5 Expert Tips for Eating Disorder Recovery
Updated: Apr 24
In this blog post, I will share some of my own lived experience tips for healthy anorexia recovery. I first experienced disordered eating in my elementary years when I started becoming aware of my changing female body and when the comparisons between us "growing girls" started being made with different tones and inflections and meanings. I entered high school with an affinity toward comfort foods and had gained weight since my parent's divorce. I ended up in therapy for disordered eating after dropping below an unhealthy under(weight) BMI and experiencing health complications including hair loss and menstrual cycle loss. Both of these are signs of severe anorexia, yet the media always made it seem like unless these two conditions were met, you weren't really as sick as the sick girls.
If you are wondering if you are sick enough to be considered sick and deserving of getting help or treatment for an eating disorder, you are already sick enough.
And while it has been years since I was in danger of anorexia or Ana's grip on my life, the risk of relapse is not lost on me. I have, in fact, relapsed back in my 20s (at least once). Still, I live by the lessons learned in anorexia recovery and have used these tips and words of wisdom to guide me through relapse potential, food triggers, and everyday stressors that undeniably exist when you live in a society that is plagued by disordered eating images, messages, and stereotypes. It has been a much more peaceful and healthy last stretch of years, especially since I started seeing following tips like these as an advantage instead of a crutch. Taking your recovery into your own hands is a powerful pursuit, let's go.
Tip #1 - Forgive yourself
Let's be honest, realizing you have anorexia isn't an easy thing to do. Sure, you may see signs that your weight loss efforts or desire to tone has gone to extremes, but it can be very challenging to see you're in trouble with disordered eating until your health begins to suffer. By this time, it can be easy to start blaming yourself for letting it get out of control (because you were supposed to be able to have this weight thing under control now, right?) and it can be even more challenging admitting the harms the effort to lose weight or follow a popular diet or stay at an unhealthy weight for your body type has had on your body and mind. You may feel judged by others and, with the immense stigma that still exists around anorexia, you may feel like this is all your fault and like you got this wrong, too.
You didn't do anything wrong, and this is not your fault. Recovering from this illness will be easier if you can forgive yourself for any harms done to your health up until this point. If you can work to accept what's done is done but your body and brain and digestive tract can heal again, you can find some hope here. Recovery works to recover your health in most cases.
Forgiving yourself will also require coming to terms with the relentless drive to be thinner, the intense and panic-inducing fear of gaining weight, and the desire to risk your health for thin privilege. Recovery in this respect requires a lot of self compassion, grace, and, for me, a lot of learning about how outside factors play big roles in someone's likelihood of developing an eating disorder and influencing how disordered thinking can get "rooted" in your thinking patterns. P.S. Cognitive behavioural therapy can help with disordered eating and thinking patterns.
Tip #2 - Accept that anyone can be diagnosed with anorexia, and that includes you
Accepting that this is a real diagnosis that can impact anyone is part of the process of forgiving yourself and finding a path to recovery. You do not need to look any certain way to be affected by anorexia.
" You cannot tell if a person is struggling with anorexia by looking at them. A person does not need to be emaciated or underweight to be struggling. Studies have found that larger-bodied individuals can also have anorexia, although they may be less likely to be diagnosed due to cultural prejudice against fat and obesity." - National Eating Disorder Association
Tip #3 - Commit to learning about how anorexia can impact your future in negative ways
If you think you may have anorexia, there are some really strong and supportive next steps you can take to help yourself recover both your physical and mental health. First, you can take an online screening questionnaire to see if you may benefit from talking to a professional about eating disorders.
Early treatment can help prevent the illness from causing lasting health complications and it is also known to help in relapse prevention (ie., the earlier you get treatment, the better it is all around for your recovery process).
If you already have a therapist, you can bring up the topic of anorexia and try to be open about what you're experiencing and how you relate to signs and symptoms of anorexia. If you don't currently have a therapist, you can reach out to a national eating disorder organization like the National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC) in Canada or the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) in the United States.
Additionally, one of the most helpful things I did to recover from anorexia was continuously learn about the ways in which living underweight was actually unhealthy. I had to do this as part of the process of unlearning the diet industry lies that were keeping me sick.
Tip #4 - Seek some external support
Eating disorders are truly complex illnesses. Many factors contribute to whether or not someone will develop anorexia, including their genetics, home environment, cultural messaging around body image and the beauty myth, media exposure to glamorized disordered eating, etc. It is more than okay and understandable and reasonable to require more support in your eating disorder recovery journey.
Additional external support may come in the form of reaching out to a more specialized and eating disorder aware / trauma-informed trained therapist and it may also include joining online support groups.
Some people will require some form of in-patient treatment. It's not always known what treatment method will be most beneficial or helpful to the person, so know that if something doesn't feel right in your recovery, it's within your right to ask for different types of support or switch up your treatment plan and approach as time goes on.
What works in the early recovery days may not be necessary later on and what is necessary later on may not be worth doing in the early stages where recovery really does mostly focus on getting you to a healthy enough place to do the work of recovering... which brings me to my next tip on anorexia recovery.
Tip #5 - Avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope during recovery
Depending where you are in your life and what kind of access you have to recreational drugs and alcohol or communities and media that normalize excessive drinking or alcohol use, you may be tempted to turn to self-medicating in the recovery process. This is common because recreational (ie., non-medicinal) substances can make us feel better in the very short term. In recovery though they serve to make matters worse and delay healing.
Try your hardest to avoid using recreational and non-medicinal drugs and alcohol during this period because it will only extend the recovery process. Drugs without medicinal properties and alcohol may make things feel better very temporarily, but they contribute to health problems and can also lower your inhibitions which makes it harder to do the work involved in recovery in the first place and maintain your personal recovery commitments.
If drugs and alcohol do become a potential problem during your recovery, bear in mind it's actually quite common and talking to your support team about it is best. Again, this may be a situation where you decide to add another level or layer of support to your recovery and seek drug and alcohol counselling or peer counselling or online and in-person programs for addictions, too.
You deserve support
If you're reading this and wondering if it applies to you, hi, hello! It does. I wrote this for you. If you want to read more of my eating disorder blog content, you can do so for free here. If you want to read my eating disorder recovery memoir I wrote at age seventeen and added recovery essays to in my 30s, you can order a copy today. Buy Ana, Mia & Me on Amazon.