Rediscovering who you are outside of an eating disorder can be empowering and demanding. Whilst this journey looks different for everyone, the importance of relearning self-compassion, self-care and joy throughout this process cannot be understated. By prioritising your own fulfilment, you can rebuild your trust in yourself.
It is essential to state that eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, and other specified or unspecified eating disorders, are incredibly complex and can be very dangerous. Healing from eating disorders requires professional care and support to ensure behaviours, thought patterns and actions are monitored and managed appropriately and safely. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, you should seek help from a health professional who is trained to support you through your recovery.
If you are currently in recovery from an eating disorder, there are actions you can take to support your healing journey. By taking deliberate steps to improve your self-esteem and love for yourself, you can ultimately support yourself in moving forward and not looking back. And, in nurturing yourself and creating positive experiences around your day-to-day experiences, you can foster a more nurturing relationship with food and your body.
The holistic approach to healing from eating disorders
Eating disorders stem from the brain, impacting the entire body and your relationship with it. By regularly practising supporting and nourishing yourself and treating yourself with kindness and empathy, you teach your brain that this is how you should approach yourself.
This works through the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity. Essentially, the brain forms connections between pieces of information, which are strengthened with repetition and can become beliefs and recurring thoughts. This is how many damaging thought patterns begin – but you can also engineer neuroplasticity to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. By repeatedly emphasising to your brain that you are worthy of compassion and love, you start to believe it.
While healing from your eating disorder, you may feel that you need to reclaim your sense of self. Eating disorders often feel like they have become a part of your personality, and this can make them very difficult to overcome. By replacing that perceived part of yourself with one that is proactively self-compassionate and kind, you can ensure that you still feel like your whole self – a new self – outside of your eating disorder.
There are different ways to rebuild your relationship with your body and food in a kind and constructive way. Some are directly related to how you engage with your eating disorder, but many are more general and can help you build a more beneficial outlook towards yourself.
Some ways to rebuild your relationship with your body
Reframing thoughts so they are kind and empathetic. Make a habit of deliberately speaking to yourself how you would speak to others or your younger self. Take the time to sit and think of some compliments and kind words you would give yourself if you were a friend or stranger. You can write these down in a notebook or on your phone and practice them regularly. By practising them when you aren’t experiencing negative emotions, you build up your brain’s ability to access those thoughts more easily. Over time, you may find that you are able to reframe your negative thoughts when or shortly after they occur.
Grounding techniques. These can help you refocus and feel calmer, particularly when experiencing strong emotions like panic. Essentially, grounding techniques bring you out of your mind and back into your body by focusing on your physical senses. Some people find it very effective to ground through the feet or the surface below you. To do this, concentrate on the sensation of your body’s contact with the surface, focusing on how it feels. Another simple and effective technique is to pay close attention to what you can hear, see, taste, smell and touch. You can prolong the sense of grounding by switching between which sense you are focusing your awareness on, combining them into a grounding routine which you can use when you feel overwhelmed, stressed or triggered.
Grounding techniques help you feel present in moments where you may feel disconnected. By acknowledging and accepting your feelings, you become more in touch with your emotional state, which may also help you identify triggers to avoid and things that make you feel good (also known as glimmers), which you can incorporate into your life.
Seeking counselling. Even when in recovery from eating disorders, working with an empathetic and experienced counsellor can help you monitor your moods and progress, build positive habits and reinforce your self-worth. Although these things can be done alone or with friends and family, having a neutral and confidential person who is trained in the appropriate responses will support you in maintaining your progress.
Journaling. Stay in touch with yourself and your emotions. By keeping a journal, you gain an outlet for how you are feeling, and you can track your mindset and mental state and how they change over time. This can help you gain a sense of pride in how far you’ve come and build your self-awareness, helping you to identify when you are experiencing negative emotions and the circumstances which may have caused them.
Self-care! Do things for the sole purpose of making yourself feel good. Do hobbies you enjoy, establish routines which include calming and productive activities, and sometimes do nothing! Stand firm in your right to rest and treat yourself kindly.
Although you should aim to practice your self-care and compassion-building activities as often as possible, don’t allow this to become a source of harshness on yourself. Allow yourself to have “down days” and to be tired some days. On these days, remind yourself that you are doing your best and you can’t do any better than your best.
Challenging negative body image
Eating disorders can distort your relationship with your body, creating intense negative associations. By actively working to change how you think about your body, you can reduce your levels of stress around your body image.
Find ways to appreciate all your body can do – think about how it keeps you safe. You could try making a list of things you like about your body – and rather than focusing on how it looks, think of its strength, how it protects you from illness, or even just the fact that it gets you from one place to another. Add to this list whenever you think of something else, and look at it frequently to help change your mindset towards your body.
Take up a new hobby or activity – by using your body and brain together to do something positive; you can create a sense of self-pride and achievement within yourself outside of your eating disorder. This could be something you already enjoy doing, or you could benefit from learning something new. Whether this is an activity, a sport or a type of art, hobbies can help you re-establish your sense of self.
Learn to appreciate and accept your body – you don’t always have to love it or think it looks amazing, but you deserve to sustain a neutral relationship with it. Build a relationship with your body outside of the way you look or how much you weigh.
Building a supportive community
Eating disorders can be lonely and isolating, and it is easy to feel unsupported or misunderstood. In many cases, it may be that your friends and family are worried about saying or doing the wrong thing and potentially triggering you. If you have supportive and loving relationships with the people in your life, it may help to have an open and frank conversation with them about the ways they can support you and how you can help them do this.
Talk to them about what will and won’t trigger you, how they can support you, ways you may reach out which don’t look like typical help-seeking, and what you can do together to build up happier memories and associations which do and don’t include food. Speak to them about any medical advice and how they can help you follow it. Your loved ones will want to help you in any way they can, and they might be able to help model healthy eating behaviours. If you are struggling to discuss your needs with your friends and family, an experienced counsellor can support you in planning and having these conversations and discovering the root of any communication difficulties. Family or systemic counselling can also support your family with ongoing communication, managing mealtimes and food-related events, as well as supporting you to strengthen or rebuild your relationships with each other.
Love yourself because you deserve to
Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear path, and while the tips in this blog post can help, it’s vital to bear in mind that you will have off days. On these days, try to hold onto your commitment to yourself and be proud of yourself for the challenges you have already overcome.
Remember that your healing journey is a testament to your strength and resilience, and working towards self-love is itself an act of self-care. You deserve a comfortable relationship with your body, where you can appreciate all that it does for you. Moreover, you deserve to live a life in which your sense of self is your priority and not your awareness of your body and food.
Talk with a Leone Centre Professional
If you do feel like you need some help and support, our Leone Centre professionals are available 7 days a week. Call us on 020 3930 1007. We can also provide fast track therapy.
We can offer in-person counselling in London appointments at our head office in Fulham and our offices in Kensington, Wimbledon and Belgravia, We also service Victoria, Putney, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Mayfair, and City of London.
In addition, we offer Online Therapy appointments wherever in the world you are located, should this better fit around your existing commitments or if you are not able to attend an in-person appointment.