach out to me. It would be an honor to help you. Click here to contact me).