Expressing emotions in recovery from an eating disorder requires looking within and exploring your emotions. Eating disorders may seem like they are all about food or appearance, but they are not. Rather, concerns about food and appearance are most likely a way to cope with difficult or intense emotions.
Tapping into your emotions, recognizing them, being curious about them, and expressing them are key in eating disorder recovery.
Here are five tips for expressing emotions in recovery from an eating disorder:
1. Avoid avoiding. Don’t push away, ignore, or otherwise avoid your emotions. Everyone experiences emotions, and an important part of recovery is understanding that emotions, even intense emotions, are going to happen.
You have to be willing to notice them in order to understand them. The more you avoid emotions, the less likely you are to express them, and the more likely they are going to feel overwhelming in the long run.
2. It’s okay to distract from intense emotions. Sometimes emotions are going to feel super intense. And sometimes you are going to need to distract yourself in order to get a break from them, and that’s okay.
What’s not okay is using harmful behaviors, like disordered eating behaviors, to help cope with them. There are alternatives to try, such as journaling, talking with friends, or watching a movie.
Activities like these are not going to harm you in the short-term or long-term. They provide a distraction that allows the intensity of the emotion to decrease. However, it is important to return to the emotion after the intensity of that emotion has lessened.
3. Be curious. Be willing to consider the meaning or purpose of the emotion. What triggered the emotion? What seemed to make the emotion grow bigger? Was the emotion, or its intensity, justified?
Being curious and reflecting on these types of questions helps you understand your emotions and do what is needed to take care of yourself. Being mindful of your emotion helps you choose a response versus reacting on impulse out of emotion.
4. Be open and willing. Be open and accepting of all of your emotions. Be willing to be vulnerable. Listen to what the emotion is communicating and act accordingly.
As mentioned above, being mindful of your emotion helps you choose a response versus reacting on impulse out of emotion. For example, if feeling an unwanted emotion, your automatic urge may be to act on an eating disorder behavior.
It’s important to pause (before the eating disorder behavior occurs), be curious about the emotions that are happening, and then be willing to try something different. This is important in order to break the eating disorder cycle and take care of yourself in a new, healthy way.
5. Practice healthy emotional expression. Reach out for support and allow yourself to be vulnerable with people you trust. Communicate your emotions with words.
Practice expressing your emotions in a new, creative way — perhaps through art, poetry, music, or writing. Hug your favorite person, pet, or stuffed animal.
Learning new ways to express emotions takes a lot of practice and a willingness to practice.
Healthy emotional expression is key to eating disorder recovery and is what allows for full recovery from an eating disorder to be possible.
Know that if you find yourself feeling stuck in healthily expressing your emotions, you will likely benefit from working with a counselor or mental health professional who specializes in treating eating disorders.
Koeing, K. (2007). The Food and Feelings Workbook. Gurze Books
Linehan, M. (2014) DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition. Guilford Publications.
About the Author:
Chelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.
She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at ThriveCounselingAustin.com.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on August 21, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on August 21, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC