When the eating disorder is all you can hear
I have suffered with an eating disorder (ED) for 18 years and I don’t know how to break free … I would like you to share strategies for those times when my ED is the only thing I can hear. – K.
I just want to take ‘K’ by the hand and assure her that life does not need to be this way – a constant roller coaster – in and out of control – I know it’s really scary letting go of the ED, but let it go you must, to be free – and you can’t do this alone. You need to really place your trust in at least one recovery guide and let them make decisions for you until your body is fully nourished – and when fully nourished, you will find the ups and downs will dissipate and you will be able to focus on the joys of really living YOUR life.
Memories of those dark places and feelings of helplessness and self-loathing are with me forever. But I got out into the light and so can you. The first strategy is: NEVER GIVE UP.
Secondly, choose your support team: this can comprise one person, or as many people as you like. This is where the bravery comes in – getting brave enough to trust the recovery guides when the eating disorder is the only thing that can be heard. Because they have our best interests at heart, the recovery guides know what is best for us. Yes, they are interested in what is best for us – not what is best for the ED. My recovery guides included:
- General practitioner (GP)
- Eating disorder therapist (also dietician)
- Church Minister
- My four children and their dad
- Two cats and one dog
- Best friends
Quite a team! Years passed while I struggled to gain enough courage to trust them. They were patient. They did not give up on me. When I wanted to give up they reminded me this was not an option. They stuck by and believed in me when ED was so loud I could not listen to or believe in myself. I am so glad they did. Gradually, I reached the stage where I could trust myself, and resist the voice of ED. By learning to trust others and myself, the voice of ED gradually faded, and the illness lost its power to isolate and dominate my every day.
These strategies have been helpful in regaining my self and maintaining recovery:
- Without fail, eat three meals and three snacks daily. Food is medicine.
- No calorie counting, and no weighing yourself or foods.
- Employment or volunteer work can provide a sense of purpose and self-worth at a time when nothing else does.
- Be candid with understanding family members and friends, as they provide ongoing support.
- Keep a journal and list daily accomplishments like planting seedlings, baking a cake and phoning a friend.
- When anxious, divide the day into quarters. Make it to 10.30am, and record feelings, again at 1pm, and so on. Record the positives. Draw big smiles.
- Pets are loyal and trusting friends. Cats and dogs are always ready for a hug.
- Repeat affirmations, such as ‘Action beats anxiety’ and ‘I deserve to be treated with respect’, at times of stress.
- Take up a hobby to help live in the moment. I chose needlepoint and tapestry.
- Accept that prescription drugs, while causing side effects, are at times essential.
- Separate self from illness. This self-awareness tool helps to recognise and avoid people and situations that feed the illness. Practise this strategy at all times.
- Imagery is helpful. I picture a raw egg, with the yolk my soul, and the white the world around me. No matter what goes on in the white, I strive to protect my yolk. It is my haven. Don’t let it scramble.
- Be my own best friend. Would I want to bruise or starve my best friend or make her run 10 miles because she ate dessert? No, no, no!
- Ask: does this thought belong with my illness, or with me? If with the illness, hit the delete button fast.
- When feeling vulnerable and confused, allow trusted others to provide a lifeline to safety.
- Attend to feelings quickly to diminish food as an issue.
- Daily walks. Embracing the beauty of nature is food for the soul.
- Test boundaries — facing a stressful situation or fear achieves personal growth.
- Participate in safe, supportive social groups to connect and strengthen oneself. Connect with at least one person other than self every day.
- Acknowledge the right to be born and to live; feel empowered by this. Life is a gift.
- Acknowledge the right to happiness. Embrace every moment; choose fulfilment, pleasure and fun!
- Acknowledge the right to be treated with respect. Steer clear of those who do not treat you right.
- Remember that ‘action beats anxiety’ every time. Anxiety can feed ED, so act quickly – call a recovery guide.
- Focus on being true to self and everything else will work out. Beautifully.
_ from my memoir, A Girl Called Tim.
Share your favourite strategies. Together we can help each other drown out that voice of ‘ED’.