Eating disorder recovery is an invitation to reconnect with yourself. While eating disorders appear to be about food, there is an emotional component.
Often, eating disorders are a way to cope with difficult emotions, such as anxiety or intense sadness . For some people, taking steps to have a better relationship with themselves was critical for their recovery .
There are things you can do during your eating disorder recovery journey to nurture a better self-relationship. Here are five tips to help you do this:
Reconnect to Emotions
Research has shown that people with eating disorders tend to use avoidant coping strategies . This means that some people find ways to cope through avoiding emotions rather than dealing with them. For example, if someone feels angry, instead of talking to the person that angered them, they binge eat or purge their food.
This becomes problematic when emotions are never dealt with. This is why it is important during recovery to reconnect to your emotional world. One way that has proven effective is through journaling .
There are multiple ways to journal, such as drawing or writing about your feelings. Whichever way you choose, journaling is a great way to become more aware of your emotions.
Connect to Your Body
Disordered eating can impact the relationship someone has with their body in a profound way. Aside from negative body image, many disordered eating behaviors like purging or restriction somewhat require disconnecting from bodily sensations. This is because they’re not natural for the body. Numbing out makes it easier to engage in these behaviors.
You can connect to your body through mindfulness, somatic therapy, or forms of movement that focus on the mind-body connection like yoga. Research has shown that yoga helps people create positive relationships with their bodies during recovery .
Another powerful way to heal the mind-body connection is to relearn how to eat . One common effect of eating disorders is losing hunger-fullness cues. Listening and honoring your body’s needs is crucial for having a healthy relationship with yourself.
It’s hard to have a good relationship with someone who is judgmental or critical. The same applies to the relationship you have with yourself during your eating disorder recovery. Self-compassion can decrease feelings of self-hatred. Self-hatred is associated with the development of eating disorders, so minimizing this emotion is important .
Self-compassion might feel unnatural if you’re used to thinking about yourself negatively. One way to improve self-talk is to notice what you’re saying to yourself and challenge it. For example, if you make a mistake and start thinking that you’re stupid, you can interrupt that thought and confront it.
Does it really mean someone is stupid if they make a mistake? No, they’re human like everyone else. Challenging your thoughts can lead to more compassionate self-talk.
Build up Your Identity Outside of the Disorder
You can get to know yourself better if you build up the areas of your life that aren’t connected to food issues or body image. Some ways to do this are through hobbies, education, career, relationships, or spirituality.
If you aren’t sure where to start, think about what you enjoyed as a child. Were there certain topics you liked learning about or things you liked to do? Looking back to what was interesting in childhood is one way to become reacquainted with yourself.
Create Supportive Relationships
Having a supportive network of people is important, especially during treatment. Friends, family members, and treatment professionals can influence your view of yourself and your recovery . Compassionate people can help you create a satisfying relationship with yourself through empowerment, support, and empathy.
However you choose to create a better relationship with yourself, eating disorder recovery is a time to rediscover who you are. This journey of rediscovery may feel confusing or overwhelming at times, but it can lead to a happier life.
References: Bloks, H., Spinhoven, P., Callewaert, I., Willemse-Koning, C., & Turksma, A. (2001). Changes in coping styles and recovery after inpatient treatment for severe eating disorders. European Eating Disorders Review, 9, 397–415.  Linville, D., Brown, T., Sturm, K., McDougal, T. (2012) Eating disorders and social support: Perspectives of recovered individuals. Eating Disorders,20, 216-231. DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2012.668480  Surgenor, L.J., Maguire, S., Russell, J., Touyz, S. (2007) Self-liking and self-competence: Relationship to symptoms of anorexia nervosa. European Eating Disorders Review,15, 139-145. DOI: 10.1002/erv.734
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on 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 July 14, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on July 14, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC