How to Eat Healthy When Recovering from an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders suck.
There's really no two ways about it. An eating disorder is a serious, potentially life-threatening illness, and there's nothing fun about it. If you're one of the millions of people out there struggling with an ED, or making your way towards recovery, you have all of my compassion and love.
Getting back on track is hard.
Just remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. Having a bad day doesn't mean you're a bad person, and having a good day doesn't mean your struggle isn't real. If you're trying to figure out how to mend your relationship with food, or maybe you just need a few helpful tips, take a look at this advice. Your mileage may vary, and as always consult with your doctor if you're able to.
[I did my best to avoid any triggering images but if something on this card triggers you please feel free to let me know! You will have my sincerest apologies.]
I want to say this first and foremost: Eating something unhealthy is better than eating nothing at all.
Say it with me this time:
Eating something unhealthy is better than eating nothing at all.
I know that seems counter-intuitive, but think about it this way. Ice cream isn't a healthy food, but when you get your tonsils removed, it's recommended because your throat will be swollen and sore. The cold ice cream will help soothe the surgical injury, get you plenty of nutrients, and help you recover. An eating disorder is an illness. You are in recovery. Health is relative. Make the healthiest choice you're able to make.
Make a list of 'emergency' foods.
This is food you feel like you'll have an easier time eating even if you're struggling. Stuff that's gentle on your stomach. Some people choose really tasty foods (because the flavors will feel like a reward even through the difficulty), others choose really bland foods (because they'll draw less attention, and won't have strong smells). Do what feels right for you.
Tacos & quesadillas
Mac n' cheese
Bagels (plain or with butter)
Cereal & oatmeal
A regular eating schedule is important, but it might take a while for your body to adjust. In the meantime, listen to the signals your body is giving you. If your stomach is growling, you feel faint and weak, or if you just want food, give yourself permission to eat.
What about when you're not hungry?
This is going to happen. Your body is learning how to nourish itself again, and it's going to take time. Remember to have patience with yourself, and try out a few of these methods to help yourself along the way:
Sometimes if you're at a mealtime and you're struggling to finish, having the tv on can help you get through it. The distraction will keep you from focusing too much on the task, and the comfort of your favorite program will help you associate food with good things again.
If you have a calendar app in your phone or on your email, set a reminder so you don't forget to eat or miss a meal because you didn't feel hungry. Schedule enough time out of your day for meals.
If you know you need to eat soon and are worried you won't be able to, try chewing a piece of gum to remind your body that it's hungry. The chewing motion will kickstart that part of your brain, and your body will start generating the chemicals and acids that help with digestion.
Have something sugary early on
Our brains LOVE sugar. Some people feel like they have an easier time eating early in the day. Others try to take advantage of the times they feel like they can eat by adding something sugary to their meal. It makes them more likely to want some again later.
Don't do it alone
Obviously not everyone can afford to go to a special clinic for months at a time. That doesn't mean you have to struggle alone. Odds are you know someone who's dealt with the same issues. Reach out to sympathetic friends, family, teachers, whoever is in your life that understands and doesn't shame you for what you're going through. Schedule meals with them. Text them when you're having trouble and feel like you need support. It's not selfish or pathetic to ask for help.
Early and often. Listen to music you really like, read a chapter of a book you enjoy, take photos of fun places you see, draw something in your notebook. Taking care of yourself is a process. Make sure you celebrate the little victories so you don't get discouraged on your way to the big ones.
On easier days...
I've talked about bad days, but you're going to have better days too. Try to take advantage of them when you can, and reach for nutrient-rich foods. Keep in mind that this can be a slow process, and be ready and willing to forgive yourself if you don't reach your goals right away. When you are having a better day, reach for some of these options:
Part of being healthy means removing negativity and toxicity from your life. It's a struggle, but you can do it. You are strong and brave, and you are going to make it through. Tell yourself over and over. It might sound cheesy at first, but the more you hear it, the more you'll believe it.
Give yourself affirmations.
Start every day by telling yourself "I can do this", "I am beautiful" or "I am powerful". Say it out loud! Cover your mirror in sticky notes- reminders of your accomplishments, encouragements, and pictures that make you happy. You deserve to be happy, and you are allowed to make yourself happy. Set alerts in your phone to go off throughout the day telling you that you're doing a good job.
And don't accept 'no' for an answer.
If there's a tv show in your life that has triggering content, stop watching it. If there's a blog you follow that glorifies unhealthy behaviors, unfollow and block it. If there are people in your life that encourage bad habits, get rid of them (if you can). If you're stuck with these things, make sure you fortify yourself before these encounters, and comfort yourself afterwards. You are right. Eating disorders are an illness. You are not crazy or stupid for thinking so. Don't listen to anyone that tells you 'no they're not' or 'no, this is okay' or 'no, you don't deserve to be healthy'.
You can do this.
I believe in you. It's going to be hard, but you are strong enough to get through it. It's going to take time, but you deserve all the time you need. It's going to be rough, but your life is worth it. You are so, so brave. Don't give up.