Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, are mental health conditions that affect an individual’s eating behaviors and relationship with food and can result in serious medical complications. With a proper treatment plan, recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Treatment may include therapeutic interventions, social support, and various coping mechanisms and/or self-care techniques.
How to overcome an eating disorder
There are several different types of eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Symptoms of an eating disorder may vary depending on the type of eating disorder and your own personal experience. As such, eating disorder recovery and treatment requirements can vary from person to person .
Overcoming an eating disorder can be a difficult process that may take some time. There are many self-care tips and techniques you can utilize that could make your recovery journey feel more manageable, such as :
Speak to someone: The first step to overcoming an eating disorder is to accept that there is an issue that needs addressing and discussing it with someone you trust. By talking about your eating disorder with someone, you can share any emotional distress you may be feeling and receive helpful support.
Ask for help: Seeking help can be frightening but is the best way to recover from an eating disorder. There are professionals who are trained to support and guide you through this process.
Learn from others: Attend a support group or speak with others online who have had similar experiences with eating disorders. This can help you learn coping strategies, receive support, and feel less alone.
Learn about your condition: Learn more about your eating disorder and the potential medical consequences. Also learn about your body and what it needs to be healthy and strong. Educating yourself can help you make positive changes to your thoughts and behaviors and remind you why you want to overcome the eating disorder.
Increase your self-esteem: Often, eating disorders are associated with low self-esteem and confidence, particularly dissatisfaction with body image or body weight. Try some techniques that can help increase your self-esteem such as complimenting yourself, writing down positives, and asking others what they value.
Recognize your triggers: You might find it helpful to keep a diary of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors associated with your eating disorder. This can help you to recognize the negative thoughts that lead to disordered eating behaviors and provide an opportunity to utilize coping strategies when these thoughts emerge, instead of engaging in unhealthy behaviors.
Have hobbies: Take time to do things you enjoy and engage in your hobbies, such as spending time with friends, drawing, listening to music, reading, or going for a walk. These activities can help to boost your mood and may reduce negative thoughts and behaviors.
Distract yourself: If you find that there are certain times of the day that you struggle the most with your eating disorder symptoms, such as after meals or late in the evening, try to distract yourself at these times to prevent thinking about or engaging in unhealthy behaviors.
Set goals: Write down a list of goals for the future, such as places you want to visit, career goals, or accomplishments you hope to achieve. Having goals for the future can be a motivational factor in recovery and remind you why are trying to get better.
Have a relapse plan: Recovery can be a long and challenging process, and it is not uncommon for relapse to happen during this time. Having a plan in place to manage a relapse can help you feel more in control and remind you of positive coping strategies you can utilize if you begin to struggle at any point.
Attend all appointments: Ensuring you attend all planned appointments and therapy sessions, as well as engaging in any work that has been set for you, is a crucial part of overcoming an eating disorder. If it feels overwhelming or difficult, try not to avoid attending and instead ask a loved one to go with you for support.
Externalize the eating disorder: Some people find it useful to think of their eating disorder as an external entity, that is separate from their own identity. This could mean saying things such as ‘The eating disorder is telling me not to eat’ or ‘The eating disorder thinks I’m fat’. This can help to separate negative thoughts and behaviors from the part of you that wants to get better, while helping you regain your own identity or sense of self and take ownership of your actions.
When to seek professional help
If you think you have an eating disorder, it is advised to seek professional advice and intervention as early as possible. Early intervention can help you recover from your condition effectively as well as prevent medical complications .
Eating disorders can cause serious physical health issues, such as heart problems, hormonal deficiencies, malnutrition, neurological impairments, and even death, so it is important to seek treatment to prevent these issues from occurring or worsening .
Your doctor can provide you with an appropriate diagnosis and refer you to specialists who can help in your recovery process, such as specialized mental health therapists, and dieticians .
Input from various mental health professionals can help you manage and reduce your symptoms. Professionals can provide education around your condition and teach you healthier eating habits and behaviors. Professionals can also provide insight into any underlying emotional causes and consequences of your eating disorder .
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National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). (2020). Eating Disorders: Recognition and Treatment. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (NICE Guideline, No. 69.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK568394/
Naomi is a qualified Mental Health Nurse, with several years of experience working in hospitals with people of all ages and a variety of mental health conditions. She now uses that experience to help spread awareness and information.
Published date: 05 May 2023, Last edited date: 18 May 2023
Morgan Blair is a freelance writer and licensed mental health therapist. Morgan holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University in clinical mental health counseling and owns her own therapy practice in Denver, Colorado.
Content reviewed by a medical professional. Date reviewed: 05 May 2023