Start and stay on the recovery path

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  • Understanding Recovery:

Recovery doesn’t always mean a life without an Eating Disorder (ED). Recovery for some can be about living with your ED but being fully in control, ignoring the ED voices and unhelpful thoughts. When you are recovering from an ED, you can still experience unhelpful thoughts or stressful situations, but you learn how to deal with them. Recovery is all about having a more “normal” life without the anxiety that topics like food, body image or over-exercising can bring and you know what?… this is possible!!!

Why pursue recovery? For so many reasons!!! To give to your body and brain what it needs to function properly, to enjoy social and family events, to appreciate the taste of food again, to decrease all the anxiety and stress that an ED can cause, to not be focused on your body image, on food…the list goes on and for you there may be even more reasons.

  • Where to start?

When you have an ED, it is really difficult to know how to start recovery: you may feel lost and no longer know what a “normal” behaviour is when it comes to food or exercise. And remember that your body image will most likely still be distorted when you start recovery.

It can be hard to start recovery before you really want to recover from your ED. This is really important to understand because your ED thoughts will be challenging you very often when you first start to fight against them. You need to be willing to change some of your behaviours (of course, not all at the time!) and accept that it may affect slightly your body shape but remember: isn’t that the goal? You will need motivation, determination, help and support but you can do it and you are not alone.

First of all, you need to identify and set yourself goals that you want to achieve (this may involve changes to your food intake, reducing exercise or another purging behaviour, putting on weight, coping with negative thoughts, etc…). In time, you are going to develop strategies to control your ED and ignore the negatives thoughts (sometimes known as voices) or behaviours.

You may work on a meal plan that will incorporate all of the nutrients that your body needs. You can implement new foods little by little and get used to them again. Some people start with a traffic light system that lists their foods in order of ‘scariness’ with small goals to start re-introducing again at a pace that you can cope with. For example, the red list may be foods you would love to eat again and have totally avoided for some time yet the orange list, you may be able to start with immediately. You can also write down any ED related rules or rituals (sometimes asking people close to you can help you realise some rules that you feel have become normal behaviours- examples being only eating at a certain time, using particular cutlery, having to carry out a certain ritual / behaviour etc).

It may also be helpful to write down a commitment to yourself which gives you a time frame and something to work on so that you can see what you are aiming for. For example, ‘For the next 6 weeks, I am going to…..?’ Some people find writing themselves two letters a year from now can also be helpful, the first one being in recovery and what life is like, no longer dominated by the ED and the second letter, life has been taken over by the ED and how you feel, what life is like and the impact of this. You can go one step further and do a vision board of all the things you would like to achieve in recovery and places you would like to go once you are free.

  • When you are on the path of recovery, how to stay on it?

Always remember your goals and your achievements! You haven’t done all this hard work to give up when things are a challenge. You should be proud of yourself for starting the recovery journey (yes, this journey is not a straight line and can be a squiggly wobble) but you are going to manage to control your ED and get your life back.

Recovery is about up and down, a little bit like a roller coaster. Some days are going to be positive and some, a bit more challenging. This is normal and is part of the process of recovery.

Try to remain positive. Read some inspiring quotes that make sense to you; talk with your support network; come back to the strategies you have developed:

  • You can write down a meal plan to reassure you and not to panic when you have to cook something;
  • You can have “worry time” – this is when you identify 30mins in the day where you worries are boxed to and within this timeframe, you can address them. However, when they try to take over at other times of the day, you distract yourself and remind that you will acknowledge them at the agreed time but not right now, as you get on with your day.
  • You can use distraction, motivation, challenging or sitting with the thought to manage the ED voice.
  • You can use the 7 columns strategy to cope with the negative thoughts (see box below)

Remember, recovery does mean sitting initially with some uncomfortable thoughts and learning not to act on them. These ED thoughts (voices) have no power over you and can only harm if you act on them by carrying out the ED behaviour. Like a cloud, these thoughts have to pass and sitting with them and realising that you are stronger than the ED can be very powerful and give back your autonomy and ultimately your CONTROL. Whilst many people in the grips of an ED feel they are in control, once they come out of it, they realise it was the ED that had the driving wheel, yet in recovery, you learn to take back the wheel and steer your way to your new, healthy destination whilst ‘building a life to get well for’ along the way. The beauty of recovery is that with time, you will realise how unreliable and negative the ED is and you will understand and be certain that you are not going to put on weight over night because you ate a pizza or a slice of cake. You will feel much better in your body and psychologically and going out with family and friends will become valuable and enjoyable once again. The negative thoughts you had were wrong and not real and you will start to accept yourself as the beautiful individual that you are, both inside and out.

Why wait….YOUR recovery can start today!