Category Archives: anxiety management

Repel the Relapse: 8 Tips for Staying on Track in Recovery from an Eating Disorder

Image result for freedom

It happens to us all at some point in our journey from sickness to health: we hear a comment, see a magazine article, or wake up with rose-tinted glasses that throw us back into a tirade of insidious thoughts, ideas, and what if I just‘s.
What if I just exercise more?
What if I just restrict a little bit?
What if I lose just ten pounds?
What if I just cut out xyz?
What if I just…?
And of course: I’d feel so much better if I was thinner.

STOP.
The answer is you won’t. You’ll feel worse. You will always feel worse.

Engaging in eating disordered habits will mean spiralling down right back into the hellish Pit of Misery. You can convince yourself that you won’t end up there, but you will. And even if you don’t, engaging in any kind of eating disordered habits isn’t exactly taking a vacation to Disney World. It’s dark and dangerous, and it is joyless.

Here are some things to think about when you can feel the pull of a relapse:

  1. Ask yourself this: what did your eating disorder give you? How did you benefit from it? Okay, I know it made you thin, but what did you actually gain from being thin? Did it give you stable, healthy relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners? Did it find you a fulfilling job? Did it buy you a nice home? Did it contribute towards your education? Did it make you feel better about yourself? Did it bring you happiness? I imagine the answer is no. Eating disorders help us feel in control (which is only an illusion), but beyond that, they don’t give us anything real.
  2. Think about your own personal reasons for recovery. Write them down and think about them. Is it worth abandoning those goals for the sake of losing weight? Your reasons might include the things mentioned in number 1. They might also include decreased anxiety, trips out with friends, being present in your day to day experiences, keeping your body healthy in order to have children, being involved in your hobbies and passions, being able to enjoy social events, being able to enjoy food, improved sleep, having time to do the things you want to do, dedicating your energy towards enjoying life, being productive and fulfilled by doing things that matter to you and are important, physically feeling a million times better, and regaining your identity.
  3. Use your support network. Friends, family, partners, doctors, therapists, helplines, online support forums – USE THEM! They are there to help you and are often crucial in remaining strong and continuing on in your journey. You may feel ashamed or like you have failed, but that isn’t the case – we all slip backwards at one point or another. It’s all part of the journey. Don’t suffer in silence: seek support.
  4. Eliminate negative influences. Get rid of those triggering gossip/women’s magazines that spout diet culture bullshit. Unfollow those accounts on social media that make you feel like you are doing recovery wrong. Stop looking at that vegan paleo raw blogger who survives off smashed avocado and vegetable juice and works out 7 days a week because it makes her SO HAPPPPPPY (it doesn’t). Follow people who are crushing their eating disorder, eating fear foods, and resting. Follow people who are body positive and food positive. Follow people don’t set rules for what health looks like – because it is different for everyone. Cut toxic people out of your life. Assert your boundaries with your loved ones who comment on your body/food choices/lifestyle/exercise habits or who won’t stop talking about the diet that they are on. Motivate yourself to move forwards by using the positive influence of those who truly push you onward.
  5. If you find yourself missing food here and there, make yourself a schedule. Ensure you eat regularly and consistently. If you find yourself making excuses not to eat, then you may just have to put yourself on a more rigid plan until you are able to go back to eating intuitively. Three meals, three snacks. Adequate amounts, and no excuses not to eat them.
  6. Know your warning signs! If you find you are:
    – Finding reasons not to eat/avoiding situations involving food
    – Increasing your exercise
    – Weighing yourself again/more regularly
    – Worrying about food/weight/exercise
    – Changing the way you dress/hiding your body
    – Body checking/spending time scrutinising your body in the mirror
    – Cutting out certain foods or thinking about cutting out certain foods
    – Desiring control
    – Withdrawing
    – Hiding disordered behaviour from others
    – Feeling like you NEED to change how your body looks
    – Feeling guilt after eating/resting
    then any of these could mean that you are approaching a relapse or in a relapse. If you know what your own warning signs are, and are able to recognise if you find yourself doing/thinking those things, then you will be able to address and resolve the problem a lot quicker. This will enable you to bring yourself out of a relapse/prevent a relapse before it snowballs into something more ingrained. It may also be a good idea to tell your partner, friends, and family what these red flags are so that if you are unable to see them in yourself when they happen, they can point them out and support you in getting back on track.
  7. Remember that recovery isn’t linear, and every setback is an opportunity to learn and take bigger steps forwards. Some of my most important lessons learnt were during the slip ups that I made during my recovery. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and don’t let the tide sweep you up and carry you back. Keep wading upstream, and take the knowledge with you for next time.
  8. Keep busy and use distraction techniques. This list is not exclusive but here are some ideas of what to do when you are sitting with anxiety/guilt/relapse temptations:
    – Watch a movie
    – Read a book
    – Write
    – Paint or draw
    – Blog
    – Collage
    – Knit or sew
    – Research something you are interested in
    – Play XBOX
    – Play games on your phone
    – Do fun internet quizzes
    – Play computer games
    – Call a friend or family member
    – Meet up with someone
    – Watch a documentary
    – Play a musical instrument
    – Do homework
    – Tidy your room
    – Do some internet shopping
    – Take photographs
    – Do puzzles

