10 Pieces of My Eating Disorder Recovery Puzzle
I am recovering. I am not recovered… I am in recovery. This I believe. This I know.
My recovery course is ending and while I would love to say I am recovered, that was never going to happen in the space of eight weeks. Unfortunately! Many things came together to create my dysfunctional relationship with food. And many things need to be pieced together to heal.
I spent a decade searching for answers, magic bullets, the perfect diet and quick solutions. Anything offering absolution with absolutely no work on my part. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I have accrued a lot of knowledge, tools and a network of real people and online communities. The giant puzzle needed to become whole is getting much closer to completion. I think I have most of the pieces now – enough to get me well under way at least. And these are some of the things I’ve learned:
1. Acknowledgment: You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. I mastered this – I definitely have a problem!
2. Acceptance: This is much trickier. While I fully accept the issues, I struggle to accept and move past the origins. I’m just about there.
3. Overeaters Anonymous: I loved OA – it’s an awesome recovery place no matter what flavor of eating disorder (ED) you have. I didn’t find all the answers I needed but I found a lot – a community of loving, supportive people and a place to share my story without judgment. I learned how to listen with my ears open and my mouth shut. I read a lot and learned about journaling, reaching out and making recovery a priority.
4. Professional Support: I am blessed with a wonderful doctor, dietitian, psychologist and psychiatrist. All of whom helped give me lots of tools – understanding why I developed an ED, understanding nutrition, accepting the importance of medication, using CBT and DBT. The most important of all though, was recognizing, acknowledging, accepting and working through emotions. I have so much more work to do in this area.
5. Journaling: If I were to tell someone with an ED to do one thing, it would be to journal. We have so many emotions, thoughts and feelings all tucked away, hidden inside, desperate to be let out. Thoughts govern feelings. Feelings govern actions. To change our actions, first we change our thoughts. Journaling is the best tool for making sense of those thoughts. It also led to my blogging, which is leading me to writing. Which I love!
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.
6. Mantras and Affirmations: So airy-fairy. So useful. The trick is to say strong, positive statements you believe. Standing naked in front of the mirror and telling yourself you’re beautiful is great – if you believe it. If you have an ED, you might struggle with body image or self-esteem, but you can say useful and believable affirmations and mantras to help, things like: “My body nourished three pregnancies,” “I will never give up,” “I am good at [insert activity here],” etc. There are always positive things you can say. Not backhanded compliments! Just keep it gentle and believable.
7. Reframing and Visualization: This is new to me and I need to do a lot more. But it’s awesome. We’re all familiar with our inner critics. Reframing takes a negative thought, identifies the origin and turns it into a constructive lesson rather than a humiliating put-down. Life always throws curveballs, but I don’t have to beat myself up every time they head my way. And visualization is just taking time to imagine how my day might pan out, or what my future might look like. Visualizing possible hurdles I’ll be confronted with and healthy ways to cope. These two tools are really difficult – and absolutely essential.
8. Why? I can’t stress the importance of this enough. If I don’t have a reason to recover, why would I bother? It’s a lot of hard work so there’s got to be a pay-off. I have to picture what that pay-off may be. I have to be working towards a goal, not just recovering because other people think it’s a good idea. I have to do all the work – therefore I have to have all the reasons.
9. Hope and Belief: Without these, it would be difficult to motivate yourself to recover. I have to have hope – if I have no hope, I’m not going to put any effort in. If I don’t believe I can recover, I am right. If I do believe I can recover, I am right. This is probably the greatest thing I’ve taken away in the last eight weeks. Hope was consolidated. Belief was found. I am still trudging along a long, dreary road, but now I believe there is something worth traveling towards.
10. Food plans: I messed with these a lot over the years. There’s a really fine line between a food plan and a diet. Yes, we might have a “diet,” but that is different to dieting. Some people leave particular foods out of their nutritional intake for essential reasons (nut allergies, celiac disease, etc.), but regularly leaving out food groups to avoid weight gain isn’t healthy. It’s a type of restriction, and if there’s one thing I have learned, restriction has always led to binging – 100 percent of the time – in my experience. The two most important things I’m putting into food plans at the moment are eating six times a day and scoring at least three out of five from the foods groups.
So there’s my recovery list – the things I’ve collected for my puzzle. We all need lots of pieces; what works for you? It can be easy to feel like you’ve failed when someone recovers and you haven’t, but perhaps it’s just not the right tool or the right time. Keep collecting. Keep going. I’m going to recover. So are you!
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