The first thing to understand when you are recovering from an eating disorder is that all actions have a positive intention, it is just previously when you did not know better, you may have used unproductive behaviors to get to that intention.
The beauty of hindsight and knowing better is that you can then change those old behaviours to more productive new behaviours to meet the same need.
The purpose of this knowledge is to teach you to let go of the guilt you may harbor around the way you treated your body throughout your eating disorder. You are not a terrible person for what you did, or are still doing and you don’t need to get caught up in all the self hate.
Understand you did what you did because you love your body and yourself.
There is nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
It is like anything in life, when we don’t know how to get what we want we sometimes go about it in an ineffective way, which can result in us hurting ourselves or others along the way.
As we go along in our journey and gain more understanding we know how to get what we want in a less harmful way. Therefor we do better.
So start to let go of any of the guilt you had in the past for the way you have acted and thank yourself for trying to love your body and meet your needs, but let your body know that you have a new behaviour set now. New Behaviours that will let you get what you want without all the hurt.
If you are still in the throes of your eating disorder and/or just coming out of it, it is good to get a proper understanding of what purpose the behaviour held. Often it can have more than one purposes.
Mediation, mirror work, talking to a friend or coach and/or journaling can be good to help figure this out. Often eating disorders develop not because an individual wants to be skinny, that just becomes the obsession, but because they want to meet a need. The purpose behind an eating disorder is different for each individual. Examples that I have encountered with clients include:
A distraction (ever noticed how shoving food in your mouth or obsessing over a gym routine can stop you from thinking about your current situation?).
A sense of control (when it feels like you have control over nothing in your life, a lot of people turn to their weight to help them feel like they have control of one area of their life)
Wanting to fit in or feel comfortable (often people believe that people will like them more if they are thinner and that will feel more comfortable in themselves if they are…my advice if your friends only like you because you have abs…you need new friends)
Wanting to be loved (see above)
A fear of success or happiness ( for a large portion of people weight issues stem from an unconscious fear of success or happiness, have you ever said I will be happy when I lose a few kilos? and then wondered later why the weight just never seems to budge? Often this is because if we lose those kilos and we have “achieved happiness” then we have to deal with the fact that actually it wasn’t the weight that was making us unhappy and instead it may have been our relationship or career that was making us unhappy and we didn’t want to face it. In those situations, similar to the distraction need it is much easier for one to stay in a chaotic state of needing to lose weight rather than face what is really going on. Aka it is easier to blame your weight for you being unhappy as opposed to taking responsibility for the real reason you are unhappy)
Wanting to feel comforted or nurtured (often food can make people feel loved, a large part of this is due to what someone associates food with. For example chocolate is known as comfort food so what do you think people turn to when they need to be comforted!? Chocolate...ask yourself do I really feel comforted after eating chocolate?)
...the list goes on.
Find out what it is for you and then brainstorm different ways you get the same outcome in a more productive way.
Once you have decided on a new behaviour to meet that need, work out what triggers your old behaviour. Aka, work out what gets you in to your obsessive state. It can be a feeling, a thought, an action, a visual…anything really. You just need to work out what you do that lets you know that it is time to binge eat, purge over exercise or beat yourself up mentally for they way you look.
Ask yourself that question, How do I know it is time to x?
Alternatively become aware of what it is next time you go into that state.
If you do the last option, it is helpful for you to write down what that state looks like so you are more likely to be consciously aware of when you start to go into it.
As always sometimes a coach can be really helpful in this step as they are both able to guide you and pick up on things that you may have missed.
When you identify your trigger, you then know where you need to insert the new behaviour.
An example of this process from a client:
"In the case of my eating disorder, I firstly forgave myself for it, understanding that I was just trying to love my body and achieve a positive outcome. I just didn't understand exactly what that was at first. I then decided to become aware of how I knew it was time to binge or purge. By becoming aware of my decision to start this cycle I was able to understand what I was trying to get out of this cycle. A lot of the time it started due to feeling overwhelmed, either of my thoughts or of my work load. By eating non stop I was able to numb the feelings and thoughts and ignore my responsibilities for a while...then the self hate came. This allowed me to turn my anger or stress onto myself and channel the anger at me not being able to control myself and onto my weight. By analysing this, I was able to see that my positive intention was to deal with the overwhelming feeling I had...however unproductive it was.