Write these tips down. Save this article to your bookmarks if it helps. Make a reasons to recover/reasons not to relapse poster or screensaver. Watch my YouTube video on that topic here. Remind yourself how strong and brave and beautiful you are. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna make it through. Keep on trekking on, and you can and WILL beat your eating disorder.

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How To Cope At Christmas: A Rough Guide For Those With Eating Disorders

christmas-anxiety

We are just two days away from Christmas, and people are stocking up on food, wine, and last minute presents. This time of year is always filled with trepidation for those of you with eating disorders. It’s a holiday focused around alcohol, food, and family, and at least two of the former bring on that familiar rising panic for lots of people suffering or recovering from eating disorders, whereas for the rest of us, it’s generally just the one (family; I’m talking about family).

If you are someone with an eating disorder, and you are approaching Christmas Day with dread, you are not alone, and you can get through it. It is probably going to be a tough day, but there are steps you can take to make the most of it. Here are my suggestions on how to get through the day:

Focus on Family

Food is a big part of Christmas for most people, but you don’t have to let that be your main focus. Prioritise your family and/or friends and/or partner and enjoy their company. Catch up on the gossip, take part in the board games, and sing along to the carols with grandma. Spend time doing what is enjoyable for you. If your family can make this easier for you, let them know how. Maybe it means trying to keep the topic of conversation away from food. Maybe it means keeping food in the dining room and having the lounge as a food-free zone. Maybe it means going out for a walk with your siblings to get a bit of fresh air and space. Whatever you do, try to keep the focus on the company of those you love, and enjoying the time spent with them.

Set Boundaries with Loved Ones

This is a day that everyone should be able to enjoy to their very best, so do take the time to talk to the people that you will be spending your time with and set your boundaries for the day. This could mean asking them to refrain from talking about New Year’s diets, making food-moralising remarks, or reminding them not to comment on any of your eating habits. Do not be afraid to voice your needs. It is important to make clear what you need from them in order for you to enjoy the day.

Challenge Yourself…But Not Too Much

A huge part of the anxiety of the day is that there will be a lot of delicious food around that you will want to eat but also will not want to eat, and that’s the fight between you and your eating disorder. For a lot of people, this battle is going to go on all day, and that can make the day extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking (see Focus on Family for ways to minimise this). This is also a great time to challenge yourself, but a time to not push it too far: you don’t want to make the day even more stressful by pushing yourself to the limit. One way to go about using this day as a manageable challenge is to make rough plan of what you might eat that day. This will give you a guideline that might help you feel a little more contained, but could involve trying something new or facing a fear food. Try not to restrict yourself as much a you can, but it’s okay if you need to feel safe for a day that is so difficult already.

