Your eating disorder recovery: the hardest thing you’ll ever do

Before we dive into this post, I’d like to share what I believe are some ‘hard truths’ about eating disorder recovery:

  1. Recovery is not an end destination, it’s a journey.
  2. Recovery is about honouring the baby steps.
  3. Recovery is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Period.

Make a mental note of these, write them down and stick them on your bedroom wall, because as you navigate this journey, remembering these will help you when the going gets tough.

Is now the time for change?

The first thing we need to talk about is change. You have to be ready to change. Figuring out if you are ready is the first step in your eating disorder recovery.

At Altum Health, we spend a good amount of time during the initial stages of therapy discussing:

  • What needs to change
  • What’s making it so hard to change
  • The pros and cons of changing.

Only when you’ve gone through this process can you understand whether you’re ready to move into the ‘action’ phase of making a change.

Recovery is all about change – but at the beginning, it’s not always about immediately changing behaviours. It’s often about changing your thoughts and feelings first. Then, you can move into changing your actions and your coping strategies. And change is not easy! If it were, I know you would have done it yourself a long time ago. More about that here.

Let’s begin your journey

It’s really important to talk about recovery as a journey rather than a destination. Recovery means different things to different people, and it’s essential to figure out what it means to you. Remember, even people who have ‘recovered’ from their eating disorder may still struggle.

This journey is not a road trip where you’ll pack up the car and put the destination in the sat nav. And it’s unrealistic to think you’ll be running off into the sunset wielding a Snickers bar when you get there. Let’s just scrap that idea.

Eating disorder recovery is, however, a journey, along which you can absolutely set achievable goals. For example, you might list some simple things you’d like to achieve in the next six months: perhaps adding a new snack to your diet, engaging in some self-care, broadening the range of foods in your repertoire, trying a new coping strategy, or eating a meal out.

Learn to walk before you run

Early on in your recovery, you will need to find a place of safety (in your mind), where you can begin to think about what life might be like without your eating disorder, without your eating disorder ‘voice’ shutting these thoughts down.

Imagine a ‘safe house’ in your mind and your eating disorder voice is an abusive but compelling partner that manipulates your thoughts and controls your every move. You love it and you hate it.  You want to be close to it, yet you fear it. It takes tremendous courage to even think about a life without them, and you certainly can’t just get up and leave while your abusive partner is always there.

As you find moments of space and safety, you may begin to notice that your thoughts and parts of your life become filled with things other than your eating disorder, and you may develop a more moderate way of thinking, say grey, rather than black and white. You may notice the voice is a bit quieter, at times. You may also have moments where you’ll start to feel more at ease.

Remember, this is a frightening time because you’re fighting back against what you’ve known for such a long time. I sometimes liken eating disorder recovery process to changing religion or leaving a cult. You need to be brave and have courage as you journey towards your new life.

Push through the hard times

During your eating disorder recovery, you will come up against feelings and emotions that will challenge you. Learning to deal with these is central to recovery, therefore during therapy we’ll help you to:

  1. Become more comfortable with uncomfortable feelings

Eating disorders take us away from our feelings and outside of our bodies. For many, this is what makes them such a compelling way to cope with big feelings.

 

Part of our role, as therapists, is to help you learn to tolerate these uncomfortable feelings so you won’t have to use your eating disorder to cope anymore. You’ll learn how to be inside your body again and how to ‘be with’ your feelings without feeling overwhelmed.

 

  1. Evaluate your relationships

During your recovery we’ll work with you to look at the relationships in your life – both online and in the real world. Sometimes relationships change for the better during recovery, but you may also recognise some that are not a good influence in your life.

 

  1. Regulate your feelings

I’ve spoken before about eating disorders being a way for sufferers to manage and regulate strong feelings, and a key part of recovery is learning other ways to understand, notice, experience, regulate and cope with distress. You can read the full post here.

 

When you’re better able to have more self-compassion, respond to your own needs and become more comfortable with vulnerability, you’ll be softer towards yourself and be able to reduce the intensity of your painful feelings. You’ll learn to recognise and be proud of small achievements such as, “I went through a whole day and didn’t think about calories,” “I slept through the night for the first time in ages,” or “I had a meal out.” You’ll start to feel more at ease with yourself. More content, and more peaceful.

Remember, recovery is the hardest thing you’ll likely ever do, so it needs to be your main focus – you can’t treat it like a side game or a hobby. Recovering from an eating disorder means restructuring the way you think about the world.

It’s ok that it’s hard

Recognise there’ll be good days and bad days during your eating disorder recovery – it is by no means linear. You might feel like you’re having a bad day, but to set it in context, it might be because you’ve tried something new and it’s left you feeling like you’re struggling. However, if you respond with kindness and listen to your compassionate voice, it will tell you you’ve made progress because you’ve tried something new, which is hard.

Don’t forget, you’re in the midst of learning to navigate life without relying on your eating disorder, and you’re used to hearing an insanely critical inner voice all the time – that’s a tough cycle to break.

Your eating disorder recovery will be a hard journey to travel, but there’s no doubt that the capability to change is within us, and it’s within you. Sometimes you just need a little bit of help and some expertise to get you there.

Our licensed therapists are specialists in the treatment of eating disorders, so if you or someone you know is suffering with one, please visit this page to book a free consultation to discuss how we can help.

Next month on the blog, we’ll be sharing real life stories of eating disorder recovery from some of our past clients who’ve kindly agreed to talk about their experience in support of UK Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Next month our team member, Dr Natalie Chua will be hosting a virtual, gentle restorative yoga class in aid of Beat. The 30-minute yoga session has been carefully created to help people connect with the natural goodness and wisdom of their bodies, we’d love you to join us. Find out more here.

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