It is possible to own your own recovery and there are a huge range of coping strategies which are available to all of us. Before going into these strategies it is essential that the person suffering with the eating disorder is of sufficient physical and mental functioning in order to be able to choose to use these tools. There was a period in my own journey when I needed the intervention of others and medical help to just keep me alive and motivate me to keep fighting the battle.
Self-help and owning your recovery is NOT the same as not asking for help. Asking for help is a sign of owning your recovery.
These tools are also useful for people who do not suffer with eating disorders, they have helped with my own self-awareness and mood dramatically. This is not an exhaustive list and your medical professional will have many similar and more individualized suggestions. These are definitely worth a try.
1. Log your food
There are lots of ways to keep a food journal or to record your meal plan and intake. You can do this on pen and paper (old-school) or there are even great apps to help specifically with logging in recovery from eating disorders. Check out the patient app for recovery record available for free download. This tool helped me when I relapsed after my first inpatient treatment stay. Because I had been consistently logging my food and mood and notes about triggers even while in the worst stage a relapse I was able to go back through the logs and find out new insights into why I relapsed and found an even more solid recovery afterwards. Recovery is not linear. Times of trouble are the best learning opportunities. Keep logging!
2. Gratitude List
Doing a daily gratitude list is a commonly used tool to improve ones wellbeing. It distracts you from negative thinking temporarily and usually is quite effective at even changing your mood to a more positive one for longer periods. There is always something to be grateful for.
3. Journal how you feel
Feelings are often overwhelming when experienced. I have found that writing how I feel down on paper and free writing about the feeling and how I am experiencing it can actually lessen it’s hold on me and can allow my mind to identify solutions that I may not have seen by just feeling the emotion.
4. Know your triggers
As you log more about your food and your feelings you may begin to recognize patterns and certain triggers that often lead to destructive behaviors. These triggers could be specific emotions such as fear or even excitement, foods, restaurants, situations or even people. Knowledge is key. Having this knowledge allows you to make more informed choices and to prepare yourself in advance. It is also a great tool when you are helping others to help you. Making people aware of certain words, situations, or things that trigger anxiety will help them to be mindful around you and foster compassion.
5. Get Creative
Draw, paint, get mindfulness coloring-books, write a poem, write a song or whatever tickles your fancy. Creativity is often suppressed while the eating disorder is active. Re-find your passions and pass the time away from the table.
6. Help them to help you!
Ok so we have covered already that family and friends may want to help but may not know how. One thing I did when I came home from treatment was creating mini cards with simple instructions for what to do in specific situations that may arise. These I called ‘cards of recovery’. Having strategies written down makes them more accessible. Note: this is not a way to pass responsibility to other people and you shouldn’t ever say the words ‘if you cared you would look at my cards’ (yes, I did this and it wasn’t pleasant). They are just an additional tool for you or someone else to have access to in times of crisis.
7. Spend time with others
Actively choosing to spend some time each day connecting with someone else is a great tool. Phone someone, meet someone or even use social media. Meeting in person is always more effective for me but any connection is good. Try to ask how they are doing. If you struggle from social anxiety like I do, then you can always have a prepared exit plan. Perhaps agree to meet for a quick coffee ahead of your doctors appointment or agree to meet somewhere that isn’t triggering for you. It is ok to make suggestions.
8. Find a support group
There are fellowships and groups often open to the public for eating disorders or mental health conditions. These groups may be run by other people in recovery or by a service provider. Go with an open mind and listen for similarities that you can relate to.
9. Give yourself the present of being present
Being in the thick of my eating disorder, I was never fully present. I felt numb to emotions and time just seemed to pass unexplained. Anxiety and stress in recovery can often make it hard to be present so don’t worry if it doesn’t come easy. Try this simple way that really helped me to become more present in times of distress.
- Look around and identify 5 different things you see. Describe them to yourself (or write them down) what color are they? how big are they? do you like what you see?
- Close your eyes and listen for 5 distinct sounds you can identify. Try to describe them too. Can you identify the source of the sounds (passing cars, tv, birds singing)? Are the sounds pleasing? Were you aware of the sounds before you tried this exercise.
- Now try your sense of smell. What smells can you identify. What could they be? Are they pleasant.
- Now look for things you can touch and pay attention to how they feel. Is the surface cold or hot? smooth or rough? is the material pleasant to touch?
10. Explore your spirituality
If you have a religious practice, now may be a great time to reconnect with this and get involved in the spiritual experience. Not to worry if you don’t, being spiritual is different to being religious. Some people find walking in nature a spiritual experience. Meditation and yoga are also good tools to get in touch with your spirituality.