How To Prioritise Your Eating Disorder Recovery During Stages Of Transition
Back to school, back to work and back to our daily stressors that may have become unfamiliar to us for a short, sweet moment. Now that the holiday season is over, we may find ourselves settling back into our familiar routines. Yet with any New Year, we are ultimately entering a period of change, and that can definitely bring forth a wave of emotions.
My name is Natasha and through lived experience, I have learnt about the ups and downs of recovery that often come along with transitional periods. I am still continuing my journey of recovery from an eating disorder everyday, however I have learnt some strategies that have helped me in making recovery-focused choices during unfamiliar times. The assistance of health professionals such as my psychologist and dietitian has broadened my understanding of eating disorders immensely. Seeking support has allowed me to experiment with techniques that have proved to be both helpful and unhelpful in periods of change.
For many individuals in the process of healing, significant transitional moments such as the first day of school, first day of work, beginning of a new year or even moving house or changing careers, can often be associated with feelings that can be quite scary. For some, this may prompt a sense of time pressure to recover. Others may feel afraid going back into environments where their disordered self once thrived. On the contrary, these beginnings might ignite fresh motivation to achieve recovery goals. Whatever recipe of emotions you might be experiencing, just know that these emotions are welcomed and are quite normal.
We do know that change is often hard for every human, however, it can be particularly difficult for those of us who are in the process of recovery. The disordered part of ourselves may thrive off vulnerability, and the introduction of common stressors like ‘first day back’s’ or changing routines can place added pressure on the individual.
We may find ourselves slowly slipping back into habits that once made us feel ‘comfortable’ and ‘safe’. Understandably, this is what humans crave when our environments around us are full of uncertainty.
But in order to overcome setbacks in recovery, here are a few tips to keep you thriving as you handle the inevitable transitions that life throws at us.
Throughout a transitional period, at least one other person should be aware of your situation. As scary as this sounds, you need to specifically outline your needs in the next couple of months. Doing this not only helps you and your recovery, but it also gives your special person/s an opportunity to feel a sense of purpose and spend some more time with you. The conversation doesn’t need to be a big deal, and you could even send a text if a discussion is too confronting. It could be as simple as …
Mum, I know that going back to work might change up my routine a little. At times I might feel stressed and might need some help prioritising my recovery. If it’s not too difficult, could you please send me a text before or after my main meals to check in on how I’m feeling and hold me accountable.
You’d be surprised to know that this helps your designated person/s as much as it helps you.
Sitting with your emotions
During the process of recovery, it can be common to feel a desire to engage in behaviours or thoughts that are quite harmful to your healing. The first step is acknowledging these thoughts or behaviours and being okay with it. It is not your fault that you feel this intense urge, but rather the eating disorder’s fault. Therefore, you shouldn’t validate feelings of guilt or anger towards yourself, because there’s no shame in experiencing this.
It may feel confusing because often we don’t think these thoughts are that bad, however this is just a distortion your unhealthy self tells you. When you can step outside your thoughts and realise what’s going on, you feel less of a pull to act on these. Furthermore, if some days do involve some bad habits, that too is okay. Recovery is not a linear journey and there will be many ups and downs.
A great exercise that can be done in most places when you notice a problematic urge or thought, is called the “what and why.” On a piece of paper or on your phone, write down the emotion you’re feeling, followed by a ‘why’. E.g I’m feeling very anxious. I’m feeling this because I will have to eat my lunch with work colleagues today, and that scares me. I’m feeling a strong urge to skip lunch today.
Often, you may find that writing out the situation relieves pressure, and may broaden your perspective. You may be strong enough to realise that your disordered self is actually driving these urges and make the brave decision to act against the thoughts.
Find some time every day to check in on how you’re feeling
Treat yourself like you would treat a friend or sibling going back to school/work. We are particularly susceptible to going into robot mode. This can be dangerous because often we don’t even notice how much we have slipped back into our old ways.
Having a daily conversation with your people who know your situation can really help. If sometimes this isn’t possible, exercises like writing down feelings, engaging in mindful activities or listening to podcasts can help with doing this.
Some great podcasts are available that only take up 10-20 minutes of your day. ‘ED Matters’ as well as Butterfly’s Let’s Talk podcast are great channels to start with.
Change is hard, but that’s okay. Being open and honest, especially on those extra hard days can only prompt growth. Continuing on with life is a good thing, and not letting your disordered self control your daily tasks anymore is an even better thing.
Natasha is an aspiring psychologist who loves to write. Lived experience has prompted her passion for helping others who are in the process of healing, and she hopes to be able to continue her work in the eating disorder field for many years to come.