Take Care of Yourself 

You may be around people this Christmas that will not respect your boundaries or may be insensitive or ignorant to your recovery. They may talk about the triggering topics which I mentioned in the “Set Boundaries With Loved Ones” section above, such as complaining that they have put on weight/are going to put on weight, lamenting that they have eaten “too much”, are being “naughty” or “bad” because they are “indulging”, or moaning that they need to go on a diet because of that. Please ignore them. They are battling their own insecurities and are looking for reassurance that what they are doing is okay and that other people feel the same and that they are not alone. This is really, really sad, and something that no one should have to feel. Enjoying the Christmas food is part of the festivity, and no one should have to feel guilty for it. Know that other people’s worries are not a reflection on you, and you should keep in mind that it is not something positive that they are experiencing, but guilt, anxiety, and insecurity. So instead of letting their negativity impact on you, empathise with them, as guilt, anxiety, and insecurity are emotions that you are likely experiencing also (albeit on a much grander scale to those who do not have eating disorders). Keep moving forwards towards your goals. Keep moving forward on your journey towards health and happiness. Keep in mind your motivations, and remember that the way you respond to others affects you primarily.

Leave the room for a bit if you need to. Take yourself off for a relaxing bath or a nap or to read a book. Go for a stroll. Have a quiet word with that relative who keeps calling the chocolate yule log “bad”. Just take care of yourself and do what you need to do, for you, to have the best day that you can. Do not be afraid to speak up. You need this. You deserve this.

If you are someone who has an un-supportive, highly triggering family, do know that it is okay to decide not to see them at all. If you want to spend Christmas with yourself, your partner, your partner’s family, your friends, or your pets, do it. Do what is best for you. Do what you need to do to continue moving forwards. Do what you need and you deserve to continue working towards health and happiness. Make positive choices, and don’t feel guilty about them. This is what you need. This is what you deserve.

Move On

Christmas is unfortunately never going to be an easy time for those with eating disorders, and it often means that those people go into it with anxiety, and leave it with guilt. It is okay to experience those feelings: you are not alone and those feelings are not your fault. However, you have to keep remembering that these negative emotions are caused by your eating disorder and the control that it has over your life. Keep fighting the war against it, and don’t respond to those negative feelings. You are going to be okay and you can get through this. Christmas will be over in a blink of an eye, and then it is time to put it behind you and move on from that day. Don’t carry the stress from it with you. Let the day go. Remember that it is absolutely, 110%, super okay to eat more than usual, go outside your meal plan, eat “normally”, or respond to extreme hunger (this applies for always, of course). It is okay to put on weight. It is okay to enjoy yourself. The guilt of going against those eating disorder rules can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that this is part of recovery. Going against your eating disorder and doing what you deserve is part of fighting the battle inside your head. Eating whatever you want, whenever you want, is the goal, and so if you were able to do that for a day, or two, or more, or even if you were able to eat a little more than normal, you are making small steps towards achieving that outcome. That is a wonderful thing.

If the anxiety is becoming overwhelming, check out my article on anxiety management here.

Anxiety Management

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Anxiety can feel extremely overwhelming when in recovery for an eating disorder. As I talked about in the FAQ, it is pretty much impossible to avoid anxiety when it comes to the recovery process, and that is one of the reasons as to why recovery is so difficult.

Again, as I have said in the FAQ, I use this metaphor for eating disorders and recovery: There is a terrifying dragon in your garden, and every time you try to leave your house the dragon tries to eat you. You have a choice: you can resign yourself to being trapped in your house forever, or you can find a weapon and go out and fight it.
These are the choices you have regarding your eating disorder. You can either choose to remain trapped by it or you can face yours fears and fight it. You can only make the anxiety calm down and eventually stop altogether by facing your fears regarding food, weight, and other eating disorder habits. You can only make it stop by going against your eating disorder. For example, check out this path below:

