Ever been locked out of your car? Without the keyfob, you can’t open the door, let alone drive anywhere. Last time this happened to me, my heart sunk into my stomach. I felt frustrated, powerless, and overwhelmed. Recovery can be like a car you’re trying to drive. Without the right keys, you’re locked out. Stranded in a parking lot, unable to get where you want to. I don’t want you to be locked out of recovery! That’s why I’m sharing with you 8 keys to eating disorder recovery that have helped me.
8 Keys to Eating Disorder Recovery
1. Parting with Perfection
Yes, it sounds very cliche, but in all reality, eating disorders are about control. And the very first of the 8 keys to eating disorder recovery is about letting go of that control.
Perfection does not exist. Therefore, constantly striving for it sets you up for a lifetime of frustration, exhaustion, and ultimately failure.
Life is imperfect and messy. Full of ups and downs. And just like life, you are also imperfect. All humans are flawed. The sooner you can own this truth, the easier your journey will be.
2. Nixing the Numbers
Eating disorders thrive on the black and white nature of numbers. Weight, calories, minutes, sizes…. When drowning in an eating disorder, we mistakenly place a ridiculous amount of power and meaning into numbers.
In reality, numbers simply do not define our worth as humans.
Through recovery, we learn to let go of our attachment to numbers. Yes, some may wish to eventually accept any number on the scale. But in the initial phase of recovery, simply removing the numbers from your consciousness is usually the best route to take.
What does this mean?
That you you stop weighing yourself. You throw away your scale. And when you go to the doctor, you tell them immediately you don’t want to know your weight. That you stop reading calories and labels on food. When you eat at a restaurant you physically cover the side of the menu that shows calories. And you stop measuring the miles and minutes you move your body.
I know this feels like an impossible task. Once upon a time I didn’t believe I could ever see a plate full of food without silently calculating the calories. It was so automatic. I spent decades living with an eating disorder, allowing numbers to control my life. But the good news is, this CAN be changed.
It is possible to break free. And it starts by very consciously working every day to take your focus off of the numbers and onto recovery.
3. Welcoming Help
We are social creatures by nature. Simply put, we need each other. We’re better together. And with support of loved ones and professionals, your recovery has a much more solid foundation for you to build upon.
This can be difficult for those of us who’ve worked all our lives to keep everything “together.” Asking for and accepting help means having the courage to be vulnerable. I used to feel like I “should be strong enough to do this on my own.”
What I understand after years of living in the recovery-struggle-relapse cycle is: it takes strength to ask for and accept help.
So reach out to a friend you can trust. Seek professional support from a therapist, nutritionist, body image coach, or psychiatrist. Building a team that’s on your side is essential to recovery. Finding community with other warriors who are on the path to recovery is incredibly valuable. Understanding you’re not alone in this struggle is healing. Find a local support group, follow recovery accounts on social media, ask your therapist for suggestions of ways to connect with others. Thankfully, support is out there and you deserve to have it.
4. Taking it One Bite at a Time
When you’ve lived in a world consumed by eating disorder rules and behaviors, changing them up is terrifying. Recovery feels like Mount Everest while you’re lying on the ground; barefoot and dehydrated. Instead of concentrating on how impossible the climb to the top seems, focus first on the very next thing you need to do. Taking a sip of water. Putting on your socks. One at a time. Then putting on your shoes. One at a time.
The mountains of recovery loom everywhere you turn. Rather than focusing on all the pounds you have to gain, meals you have to consume, and trauma you have to face in therapy, focus on one tiny step at a time. One moment at a time. One bite at a time. This truly is the only way to get through the unknown climb of recovery.
5. Adding In New Coping Skills
Perhaps you’ve heard that eating disorders “are not really about the food.” That they’re actually anxiety disorders. It took me years to digest what this really means. Focusing on weight, food, exercise, and our bodies is a coping skill we learned at some point to survive our circumstances. Every person faces hardship, loss, challenges, and pain in life. Your eating disorder has served a purpose in your life and helped you survive up until now. The problem is- the eating disorder also comes with a huge price. I assume if you’re reading this article, you’re aware and no longer want to pay the price. You’re reading to get your life back.
Before we can stop using our eating disorder as a coping skill, we must add in new ways of coping. If you’re battling anxiety, learning to calm your nervous system is a great place to start. When you’re going through a loss, the grief process means learning to tolerate difficult feelings. Working with a professional, reading self help books, journaling, connecting with nature, trying mediation, and exploring new interests and hobbies are all great places to start. Building a toolbox of coping skills that work for you is essential to maintaining recovery.
6. Connecting with Compassion
Let’s face it- most of us are too hard on ourselves. Would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself sometimes? I doubt it. We’re taught that being hard on ourselves is the best way to prevent future mistakes. We fear if we stop beating ourselves up, we’ll make even worse “mistakes.” But this isn’t true. Accepting we’re all imperfect and making room for growth in the choices we make is key. (Do you notice how the first key keeps popping up?)
Learning to treat ourselves with self compassion actually improves our performance while also decreasing suffering.
Getting stuck in feelings of shame and guilt can add fuel to the fire of an eating disorder. Self compassion is the most effective way to soothe the burning of these emotions. Learning to be kind and gentle with ourselves is paramount for healing from your eating disorder.
7. Visualize Your Values
Reconnecting with your true authentic self and the values you hold dearest in your heart is another essential key to recovery. When your eating disorder is in control, you’re living according the values of diet culture. But when you get back in touch with your own unique set of values, you can choose to live in alignment with your soul and it’s purpose.
When your time, energy, and focus are concentrated solely on calories, food, and shrinking your body, you end up neglecting what truly matters most to you. Consider what legacy you wish to leave at the end of your life.
How do you want to be remembered by loved ones? What mark do you want to leave on this earth?
If your answer had nothing to do with being the skinniest person in a room, then it’s time to reflect on how much of your life you have given to the eating disorder’s values. By first identifying what you value most, you can then begin to focus your time and energy on those values.
8. Writing a New Story
The words we use and the stories we tell ourselves and others have a huge amount of power. When you tell your story, how do you cast yourself? As the heroin or as the victim? Are you stuck in a script that no longer serves you? Do you own the power you have in the choices that you make? And do you recognize that the story isn’t over yet? That life is full of cycles, growth comes out of pain, and inside of you is a strong and resilient warrior?
We cannot go back in our past and change what has already occurred. Nor do we have control over many situations in our lives. But we do have a choice of how we tell our story. What we choose to focus on. And where we want the next chapter to lead. Remember, at Recovery Warriors, we believe recovery is possible for every warrior out there. More importantly than what we believe… what do you believe?
Is the truth that recovery is possible a part of your story?
Take the 8 Keys to Eating Disorder Recovery
So now you have a ring filled with 8 keys to eating disorder recovery. Which ones resonate the most with you? What seems to be the most challenging? Do you have some more keys I should have included? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.