Eating Disorder Recovery, Self-Help, and Recovery Tips: Start Your Journey

How often have you told yourself, “I want to recover from my eating disorder.”? Chances are, it’s something you’ve said many times as you work to build a healthier, happier life.

Learning how to recover from an eating disorder takes time, and you’ll need talented treatment professionals to help you on your journey. But self-help steps can help you make the most of your eating disorder treatment program.

These are just some of the steps we know have helped others.

Table of Contents

    Eating Disorder Recovery at Home: Monitor Symptoms

    Doctors must diagnose eating disorders. Their official notes prompt insurance companies to cover costs related to medications, therapy, and more. But the same tests your doctor uses can help determine if your symptoms are improving or worsening.

    The EAT-26 is a self-help test that takes just minutes to complete. [1] Mental Health America has a different version with fewer questions. [2]

    Neither test can diagnose an eating disorder, but they can help you understand if your symptom severity is improving. So taking them, and tracking your scores, could be helpful.


    3 Tips to Optimize Your Therapy Sessions

    Mental health professionals can successfully treat most people as they get to the bottom of their eating disorder behaviors and try to correct them. [3] Therapy (e.g., group therapy, family therapy, psychotherapy) plays a significant role. Still, the work you do on your own is almost as important as the steps you take in your sessions.

    Here’s how to make the most of your therapy opportunities and enhance the recovery process.

    Be Open & Honest

    Don’t hold back your thoughts and feelings inside and outside your sessions. Think of therapy as an invitation to investigate what’s happening inside your mind. Don’t censor or limit yourself.

    Show Up Emotionally

    Don’t let life bleed into your therapy sessions. Letting your mind wander to errands you must complete wastes your time (and your therapist’s talent). Instead, leave the outside world behind when you step into the treatment room.

    Do Your Homework

    Can you address anorexia on your own? No. But you can focus on the homework your therapist gives you and keep working on your recovery outside of your therapy sessions. Think about what you discussed with your team, and work to incorporate those lessons into everyday life.

    3 Self-Help Meal Planning Tips

    Your team may give you a detailed eating plan as part of your recovery from an eating disorder. This is a critical part of your recovery, and you have a lot of control over whether or not it helps you get better. These three tips may help.

    Don’t Shop for a New Diet

    The internet is filled with “helpful” advice on how to lose weight, stay healthy, and incorporate vital nutrients into each day. While it’s tempting, don’t look closely at this content.

    Many of these diets are low in fats and sugars, which could be crucial for your recovery and weight restoration. [4]

    Eat at Set Times

    Work with your team to develop a meal and snack schedule. If you’re recovering from anorexia, you can’t rely on hunger to remind you to eat.

    And if you’re recovering from bulimia or binge eating disorder, hunger could prompt a relapse. So find times that work, and stick with them every day.

    Accept Your Distress

    Many people in eating disorder recovery have a complicated relationship with meals. You know you should eat to feel better, but sitting down to meals can make you feel powerless, making it hard to break your disordered eating habits. [5]

    These feelings are part of your recovery. So accept them, talk about them with your team, and know they will pass as you improve.

    Meal Planning

    5 Mental Health Self-Help Tips

    Therapy can help you feel better, but people with eating disorders may need up to 16 weeks of help to get the full benefit. [6]

    The worse your mental distress, the more severe your eating disorder symptoms. [7] Self-help is crucial here.

    Try Mindfulness

    Wondering how to deal with anorexia triggers? Look within. Mindfulness encourages you to focus on what you can see, smell, feel, and hear right now.

    Breathe deeply and focus on how your physical body responds. Stepping away from thought and into your body could ease much distress.

    Keep a Gratitude Journal

    It’s easy to think about what we don’t have. A gratitude journal helps remind you of what’s in your life right now.

    Finding gratitude for even small things—like warm sunshine on a winter’s day—can help you add joy to each day. And your journal can help remind you of the good times when you’re feeling low.

    Focus on Sleep

    A good night’s rest is closely tied to a good mood the next day. So prioritize your sleep as much as you can.

    Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Make your bedroom a cool, dark, screen-free haven for restful sleep.

    Revel in Uncomplicated Relationships

    Step back from conversations by cuddling with a beloved pet. Dogs, cats, rabbits, and other furry critters provide unconditional love and acceptance. Spending time with them could lower your stress levels and bring you joy.

    Caring for a pet also gives you a goal to complete each day, which some people find helpful in eating disorder recovery.

    Enable Your Creativity

    Activities like knitting, crocheting, and embroidery keep your body busy, and your mind focused. Completed projects can also be a source of joy (especially if they turn out just as you planned).

    Find a craft you enjoy, and pick it up when you’re worried or sad.

    3 Celebration Tips: How to Get Through Parties & Gatherings

    Most people find the holidays worrisome. 77% of Americans say they have difficulty relaxing when the holiday season nears. [8]

    You can’t stop the holidays from coming, and eating disorders don’t take a break. But you can use self-care to make them easier. Try these tips to make parties and gatherings more manageable.

    Keep Your Schedule Light

    Refrain from crowding your calendar with parties and gatherings. Instead, give yourself time to rest and recharge between events. You could entice the people you love to do the same, making the holidays better for everyone. Taking a break from events is especially important if being around people exacerbates your body image issues.

    If you also suffer from substance abuse, it’s a good idea to pick and choose which events you attend, as some events could be more triggering than others.

    Follow Your Eating Schedule

    Don’t “save up” space for party food. If you’re recovering from bulimia, your hunger could lead to a binge. If you’re recovering from anorexia, you could keep saving until you’re starving again. Stick to the program you’ve developed with your treatment team, or you’ll continue to exhibit disordered eating behaviors again.


    Give Yourself Grace

    Attending parties and gatherings can be stressful, even for people without eating disorders. Congratulate yourself on taking this important step and working toward your recovery.

    And if you don’t feel strong enough to go to one party, know you can always hit the next one on the calendar.

    1. Eating Attitudes Test. (n.d.). EAT26. Accessed August 2022.
    2. Eating Disorder Test. (n.d.). Mental Health America. Accessed August 2022.
    3. Eating Disorders: Psychotherapy’s Role in Effective Treatment. (2008). American Psychological Association. Accessed August 2022.
    4. Smith RC. (2016). Meal Plan Tips for Eating Disorder Recovery. Accessed August 2022.
    5. Padrão MJ, Barbosa MR, Coimbra JL. (2012). Meal plan in the treatment of anorexia nervosa: a way of feeding the disorder and starving the patientGlobal Journal of Health Science; 5(1):112-24.
    6. Eating Disorders. (n.d.). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Accessed August 2022.
    7. Sander J, Moessner M, Bauer S. (2021). Depression, Anxiety and Eating Disorder-Related Impairment: Moderators in Female Adolescents and Young AdultsInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health; 18(5):2779.
    8. Anderer J. (2019). Jingle Bell Crock: 88% of Americans Feel the Holiday Seasons Is Most Stressful Time of Year. StudyFinds. Accessed August 2022.
    Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC Avatar

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