3 Essential Keys to Recovery from Your Eating Disorder
Among those who have achieved true recovery from their eating disorders, there are 3 consistent pieces that keep showing up. These components of recovery are absolutely essential to recovery, meaning that without them, recovery will be near impossible.
This is not an exaggeration. I've seen others try to recover without these, and what results from this is a painful, futile cycle of doing really well and then crashing (disturbingly similar to the restrict-binge cycle, in fact). I fell into the same trap in my recovery, as well.
So, without further ado, let's get into what they are. If you'd rather watch the video, you can find that here.
Before beginning, it does bear mentioning that each eating disorder's recovery is going to look different. We tend to talk about ED recovery as if it's a singular thing, but this can sometimes be reductionist. There are elements of recovery from binge eating that differ greatly from anorexia, for instance. However, it can be helpful to group them together when discussing big picture ideas. Otherwise we risk losing some really great descriptions of and how-to guides for recovery, due to them being targeted towards a specific ED.
If you’re interested in learning the nitty-gritty about all the major eating disorders, I’ve written some super comprehensive overviews for each eating disorder, which you can find here!
Okay, with that out of the way, let's get to our #1 essential key (note: these are in no particular order).
1. Having a big accountability system
Read carefully: This is not the accountability system you're used to.
EDs attack every aspect of your life. With an eating disorder and its intrusive influence implanted in your mind, you don't act the same way around friends, you don't take interest in the things you want to, you don't do your job the same, you don't eat the same, you don't exercise the same, you don't dress the same, you don't talk the same, etc.
And since an ED attacks every aspect of your life, it follows that every aspect of your life must be conducive to recovery. That's not an overstatement; it's a frank reality. So, what does this mean for you in terms of accountability?
Toxic people must be cut out
This is a non-negotiable, though admittedly carrying through with it is much more difficult than just nodding at this sentence and proceeding to dump your abusive boyfriend (as an example). Fortunately, we do go over this in my upcoming book, 100 Days of Food Freedom, which you can grab your copy of here.
There is no way to get through recovery when there are people in your life actively tearing you down. Whether intentional or not, these people disallow you from loving yourself, from taking care of yourself, and ultimately from feeling safe.
Recovery requires vulnerability and trust in the process. When your mental energy is devoted heavily to negative influences in your life, this is made infinitely harder. These people have no place in your life. That might be an extremely bitter pill to swallow, but it can only go down with one big gulp; keeping it in your mouth and thinking about swallowing it will only intensify the sting.
Anyone not actively supporting your recovery must be cut out
This is where things get sticky. Surely I can't be saying that every single person in your life has to know about your eating disorder and actively support your recovery?
Well, no, maybe the postman doesn't need to be cut out, or the grocery store clerk. Really, this is speaking to those who have a consistent role in your life, even if minor, for whom the words they use, the way they respond to you, and the potential support they might need to give need to be adequate for you.
Again, an ED does not just target one thing in your life; it is apparent wherever you go. It does not take a break when you're asking your boss for a raise and your boss decides to make an unsolicited comment on how your clothes fit you. It does not take a break when your massage therapist makes inadvertently disparaging comments about your body. This might seem obvious, but how can you expect to recover when all of these "minor figures" in your life continue to perpetuate negative body talk and diet talk?
It could even just be a "Hey, don't take this the wrong way, but I wanted to talk about some comments you made the other day." Or maybe it's a "Can we please find a conversation that doesn't have to do with dieting?" Whatever it takes to drive the message home so that these individuals can cease their unintentional chipping away from your recovery. And if you want an additional reason to do this: It helps promote the anti-diet, body-positive mindset and furthers the conversation. It's amazing how this works. When you're told that a comment you've been making or sentiment you've been repeating is offending someone, it makes you stop and reconsider who else in your life you might be accidentally delivering a negative, offensive message to (hell, it could even go beyond this discussion).
This inevitably begs the question What if my family is not supportive of my recovery?
In most cases, cutting out family is neither desirable nor doable. And indeed, "disowning" family members is a dangerous path to go down, even if they are bordering on toxic. It's just too hard to get through this without a close family network there for you.
As such, there are 2 plausible solutions to the unsupportive family roadblock:
1. Serious talk
The first, and most preferable, solution is to have a serious talk with them (or, at least, the specific family members who are unsupportive of your recovery). How you talk to them about this is another topic for another time (again, this is brought up in the book), but as long as you are openly expressing your feelings without holding back, while simultaneously maintaining respect and encouraging an open dialog, this has the potential to be highly successful.
