4 Habits I Needed to Break During My Eating Disorder Recovery Journey

As a food and body love coach, I talk to a lot of women who have dealt with binge eating disorder and/or orthorexia. Most of these women were on some sort of diet that spiraled into restricting their food in a way that made them nearly obsessed with healthy eating (the orthorexic side). Often, this backfires in a binge. When the binges recur over and over, some of them develop binge eating disorder (BED). They tell me that they feel panic around certain foods (or all foods in general) because they don’t want to want these “bad” foods, and they especially don’t want to binge eat them.

I totally understand that feeling. I used to feel completely unsettled around food — most of the time I ate “healthy” foods, but if you put down a plate of cookies in front of me — all hell would break loose. I felt like I had to binge eat because I knew I’d have to go back to my “clean eating” the next day after a load of guilt and shame reminded me of how crappy I was for having this “food issue.” For years, I was stuck in this restrict-binge cycle, switching between willpower-ing my way through weeks of clean eating only to find myself diving head-first into a jar of almond butter plus half a box of Oreos. Recovering from an eating disorder is tricky. You have to literally relearn how to eat “normally” again (a strange thing to forget how to do, huh?). Now that I’m on the other side, there are a few things I wish I’d known earlier that would’ve helped me understand why it took me so long to feel freedom with food.

1. I needed to stop seeing foods as “good” or “bad.”

This might be the single biggest mindset shift that will normalize your thoughts around food. Think of it this way: if you tell a little kid they can’t eat something, that’s exactly the first thing they’ll want to eat, right? Our brains are (and remain) primal in this way. Anything off-limits becomes infinitely more intriguing — and therefore we’re way more likely to eat it in huge quantities whenever we give ourselves permission to consume it.

What you can do about it: See all foods as neutral. This is harder than it sounds, I know. But whenever you get the urge to down an entire family-size bag of chips in one sitting, ask yourself, if this were as neutral as water, would I want to eat them all at once? Or would enjoying some now and leaving the rest for later sound better? Usually just knowing all foods are allowed takes off the pressure to binge eat.

2. I had to stop cutting out foods for no reason other than weight loss.

We often think cutting out huge food groups (gluten, sugar, dairy) strictly for weight loss purposes gives us more control around food. But actually, food only ends up controlling us. Similar to seeing foods as good and bad, this heavy restriction backfires frequently. Eventually, we “give in” and want to get our hands on all the carbs (or dairy, or meat, or whatever) because our body is deprived of what it’s been asking for.

What you can do about it: Allow all foods in. Unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to a certain food, there’s no reason to be afraid of it. Sure, you may overeat on the foods that you had previously cut out before, but this can be temporary and is a very important part of the process. If you’re overly concerned about weight loss (and I’d say all restrict-binge cyclers are), grab your journal and write out answers to these questions: What in my life will be different once I lose weight? How do I know? Where did I learn that thinner was better? Is this true? No right or wrong answers here. Just be curious about what comes up.

3. I had to stop “compensating” for eating with exercise.

We’re being taught that we need to “earn” food depending on how hard we’ve worked out that day. “Cheat meals” make us feel like we’re morally obligated to uphold the perfect diet and exercise regimes. If you feel like you’re not allowed to eat certain foods unless you’ve had a booty-kicking workout that day, you’re keeping yourself stuck in the restrict-binge-repeat cycle.

What you can do about it: Keep in mind that all of these self-imposed limitations with food have been learned. Journaling can help you discover discover when and how you decided you don’t deserve to eat certain things. Challenge yourself to eat the foods you crave regardless of how physical you were that day. You deserve to eat no matter what!

4. I had to stop living in a shame spiral.

Binges induce a ton of guilt, and I so get that. Most of us think that the guilt and negative self-talk will motivate us to change our ways, but ask yourself: Has it ever worked for you in the past? Shame is what brought you to the binge in the first place, so why would it help get you out of it? My guess is, if you’re reading this article, speaking negatively to yourself and pinching at your tummy in the mirror after a binge hasn’t kept you from binge eating again later.

What you can do about it: Don’t hate on yourself. If you didn’t drink water all day and then downed a whole water bottle, would you be mad? Of course not! You were dehydrated and your body needed water. Same goes for food — when we deprive ourselves, our cravings grow. Journal after every binge and ask yourself what you really needed in that moment, if not food. Make a commitment not to ‘willpower” your way out of your next binge, and instead use compassionate thoughts that will help you cultivate a loving relationship to yourself… and stop the binges along the way.

Making major changes to how we relate to food and body takes time, so the most important thing during this healing period is to be patient with yourself and trust the process. There are women everywhere who are struggling with this exact same thing! Reach out to family, friends, and coaches for support, and know that on the other side of this is the life of freedom that we all inherently deserve.

Recovering from either orthorexia or BED is no joke. It takes time, concentration and serious commitment to questioning all the things that make you feel like you don’t deserve to feel good with food. But it is 100 percent possible. Try seriously implementing one or two of these and see what comes up for you. Remember — there’s no wrong way to feel! The exploration and curiosity of why we remain in certain behaviors is what gives us the clarity to move forward.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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