The eating disorder recovery process can feel challenging and overwhelming. Where do you start when recovering from an eating disorder? Do you just start eating? Do you change your thoughts? Or do you focus on underlying belief systems?
The basics of the eating disorder recovery process
When we think about a process we think about a series of actions meant to accomplish a certain result or goal, in this case, recovery. When it comes to recovering from an eating disorder we want to focus on 5 specific things to strengthen the eating disorder recovery process.
1. Give yourself permission to recover
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Certified eating disorder registered dietitian and recovery warrior, Tammy Beasley says that “permission is huge, and especially giving yourself permission to be curious.” If we can bring curiosity in, not judgment, we allow ourselves to learn and experience new things. When it comes to recovering from an eating disorder you can apply this curiosity to food choices and give yourself permission to be curious about food. This can mean trying that pasta that looks good, or eating the salmon you have been wanting to try.
Permission to heal
However, permission is about more than being curious about food. It’s about giving yourself permission to heal and become your authentic self. Brandilyn Tebo, Transformational coach and author of the Achievement Trap shared that ultimately, “what we truly want, is to give ourselves permission to be the fullest expression of ourselves, to be the most loving, confident, self-expressed, authentic, truthful, honest, and connected that we can be.”
2. Forgiveness in recovery
Forgiveness is essential to healing. It’s a layered process, and just like peeling back the layers of an onion, you will most likely cry when you expose old hurts, losses, and resentments towards others and yourself. Forgiveness is a spiritual act that happens deep within our soul and is an essential part of the eating disorder recovery process.
Forgiveness of others and forgiveness of yourself
Living with an eating disorder can lead to a loss of integrity on many levels. It violates one’s own internal value system and leads to disconnection. When recovering from an eating disorder, I needed to forgive myself for stealing binge food from the grocery store and my roommates or purging in my friend’s bathrooms. I needed to forgive myself for all those times I couldn’t focus on family engagement because I cared more about what was happening in the kitchen or when I would get an opportunity to exercise.
I needed to forgive myself for all the friendships I turned down or didn’t nurture because I didn’t want to go out and eat calories or drink calories.
This is where the practice of self-compassion comes in immensely, which is another essential component of the eating disorder recovery process.
3. Self Compassion when recovering from an eating disorder
Self-compassion is really one of the building blocks of self-love. People who struggle with eating disorders, typically, are really compassionate people, but they forget that they are people too. Meaning that the same compassion they give to others has to be given to themselves too.
The simplest way to describe self-compassion is to imagine how you would treat a dear dear friend when they are in a moment of suffering. The idea is that you can apply the same warmth, generosity, care, concern, and nurturance to yourself.
Self-compassion expert Dr. Ann Biasetti, author of Befriending your body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself From Disordered Eating says that we have to approach our behaviors with compassion in order to learn from them. For example, when you’re recovering from an eating disorder and you had a hard day or engaged in unhelpful behavior such as binging you can approach that situation with compassion. What did I learn from this experience? How can I pick myself up and move forward?
We don’t practice self-compassion because we feel great. We practice it because we are suffering.
4. Finding connection in eating disorder recovery
As humans, we are wired to connect. We heal through connection. That’s why it’s important to make connection a priority in the eating disorder recovery process. As Dr. Anita Johnston, author of the powerful Eating in the Light of the Moon explains, “We’re all born with two very, very strong drives. One is the drive for attachment and connection to others. The other one is the drive for authenticity that comes when you’re connected to your authentic self, who you really are and where you’re meant to go in this world.”
The trick here is to stay connected with others and to your authentic self. In the eating disorder recovery process this may look like connecting with friends and family and letting them you need support. You can work with a professional therapist, dietitian, psychiatrist, medical doctor, coach, or mentor. There are amazing virtual care treatment options out there like Equip Health.
You can also connect to recovery resources like our eating disorder recovery podcast network, The Recovery Warrior Shows.
Wherever your family falls on the support spectrum, you may still find that times can and will get turbulent as you start to address buried emotions. As Kelly Uchima shared in a recent interview on Recover Strong, “Since I started therapy, we had the biggest blowouts of all time in our family like screaming matches, not talking for weeks and months at a time thinking that the relationships overthinking that you hate each other, you have to blow up, it’s like a volcano, it needs to erupt and actually completely blow the frick up to then settle down and find closeness and flow again.”
5. Allow yourself to celebrate in recovery
Nothing is too small to celebrate, absolutely nothing.
Leading behavioral change researcher at Stanford’s Behavior Design Lab, Dr. BJ Fogg found that if you really want to make lasting changes in your life you need to celebrate habits you want to stick around in your life. It is emotions that create habits. Not repetition. Not frequency. Emotions. Celebration is the best way to use emotions and create a positive feeling that wires in new habits.
You can adopt a new habit faster and more reliably by celebrating at three different times: the moment you remember to do the habit, when you’re actually doing the habit, and immediately after completing the habit. – Dr. BJ Fogg
In the case of not acting out on an eating disorder behavior, you can celebrate that you didn’t do it. Don’t worry about the future where you fear you will again, let yourself experience the celebration at the moment.
It’s the little things you want to celebrate because that’s what’s gonna give you confidence and boost your morale to keep going. That’s what’s going to help you keep chugging along and going forward.
Ready for Recovery
The eating disorder recovery process isn’t linear but with these 5 things to focus on you can build a strong foundation for your recovery. Catch more great recovery wisdom like this every week on The Recovery Warrior Shows.