2. Family-based therapy
The second option here is to find a therapist who specializes in family-based therapy. This type of therapy is actually common in the treatment of eating disorders, especially with younger individuals (though it can be, and is, used for all ages). It focuses on bringing in the immediate family and ensuring they are intimately involved with the recovery process. This could be especially helpful in this scenario.
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2. Goal setting
If the recovery process is to be effective, proper goal setting simply must be in place. But what does that actually mean?
There is a tendency to see the goal as "full recovery from my eating disorder." This is tricky. On one hand, the expression "don't aim for partial recovery; go all in" (or some derivative of this) is thrown around often in ED treatment. But at the same time, you have also probably been told on numerous occasions not to set excessively lofty goals (and you've likely even read it from me). So, what's the deal?
Set big abstract goals but small actionable goals
This dilemma is answered quite masterfully by Stephen Guise in his book Mini Habits. Guise says (this is paraphrased heavily, of course) that when you are setting your long-term, abstract goals to make them big and lofty. And when you are setting your short-term goals (say, what you'll want to shoot for come one week or even one day from now), make those super realistic, almost to the point of being too achievable. Here's an example:
Example of a well-set big abstract goal: I want to fully recover from my binge eating and never, ever have to feel this way again.
Example of a well-set small actionable goal: I want to use mindful eating tools at one meal per day this week.
Here's why that's so important. When your only goal in recovery is to recover, and you don't set those small actionable goals in a planned, organized manner along the way, you see everything as a failure. Think about it: If your one goal is to recover fully, every single day will be seen as a failure. Every time an urge comes up or you give in and weigh yourself or you fall into a depressive episode, you'll see it as an example of your failure to recover.
And many, many people say they're setting small, realistic goals, but in reality they're only holding onto that big goal of theirs. Maybe your goal this week was to meditate 5 minutes a morning and you accomplished that, but you also acted on an urge recently. This can all too easily be seen as a failure, dismissing the meditation habit as "just something to keep my mind off the binge eating." That's just an example, but you get the point.
But even if you have the biggest, strongest accountability system in the world and are a master goal-setter, you can still easily keep yourself from recovering. How? By not believing in yourself.
3. Believing in yourself
Corny? Yes. But if you don't believe deep down that you will recover, meaning there's not a doubt in your mind it's going to happen, you will continue to sabotage yourself and ultimately not express the mental fortitude necessary to overcome something as powerful as an eating disorder.
This was a highlight of where I personally began to move away from my restrict-binge cycles and start eating like I love myself (to see what I normally eat, check out the video I’ve included here): At some point, it hit me that "Yeah, I am going to get over this." That's a powerful feeling that's hard to describe if you haven't experienced it yourself. It turns this seemingly unwinnable battle into a meaningful journey. You stop seeing relapses as failures and start seeing them as road bumps. You no longer dismiss the 5 minute meditation habit as unimportant and start seeing it as the most important thing.
What to do
Okay, okay, so to recover, you've got to believe in yourself. Fair enough, but how does that help you if you don't believe in yourself? You can't just force genuine self-determination. Can you?
This is where the last key bleeds nicely into this. You can only believe in yourself once you've been given evidence to do so. Just like you wouldn't believe a friend who always promises to keep secrets and then tells others, why would you believe in yourself if you continue to "fail" at this promise to yourself (i.e. that you'll recover)?
And so this is where small actionable goals come into play. If you can set goals on a consistent basis that you can easily accomplish, you'll start a streak of proving to yourself that you are capable and you do have it in you to achieve whatever goal you set for yourself.
In other words, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. Similarly, if you judge your recovery process solely by whether or not you recover, you will spend your whole life believing recovery is out of reach.
But once you truly believe in yourself, nothing (and I mean nothing) can get in the way of your recovery. This is the biggest common denominator among people who recover from their eating disorders.
So, with that said, are you ready to take that important first step toward recovery? If so…
I’ve got some good news for you.
100 Days of Food Freedom: A Day-by-Day Journey to Self-Discovery, Freedom from Dieting, and Recovery from Your Eating Disorder is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.
This is recovery made simple. 100 days of tasks, habits, exposures, and “Adventures” that are guaranteed to bring you to a place of Food Freedom.
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