1. Be kind to yourself
Being self-critical is a hallmark of AN and most other eating disorders. This inner critic will find fault in most things you do, think, say, or how you look, draining the body of positive energy and momentum.1
A big part of recovery from anorexia nervosa is learning how to silence or ignore that inner critic and focus instead on the positive momentum of your progress.
The switch can be difficult, especially after years of listening to the critical voice, but there are some techniques that may help you tune in to more positive thoughts, including:1
- Giving yourself advice. Imagine if you had a friend or family member going through the recovery process, and think of the advice you would give them to keep going. Then, apply that advice to your own situation.
- Recognize the moment. All humans go through ups and downs—it's part of life. Try to recognize "down" moments for what they are: Nothing more than moments that will pass with time.
- Learn to anticipate the critical voice. If you pay attention to your triggers, you may become more aware of situations that can make you feel out of sorts. But when you know when these moments may be coming, you can practice what to say to yourself ahead of time to help ward off the critical voice and look on the positive side.
- Take time for yourself. Activities that you enjoy can help encourage more positive feelings. Self-care activities, like yoga or meditation, can also help calm your mind and give you a moment to breathe and get a different perspective.
2. Practice affirmations
Affirmation exercises are used in a wide variety of mental health recovery programs, from eating disorders to substance use disorders and issues with depression and anxiety.
That's because these phrases can be a powerful tool for reprogramming your thoughts. The power of suggestion plays a big role in the mind, and hearing yourself tell yourself positive things can help you start thinking it and, eventually, start sincerely believing it.
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. For anorexia eating disorder recovery, some positive affirmations to use include:2
- I am going to enjoy today.
- I am strong.
- My body is beautiful, just as it is.
- I am enough.
- I do not have to recover alone.
- I am focused on healing and growth.
- I am deserving of happiness.
- I am stronger than my eating disorder.
3. Learn how to manage relapses
During anorexia recovery, it’s not unusual to slip back into your old thoughts and behaviors around disordered eating, especially when you’re feeling stressed. But just because you’re experiencing a setback—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.
In fact, these moments can make for good learning and growing opportunities and chances to rebuild strength. When you choose to keep going in light of these developing thoughts or behaviors, you work on 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 you're wondering how to recover from anorexia alone, you're never truly alone. Your treatment team and loved ones can help see you through these times.
Other methods you can use to help you manage any form of relapse include:3
- Keep a gratitude journal where you document moods and any possible triggers so you can stay on top of your progress and 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.
- Be mindful of your triggers and modify your life as needed. For example, if you struggle with weighing yourself excessively, give away your scale for a while. Take down a few mirrors, step back from social media, or throw away triggering magazines.
- Don’t be afraid to focus on your “me time” when you feel like you need it. This includes scheduling time for meditative, introspective moments, whether that be going on long walks, soaking in a bath or sauna, or enjoying a particular hobby.
4. Develop healthy and effective coping skills
Eating disorder behaviors, like those seen in anorexia nervosa, often develop as a way of coping with difficult thoughts and emotions. Stress is usually a huge trigger of these thoughts and behaviors, both during treatment and throughout recovery.
Learning new methods to help you better deal with stress can be a good way to help keep these behaviors at bay and make for a smoother overall recovery process. Some stress-reducing tips for anorexia recovery include:4
- Taking deep breaths or practicing meditation
- Continuing to mind your nutritional input
- Participating in activities you enjoy
- Reaching out to talk to someone, whether a friend, family member, or member of your treatment team
- Connecting with a support system, like a support group or church group
- Avoiding unpleasant or triggering situations
5. 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 process uncomfortable feelings without resorting to disordered eating behaviors. Some suggestions for self-soothing include:5,6
- Find 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. It's not the activity that matters as much as the mindset: When you become engrossed in what you're doing, it can have a meditating effect.
- 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 you practice, the easier it will get.
- Practice good touches: Certain touches can help release the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which brings about positive feelings of connection. Petting a dog or cat, hugging a pillow, giving or receiving a massage, or simply smiling can all help release this endorphin.
- 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.
6. 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.