Since 2010 I have been quite open on my blog about my experience with recovering from an eating disorder after a lifelong history of anorexia, binge eating and dysmorphic body image. My eating disorder stemmed from three major points of grief in my life, low self esteem since childhood, and an ultimate need to be in control when I was lonely inside. Though it sounds cliché, there truly are effective steps you can take to recover from an eating disorder. I did, and I'm a new person who is full of life, confidence, zest, spunk and a walking image of true health, free from a life of dieting. These steps can’t be completed overnight, or even in so many weeks. Recovery takes time, but I assure you from a lifelong battle that recovering from an eating disorder truly is possible by taking the following steps. If you’re suffering from disordered eating, remember, life is waiting for you. All you need to do is make a decision to embrace it and abandon a life entrapped in the painful gulf of disordered eating.
1. Embrace Relationships
The first step I took towards recovering from an eating disorder was to embrace relationships with other people. Since my disorder started with me losing several key relationships in my life, I had learned to become overly independent, self-reliant, and ultimately lonely. I refused to attach myself to people after losing so many, and intimacy on any level was impossible for me. When I decided to recover, I knew I had to begin with an area of my life that I feared too many years to face: my relationships. I began to do more things with my family, I called a few new friends I had to go to coffee, see a movie, etc. Though I never found a new intimate relationship to be in with a guy, I was open to the possibilities of dating again, something I hadn’t done before in many, many years. By doing these things, I opened myself up and let go of one piece of control I had let rule my life: loneliness. Loneliness fueled my disorder, so by removing it one piece at a time, I also let go of control around food more.
2. Get the Right Nutrients
Your brain can’t function properly without proper nutrition. Julia Ross of The Diet Cure specifically helped me learn what nutrients most women with eating disorders are insufficient in. I learned I needed more key amino acids from lean animal protein and plant proteins, more healthy fats, and less stimulants, such as too much coffee or sugar-filled sources of chocolate. I also learned that I needed to eat more leafy greens for iron, and embrace more Omega 3 fatty acids to nourish my brain and prevent depression. While this method didn’t work alone, it certainly did make me feel more balanced, and lessened my anxiety. I also added in superfoods such as maca powder, to nourish my adrenals and balance my hormones. It worked very well with my appetite being more regular and I even began sleeping better.
3. Talk to Someone
I was blessed enough to have an old college guidance counselor to call who specialized in disordered eating. She was a Godsend to me. While not all of her advice worked specifically for me, it did wonders for my healing to talk to someone who understood my weird relationships and imbalances with food. Get someone to listen to you. It will amaze you how much it will do for your healing once you have someone to “get” what you’re going through. Google someone in your area who specializes in the subject, or find a local support group that you can join. I know it seems scary to tell someone or open up to others, but once you do, you’ll never feel the same about recovery. If you know of anyone personally who has survived an eating disorder, you can confide in them as well. If you’re looking for further support, feel free to visit my blog, The Soulful Spoon, where I offer email correspondence with anyone wishing for emotional support and understanding for their efforts to recover.
4. Embrace a Hobby
For me, writing and starting a blog did wonders for my recovery. Writing has been a passion of mine since I was a child, and for years during the worst of my disorder, I neglected my writing because I was too consumed with my disorder to care enough to write. I also never believed my words were important, though I knew they were more of a part of who I was than any food or lack of food. I was too scared to write when it came down to it, because writing brought out an intimate side of me I wasn’t sure I wanted to acknowledge. Get a hobby you care about. Even if you think it’s a waste of time, or not a legitimate interest, find something you like to do that isn’t related to your disorder. Embrace it and spend more time doing it. You deserve to have a passion in life.
5. Put Away the Books
Any diet books you have should be boxed up and put away, if not given away or donated. I even sold many of mine on Amazon, which fueled me to get rid of them faster. You need to free your brain from the entrapment of rules around food. If you don’t have any diet books, try not to read too many magazines giving dieting tips either. It only confuses your brain further. You should be eating nutritious foods from whole grains (preferably gluten-free), lean proteins, healthy fats,quality sources of calcium like organic yogurt or almond milk, and plenty of produce. Take out the refined sugar and junk food and feed your body REAL food. That is the only eating advice you could ever need.
6. Eat More
This sounds pretty obvious if you’re an anorexia survivor, but what if you’re a former binge eater, or a current one? Why would eating more help you recover? For starters, your metabolism needs to be regulated and freed from a life of starving, binging, or any other unhealthy relationship with food. The first thing you should do is eat more. Eat breakfast, one or two morning snacks, lunch, an afternoon snack , dinner and if you want, dessert. Now, you don’t want to count your calories, but consume small, nutrient dense portions all day. Try to eat smaller meals that are more calorie dense from foods like raw nuts, seeds, whole grains, nut butters, low sugar granola, and cook with healthy oils like coconut oil, grass-fed butter and use more olive oil and hemp oil on your salads. I don’t recommend embracing fast food, since it is void of nutrition, but instead, increase the density of healthy foods. This will help anorexia survivors gain weight without having to stuff themselves at each meal, and will help binge eaters get more nutrients that nourish their brain, fill them up, and will ultimately prevent binge eating by regulating the appetite.
7. Ditch Pills
One of the hardest things for me learning to recover was to give up the medicine cabinet full of supplements I took. I had become accustomed to popping all types of supplements just because I thought they would help me stay skinny, avoid eating, or do something else for me nutritionally. Now, I only take what most women are advised to take by a doctor or specialist: a quality multivitamin, a Vitamin D for calcium absorption and bone health, fish oil pills for depression, a probiotic for healthy gut flora and if I can’t sleep, magnesium pills, which help relax the body and naturally provide sleep help. If you drink or smoke, please give those up. I know that is harder than I could know, and I’ve never been a drinker or smoker, but stimulants and drugs will only prolong your disorder, not help you. You can heal without those stimulants, and your energy level, true health and happiness are waiting for you without them!
I realize I’m not an expert on eating disorders, but I have spent a lifetime with all aspects of one, and so many methods for recovery did not work for me. These did. I’m not a doctor and none of this should be taken as medical advice, but I can tell you that life is pretty awesome without an eating disorder’s painful imprisonment. In fact, it rocks! I wouldn’t be where I am without these specific 7 steps I implemented. Give yourself time. It took me 3 years to completely heal. Recovery is a process. Embrace the journey. Do you know anyone with an eating disorder and how they finally recovered?