The awareness now meant I could find new ways to deal with feeling overwhelmed, such as writing a to do list, journaling my feelings, going for a walk, taking a deep ect. This meant that the when I tried to use the old behaviour loop it no longer gave value to my life because the action no longer served a purpose. Therefore it stopped."
If you read this, but your mind goes “but if I don’t obsess over my weight, I will get fat, I need to do this, when I get to my goal weight then I will look at making a change or getting better” then one of your needs the behaviour is meeting is likely control. “If I don’t have control, I wont get my goal”
And is not true at all. Actually in fact if you remove all the energy you are spending being anxious about your weight, thinking and talking about it, putting yourself down about it, you will actually have more energy to do something about it. Also as it falls into the back of your mind and you stop being so concerned about it, the tension of it goes and you find your weight will start to self regulate anyway.
You will find you start to choose to exercise and nourish your body with healthy foods not because YOU HAVE TO, but because you WANT TO.
The best example of this is someone who puts themselves on a restrictive diet. More often then not the whole time they are on this diet, they are thinking “I cant eat this and I can’t eat that” which results in you day dreaming about all the food you can’t eat. Which often results in you binging on that exact food, and then beating yourself up for it.
Instead try telling yourself you can eat whatever you want, but your choosing to have a salad or a piece of fruit because you love your body. Watch how immediately different that feels from “you have to have a salad or you will be fat”
My top 10 tips for helping clients overcome eating disorders or unproductive eating behaviours are:
1. Watch your wording. Do you say phrases such as “ I will have this for life” “It is going to be a life long battle” “ you never really do escape it do you”? Change these. If your belief system is that you are never going to get over your eating disorder you never will.
2. Watch your friendship groups. Similar to the point above, if all you and your friends talk about is loosing weight, gym routines and/or new ‘low carb/low calories’ recipes it may be time to expand your social group to new friends with different interests or just shake up the conversation a little. There is a time and a place for these conversations but they shouldn’t be all you talk about.
3. Become aware of the purpose the eating disorder serves. Does it make you feel powerful, in control, distracted, comforted. Once you have awareness you have the ability to start to make a change.
4. Become aware of your triggers AND CHANGE THEM! If you are the kind of person that weighs yourself daily and then gets upset that you haven’t lost more weight, it is probably time to ditch the scales, or at least change your weighing routine to once a week. If you spend hours scrolling ‘hot bodies’ on Instagram and getting down that you don’t look like that, it is time to delete the fitness accounts!
5. Be careful of the hashtags your using on social media, even if your about promoting a healthy body image, hashtags can start to create an identity for you. When you strongly identify with a disorder or an illness it can be hard for you to let it go completely because it has become part of who you are. When our identity is threatened often our ego self goes into defense mode prevents us from being completely free of the thing we want to be free of. It might be time to stop using certain tags, and don't worry the people you want to help with still find you online. Trust me.
6. Take responsibility and stop living in denial. The only way to overcome something is to be aware of it. I am not asking to scream from the roof tops that you have or had an eating disorder but admit it to yourself. When you start to become accountable for your actions in life, you become powerful. It allows you the ability to understand that in every single moment you have a choice, this gives you the power to shape your reality as opposed to letting others shape it for you.
7. Question your thoughts. Please note that I did not say stop them. Suppressing ‘negative thoughts’ and pretending to be happy is one of the worst things you can do in any aspect of your life. If your having ‘negative thoughts’ they are there for a reason. Ask yourself why. For example if your telling yourself your ugly and fat, don’t stop the thought ask yourself why your choosing to be mean to yourself. You might found out it is because your feeling insecure. Go further, ask yourself why your feeling insecure. Exploring the issue will help you solve it once and for all. A coach and/or doing mirror work is great for this.
8.Stop feeling guilty for your past actions, now that you know better you can do better! Also remember that life is not a straight line. It is okay to take a step back. If you return to your old patterns, it is okay. Just readjust. Remind yourself of how you want to be and allow yourself to get back on track. Don't feel like you have ruined all your progress just because you had one mishap.
9. Get out of your head. Do some grounding exercises and come into the present moment. The past is the past and the future has not happened yet, so stop thinking about it. Be in the here and now. This is especially important when you are eating. Stop eating in the car or on the go, especially if you have problems with over eating. As you become more present with your food, you will tend to eat less and have a better concept for when you are full.
10. Self love. Take a deep breath. Tell yourself
how much you love who you are. This may feel uncomfortable at first but push through it. Become your friend and stop being your own enemy.