path

This path has been created by people walking along it. Someone walked that way then another person did then another, and they all kept walking over this one track more and more, making the path deeper and more worn in until it was a very clear path that everyone would now automatically follow rather than walking along the grass beside it. This is what happens in your brain: the more you do something the more it becomes the norm to follow. So if you respond to your eating disorder over and over again, that becomes the habit to follow and not doing it creates anxiety. When you fight against your eating disorder, you start treading on the grass that isn’t the path. At first this is anxiety-provoking and scary, because it is not the norm, and it will continue to be scary for a while, but each time you are making more of a path in a different route. Eventually, that route will become a solid pathway, and the other one will start to disappear as grass starts to grow on it again. Eventually the old route will disappear and the new one will become the norm. What I am saying is that to do new things creates new neural pathways in the brain, making your new behaviours eventually become normalised (right now your old behaviours – those created by your eating disorder – are normalised because you have repeated them so often). This is when the anxiety will start to lessen. The more you do something the easier it will become, and eventually it will become easy, and the norm.

So anxiety is going to be something that you experience during your recovery. Maybe that anxiety occurs before you challenge yourself, maybe it occurs during, or maybe it occurs after, but either way, it’s there, and you don’t know what to do about it. You probably feel like responding to your eating disorder, which is probably telling you either not to challenge yourself, or to compensate for doing so. Ignore that voice. I know it is extremely hard but that voice is trying to make you sick. It is trying to get you to live in misery. Ultimately, it is trying to kill you. So how do you cope with that extreme anxiety when it is upon you?

anxiety

One thing that is important is distinguishing its voice from yours. Recognise what is you, and what is the eating disorder. Argue with it. Use your rationality. Use your logic. Use the facts against the negative feelings it is trying to evoke in you. Beat it with logic.

One of the best ways to deal with anxiety is to use distraction techniques. When you are feeling anxious, distract yourself by doing what you can get most absorbed in. Here is a list of suggestions:

  • Watch a movie
  • Read a book
  • Write
  • Paint or draw
  • Blog
  • Collage
  • Knit or sew
  • Research something you are interested in
  • Play XBOX
  • Play games on your phone
  • Do fun internet quizzes
  • Play computer games
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Meet up with someone
  • Watch a documentary
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Do homework
  • Tidy your room
  • Do some internet shopping
  • Take photographs
  • Do puzzles

Puzzles in particular are very good for distraction as they really engage your mind and so distract you from the negative emotions you are experiencing.

Other things that you can do include:

  • Doing things which evoke a different emotion in you from the one you are experiencing. This could mean reading emotional books or letters, or looking at photos that bring up happy memories. It could mean watching films that evoke a different emotion to anxiety, such as a comedy, romance, or even a horror! It’s also good to listen to happy music when feeling sad, or calm music when feeling anxious. We tend to listen to angry music when we are angry, or sad music when we are sad, but this only reinforced the emotion rather than helping it to settle down.
  • If you are really, really anxious, and feel like you can’t contain yourself and are reaching a very intense level of anxiety, you can use the ice diving technique. If you are on beta blockers, have a heart condition, or any other medical condition, consult a healthcare provider before doing this. The ice diving technique means filling a bowl with ice, and sticking your face in it. This lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, which helps with distressing emotions and reactions and lowers the anxiety levels. It can take around 15-30 seconds for the effects to occur.
  • Changing your environment can be good when you are anxious. Whether that means going to an imaginary safe place in your head, going to a place in your house where you feel most safe, going for a brief calm walk, or going to a friends house, a change in scenery can help calm you down.
  • Keep your reasons to recover in mind and find purpose in those negative emotions. For example: “I’m doing this because I want to recover.” Knowing that these negative emotions are playing a part in moving forwards can help.
  • Relax your body. Tensing up, which is a natural reaction to anxiety and stress, signals to your body that you are in danger and therefore continues to make you feel anxious. Try to relax. Let your shoulders drop. Lean back into a sofa or lie down on the bed. Unclench your muscles. This signals to your body that you are not in danger, and so can decrease anxiety.

Anxiety relating to recovery from an eating disorder is unpleasant at best, and overwhelmingly awful at worst, but it is something that can be managed, and something that will improve when it as your recovery progresses. If you can, do get a therapist to help you to help yourself throughout this difficult time. Hang in there, you can do this!