Suffering and recovering from an eating disorder is a very debilitating and challenging experience. There are various types of eating disorders, usually characterised by significantly restricted eating or over-eating. This can affect daily functioning and distort one’s body image perception. It is important for those who suffer disordered eating to seek professional treatment from physical and mental health professionals. However, the following tips can also assist in beginning the process of returning to a healthier lifestyle:
Eat regular meals
Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular times can prevent feelings of hunger throughout the day, which can in turn reduce the urge to binge eat. It also maintains energy levels throughout the day that are required for work, and having the self-control to maintain a regular eating and exercise pattern. For those who struggle to finish a full meal, even attempting to eat these three meals, whether or not they are completed, can still contribute to lifestyle regularity and provide a regular source of energy.
Eat meals with others
If a person eats alone, they may resort to not finishing the meal or over-eating when no one can see. Also, eating with familiar others can reduce anxiety about eating, as it can reassure you that everyone needs to eat in order to maintain physical functioning. Conversing about topics other than food whilst eating can also be an effective way of reducing anxiety at these times as it removes the focus from food.
Eat healthy food
Highly processed foods tend to release high levels of dopamine into the brain due to their high sugar content and the presence of other artificial ingredients. This makes junk food an addictive substance. Therefore, it is important for those who over-eat and under-eat to eat less processed foods that are nutritious and high in protein, iron, and other vitamins and minerals. They will have positive effects on the body and mind and will make binge eating less likely.
Avoid scales and mirrors
Constantly weighing oneself, and checking one’s reflection in the mirror for fat, is not beneficial for those who suffer eating disorders. Having a constant obsession with weight can be debilitating, especially if it overtakes other aspects of your daily life. Those with eating disorders focused on weight loss tend to believe they are overweight no matter how light they are or what their reflection looks like; and those who over-eat may feel a sense of hopelessness if they constantly focus on how overweight they have become. Avoiding scales and mirrors can help you become more interested and focused on other important parts of life. It is important to recognise that your weight is not your identity.
Keep a thought diary
Keeping a diary of the thoughts and feelings experienced immediately before, during and after an episode of bingeing or purging can help identify what drives these behaviours – usually it has nothing to do with an actual need for food or exercise, and everything to do with how you perceive and judge yourself and your relationship with food.
Exercising regularly can improve your sense of self-esteem, and can also release built-up stress. Though exercise is good for us, remember that too much can have negative effects. Those with Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa will often exercise excessively, which leads to exhaustion, burnout, muscle strains and other injuries. Try to limit yourself to 30-60 minutes of exercise per day.
Eating disorders are not easily overcome. Seeking help from both physical and mental health professionals can greatly assist with the process, as they can aid you in understanding why you have an eating disorder, what impact it is having on your life and how to overcome it. Remember to be patient, as habits take time to change. It is also important to keep loved ones close by so that you feel supported and encouraged throughout your treatment.