Why Meal Time Isn't Always the Hardest Part of Eating Disorder Recovery


It is often thought that during a meal is the hardest time for someone with an eating disorder. As someone recovering from anorexia nervosa myself, I can say that after a meal can actually be equally, sometimes even more, challenging for the person.

The disordered thoughts that can accompany a meal: guilt, disgust, regret and negative views of oneself such as fat, greedy and beliefs that you’ve done something bad, or you’ve eaten too much — all remain with the person. These negative and distressing thoughts and feelings are often ruminated on and it can be a real battle to refrain from using unhealthy “compensatory” behaviors.

Post-meal is when mindfulness can really play a beneficial role!

When you type the word into Google, you’ll find that mindfulness means being in a mental state where a person is calmly aware of their feelings, thoughts and body, and is focused on the present moment.

This idea of “being in the present moment” is often referred to as “grounding.” The ability to ground yourself can help when your anxiety levels are high or when you’re experiencing overwhelming emotions — focusing on the here and now, instead of the distressing thoughts after a meal.

Honestly, not as easy as it sounds. Grounding oneself does take practice, but with time you’ll learn which techniques work best for you — don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques! Some ways to ground yourself may include going for a light walk, talking to someone (about something not food or body related), doing one of those funky mindful coloring books, using a sensory object such as a stress ball or Play-Doh, mindful breathing or doing a mental activity like finding five things around the room for each of the five senses: sound, sight, touch, taste and smell.

An important thing about mindfulness that may seem contradictory, but is actually extremely beneficial to making that post-meal time more manageable, is the awareness of feelings, thought and body. Mindfulness isn’t an escape tool to help you internalize what you’re experiencing — instead it’s to be used to healthily acknowledge and accept it. With acknowledgement and acceptance come personal validation of how brave you are for getting through the meal, recognition of your distorted thought patterns and negative self-talk and a starting platform to challenging your eating disorder! As the quote goes: “feel, deal, heal.”

Dealing with the madness of this illness right after you’ve just won the battle of finishing a meal can be incredibly disheartening, but I tell ya, it won’t be that way forever. Although not an overnight feat, recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

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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