Anorexia nervosa recovery tips

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Once you have been through treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN), it’s so important to continue working towards recovery long after your last day of treatment at a higher level of care. It’s also important to support your own self-care throughout treatment, so you can heal in the best way possible.

This article will offer helpful tips as you work towards recovery from anorexia nervosa and strive for a healthier frame of mind.

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Anorexia nervosa recovery tips

Be kind to yourself

Being self-critical goes hand-in-hand with eating disorders, but being hard on yourself is not going to help your recovery. All it will do is increase your feelings of shame and guilt, exacerbating an already difficult situation.

While it’s not always easy, try to stay positive and focus on all you have achieved rather than the old intrusive thoughts.

Affirmation exercises are a great tool for reprogramming your subconscious mind from thoughts that keep you attached to the eating disorder to thoughts that promote recovery. Positive affirmations involve taking positive statements of what you would like to manifest, and repeating them enough, so they are part of your regular way of thinking. Examples include:

  • “I am going to enjoy today”
  • “I am strong”
  • “I can handle what comes my way”

Learn how to manage relapses

During or after eating disorder treatment, it’s not unusual to slip back into your old thoughts and behaviors around disordered eating, especially when you’re feeling stressed. Just because you’re experiencing a lapse - either with the return of disordered eating habits or constant negative thoughts - it doesn’t mean that you’re failing or falling into a full relapse.

There is still recovery in relapse. A relapse gives you an opportunity to learn, grow, and gain strength. When you choose to keep going with your recovery despite a setback, you are proving to yourself how resilient you are.

You should know that relapses are common and if you do experience one, you’re not alone, even if it can feel like the loneliest place in the world. Never forget that you're worthy of recovery, so if you’re struggling with your old thoughts and behaviors, there is no shame in asking your loved ones or treatment providers for a little extra support. 

Other methods you can use to help you manage any form of relapse include:

  • Keep a journal of moods, and any possible triggers, so you can stay on top of your progress and can recognize when you might be in a situation that could cause the eating disorder to take control. 
  • Set boundaries for yourself about your nutrition, with an eating schedule and meal plan.
  • If excessive self-weighing has been a part of your eating disorder, throw out the scales and minimize time spent in front of the mirror. Tell yourself you look beautiful without stepping on the scales or looking in the mirror.
  • Don’t be afraid to focus on your “me time” when you feel like you need it. 

Challenge yourself

To support your recovery from anorexia nervosa, you may sometimes face situations that make you anxious. These may be things that you have been avoiding facing, such as eating certain foods, tolerating feeling full, and dealing with anxiety when you don’t exercise.

If you’re struggling with challenging yourself or facing your fears, talk to your treatment team about how to help you develop a plan to gradually face these situations. Also, don’t be afraid of asking a friend or loved one to do these challenging things with you as support. 

Develop healthy and effective coping skills

Disordered eating behaviors, like those seen in anorexia nervosa, often develop as a way of coping with difficult thoughts and emotions. There are many effective coping methods that don’t involve resorting to acting on eating disorder behaviors Coping strategies anyone can use include:

  • Make a list of things you’d like to do with your friends
  •  Get involved in hobbies or activities that interest you and boost your self esteem
  • Talk to a friend online or on the phone
  • Visualize yourself in a safe place where you’d take care of all your needs
  • Walk your dog, or play with your pet
  • Make a list of all the things that you’re grateful for on that day. It can be hard to write when stressed, but it does help

Learn how to self soothe

One excellent tool to support your recovery from anorexia nervosa is the ability to self-soothe. If you’re able to self-soothe you'll be able to distract yourself from uncomfortable feelings, without resorting to disordered eating behaviors. Some suggestions for self-soothing include:

  • Healthy Distractions: Go to the movies, listen to music, read a good book, play board games, or just have some fun for a little while, whatever that means to you. Laughter sometimes really is the best medicine.
  • Journal: It can be incredibly cathartic to write down your thoughts and feelings when you’re going through times of stress. It may also provide extra insight into what your triggers are to your intrusive thoughts.
  • Practice Mindfulness: This form of stress reduction helps you to tune into your five senses and live in the moment, as opposed to focusing on past or future intrusive thoughts. Focus on what you can physically feel, smell, hear, see, and taste when you eat something. It might be hard at first but the more your practice, the easier it will get.
  • Do Something Relaxing: Think about how you used to relax before disordered eating behaviors took hold. Maybe it’s having a bubble bath, cozying up with a cup of hot chocolate and your favorite TV show, or asking a loved one to stroke your hair. 
  • Talk About It: Like journaling, talking about your feelings can help relieve you of the stress you otherwise keep inside. Like the saying goes: “A problem shared is a problem halved”.
  • Get Out Into Nature: The healing influence of nature can be really soothing when you’re struggling with unwanted thoughts. Enjoy the beauty of nature by doing some gardening, taking a walk through the local park or woods, or visiting an arboretum.

Celebrate your success

Recovering from an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa is not an easy process. Therefore, try to view your recovery journey as a progression and not perfection. Make sure you celebrate all of the small successes you experience along the way, such as when you utilize support instead of using behaviors associated with your eating disorder.

Reward these small successes by purchasing yourself a little gift, or take yourself on a trip to the cinema or to your favorite coffee shop for an hour. Celebrating your success will help build your confidence and self-esteem as you continue your recovery from anorexia nervosa. If you’d like additional support in treatment, or recovery from anorexia nervosa, Within Health is here to help.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. Susan Cowden, M. S. (2019, December 1). 11 do's and don'ts for eating disorder recovery. Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/things-to-stop-if-you-have-an-eating-disorder-1138275
  2. Recovery and self-care for eating problems. Mind. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/eating-problems/recovery-self-care/#SelfCareForEatingProblems
  3. Effective coping skills in the treatment of eating disorders. (2019, April 16) Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/recovery/self-help-tools-skills-tips/effective-coping-for-eating-disorders
  4. Effective coping skills: Eating disorder self-soothing. (2016, June 7) Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/recovery/self-help-tools-skills-tips/self-soothing-advice
  5. 10 ways to cope with a relapse in Eating disorder recovery. (2018, February 20). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/10-ways-cope-with-relapse-eating-disorder-recovery

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