Updated: Aug 13
We, as humans, think about food every day.
It’s a natural instinct - we have evolved with natural mechanisms like hunger cues to ensure that we are fueling our bodies and have energy to go about our daily life. Hunger cues and thoughts about food keep us alive and healthy.
For most people, these thoughts are normal, and they will go through life with a generally healthy relationship with food. However for people suffering from eating disorders, they often ignore these hunger cues in favour of restriction and deprivation. Thoughts about food will morph from things like ‘I feel hungry, maybe I should eat!’ to ‘Don’t eat today, you haven’t exercised’. It is very easy to fall prey to eating disorder thoughts - they feel overpowering, and trying to fight them feels overwhelming and pointless.
The fact of the matter is that eating disorders are driven by thoughts and feelings; decisions, conscious or unconscious, that impact your food choices, the perception of your body…
Without these difficult thoughts and feelings, there is no eating disorder - which is why in recovery, the idea is to challenge those thoughts and feelings, and mend the broken relationship with your body. The hard work that comes with recovery is often a barrier that prevents many people from seeking help - challenging eating disorder thoughts and feelings is difficult. However there are strategies that can make it easier, and in this blog post, we will be exploring various tips on how you can challenge your eating disorder brain.
Guilt, shame and fear are common feelings one might experience during recovery - while recovery will look different for everyone, there is a good chance these feelings will crop up every once in a while.
When challenging ED rules, it is expected that one may experience some discomfort, mainly driven from these thoughts and feelings. However you do not have to grin and bear it - there are many strategies one can use to manage tricky thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness; the practice of being present and aware in the moment, and treating thoughts and feelings that arise without judgement. Mindfulness is known to reduce anxiety and support emotional regulation - two things that are very important when dealing with potentially anxiety provoking situations in recovery.
So how can I implement mindfulness in recovery?
By drawing your focus and attention towards the present, instead of worrying about what may happen in the future, as well as viewing all thoughts through the same neutral lens, you can focus on the challenge in front of you, and distance yourself from any negative thoughts.
You can practise mindfulness in many ways; meditation, deep breathing and body scanning are all popular options.
Discover various healthy coping mechanisms
In the past, your eating disorder was used as a primary coping mechanism to deal with whatever underlying issue, however in recovery, one will need to find healthier alternatives - particularly when under stress from the eating disorder. Creative expression such as writing, drawing and journaling can be great outlets, and practises such as meditation and mindfulness are great options that also reduce anxiety. One of the wonderful things that comes with eating disorder recovery, is rediscovering who you are away from the eating disorder - and re-engaging with past hobbies is a great way to achieve it.
Develop a strong support system
Whilst they cannot recover for you, having a strong support system is a great way to ensure that you have comfort and encouragement from external sources.
Friends, family and professionals are great outlets to turn to when times get tough.
One strategy many find useful in recovery is directly challenging or talking back to thoughts and comments the eating disorder may throw at you.
If the eating disorder tell you;
“Don’t eat today, you haven’t exercised.”
You can respond with,
“I don’t have to earn food. Food is fuel for life.”
This helps you take away the power from the eating disorder - you know exactly what to say back when confronted with difficult thoughts, and you have the opportunity to personalise these comebacks to be most effective for you.
Practise self compassion.
Self compassion involves taking compassion and applying inwards to oneself, treating yourself with kindness, empathy without judgement. Eating disorder recovery is difficult, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. There is an expectation that when recovering from a mental illness, you must be constantly fighting, but being overwhelmed is completely normal. It’s important to feel a spectrum of emotions.
Recognise the work you are doing and appreciate yourself for it.
Challenging the eating disorder brain is extremely difficult - one can often feel very overwhelmed by the various thoughts and feelings that may arise, especially when recovering. However there are many strategies available to make it easier; mediation, challenging thoughts directly, finding a support system as well as practising self compassion can all help take the power away from the eating disorder, making recovery a significantly easier process.
It’s important to remember; recovery isn’t a linear process. There will be ups and downs, however the life that remains at the end will be worth it.