Keeping your eating disorder recovery on track

Many of you who we’ve been in contact over the COVID-19 pandemic have told us that the uncertainty is just as worrying as the virus itself. During these uncertain times is it normal, and very human to feel scared. You may even find yourself feeling increasingly vulnerable to negative emotions so keeping your recovery on track may well feel more difficult when you are feeling an overwhelming loss of control.

However, there are a few things you can do to take care of you and ensure your Eating Disorder doesn’t take the lead in trying to get some control back in your life.  Here are 6 tips from the Specialist Eating Disorder Service to help you do just that.

Stay connected and build your support network

As we are all being encouraged to practice social distancing, it’s easy to feel cut off from others. You may struggle with isolation and feel you are on your own. But don’t forget, you are not alone. Reach out to friends and family via video calls, virtual groups and online games. Try virtual dinner dates and movie nights. You may even want to go ‘old school’ and give the old telephone call a try. Communicating and connecting with safe, recovery-positive, recovery-focused people will be even more important during this time. So like your broadband, keep a watchful eye on the quality of your connection. Remember, this is temporary. Arrangements to meet up might be cancelled or only safe to do at a distance but stay connected. 

‘Mind’ the gap

At a time of global uncertainty, when you have no idea what might happen next,  you’d be forgiven for letting your mind run away with itself,  filling the ’gap’ with all the possible worst-case-scenarios.  As our thoughts are linked to our feelings, it’s helpful to be aware/mindful of where your thoughts wander to.  Social distancing may well be a great opportunity for us all to practice a little mindfulness.  See below for some ideas on how:

Stay in the moment

Do your best to stay in the moment. Practice deep breathing. Use your senses to stay connected to the moment (What do I see/hear/smell/feel/taste right now?).  Search online for free guided visualizations and meditations.

Think outside yourself

Feeling helpful or useful to others is one way to maintain a positive sense of self. Consider ways you might give back.

Identify one thing a day you feel grateful for

Focusing on what we have versus what we do not can help us maintain a positive outlook.  Sometimes it’s the little things that count a lot.

Switch to self-compassion mode

Stressful times often trigger the temptation to fall back into old unhealthy patterns but remember a relapse/lapse is not a failure. Recognize that this is a reaction to what is going on in the world and remind yourself that those old behaviours, whilst numbing in the short term,  can cause/ accentuate serious long-term physical and mental health difficulties, potentially undoing all of the hard work you have put in so far. 

Work towards reconnecting with healthy coping strategies. Try to be as neutral as you can about foods and push back against “good” and “bad” food thoughts. In line with being compassionate towards yourself, give yourself permission to eat what you need.  See our Nutrition advice sheet for additional advice.

Push back against lockdown exercise guilt

Limiting or avoiding exercise may well have been an important step forward for you in your recovery.  However,  the pressure of quarantine/lockdown, the not so subtle messages to ‘keep moving’ and the change of daily routines can be triggering. Social media posts seem to be piling on the pressure to be more active and to be as “productive as possible” as well as adding an unhealthy amount of guilt for those of us not able/unwilling to try to “keep up”.

As advised above, ‘switch to self-compassion’ mode and do what is best for you and your recovery right now.  Don’t be afraid to un-follow!  Remember, you still need enough food even when you are doing less and you do not  need to compensate or punish yourself for being less active (by restricting food or over-exercising). Even if the odd social media posts slips through and makes you feel like you aren’t doing enough, remember your goal is to do enough to keep your recovery going in the right direction. 

If you want to keep active, it might help to remember that group activities are easier to manage in recovery than solo routines, as these can easily become obsessive.  So ditch the intense workouts for fun activities with the rest of your family. Let the dance battles begin!

Eat, sleep, self-care, repeat

Establishing a healthy daily routine is a good strategy for keeping your recovery on track and can support you to manage triggers. Remember, whatever the routine was that you had a few weeks ago, or even a year ago, may look very different now. But that’s ok. Let’s pencil this new routine in as your “While You Wait (for life to get back to normal) plan”. Our dietitians recommend eating regular meals and snacks on a schedule similar to the one you’re used to and sticking to your meal plan.

Sleep is important too. With the general lack of daily order, the temptation may be to stay up/wake up later and sleep more. However, we would advise following a regular sleep pattern to help balance your mood and make your nutrition schedule less confusing for you.

Keep going - because recovery is worth it

With all this uncertainty it might be helpful to remind yourself of the one thing that is certain… that recovery is most definitely worth it.

Now might be a time to revisit or write that Dear Future Self letter as a reminder of where you hope to be and why.  No doubt you will have already recognised and listed the numerous ways your ED has been holding you back from “living your best life”.  Although, few of us are doing much of that right now, when this is over, you’ll want to make sure you are ready to pick up your healing journey and carry on making great steps/leaps towards living a full and happy life. You’ll be glad you kept going, because recovery really is worth it and so are you.