Trying to recover from an eating disorder is a challenging feat with many obstacles. At times, you may feel like you are trying so hard not to engage in behaviors or are overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts that feel paralyzing. During these situations, feelings of shame and disappointment may arise; you might feel frustrated with yourself for continuing to struggle. However, using negative self-talk and feelings to drive your recovery does not work. Instead, practicing self-compassion is an imperative part of the process. Sometimes the idea of being compassionate with yourself can sound so foreign, given the self-destructive nature of many eating disorder behaviors. Here are some ways you can practice self-compassion throughout your recovery
Acknowledge the role of your eating disorder thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. During the course of your eating disorder, you have likely used your behaviors with food and body image to protect yourself from painful emotions and situations. Although this may have worked temporarily, they have been damaging to your physical and mental health. When disordered thoughts, feelings, or urges do come up, be gentle with yourself in recognizing that some part of you does not feel safe. Show yourself compassion by acknowledging this and that the eating disorder is trying to do its job, yet take a recovery action and implement healthier coping skills to regulate your emotions.
Recognize that recovery is a process. The fundamental issues, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with your disorder took some time to develop. Therefore, working through such underlying processes, rewiring your brain with more adaptive thoughts, learning how to emotionally regulate, and engaging in healthy coping behaviors will also take time. Be patient with yourself.
Remind yourself that your eating disorder is NOT you. Your eating disorder is one part of you, but it does not define you. When an eating disorder consumes your life, you may find that it may also encapsulate your identity. Having an eating disorder can sometimes feel like the only “special” aspect of the person who is suffering, and letting go of this piece can seem extremely daunting. Spend time reflecting on other parts of you outside of your eating disorder – your interests, loved ones, goals, hobbies, and passions – and focus on strengthening these parts of your identity. You are not your eating disorder.
View lapses as learning opportunities. If you do end up engaging in an eating disorder behavior while you are trying to recover, you may experience shame and disappointment. You might have thoughts that you are not succeeding in your recovery, or a temptation to throw in the towel and go back into your disorder. Instead of beating yourself up, acknowledge what led you to engage in your behavior: What triggered you? What were you feeling? What did you need in that moment? Instead of shaming yourself, try apologizing to yourself for treating yourself unkindly. Use this lapse as information and an opportunity to strengthen your coping tools and self-care practice, and to prepare for future incidents that may trigger you.
Make self-care regular. Incorporate a self-care practice into your routine to keep self-compassion consistent. Treat yourself gently with nurturing tasks and activities, which can be as simple as getting enough sleep, brushing your teeth, or drinking from your favorite mug.
During recovery, while you should surround yourself with mental health professionals, peers, and loved ones who can provide you with compassion, the real challenge is to impart that same compassion towards yourself.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate and psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She provides individual and group therapy to adults and adolescents with disordered eating, body image concerns, and mood or anxiety disorders. Bahar has mentored individuals in eating disorder recovery and has facilitated support groups about improving body image. She is also involved in research on the role of culture and family on disordered eating. Contact us today to make an appointment with Bahar!