Eating Disorder Recovery During Stressful Times (COVID-19)
Updated: Jul 24
Your eating disorder THRIVES off of stress.
When do you feel most likely to restrict?
When do you feel most likely to binge?
When do you feel most likely to make yourself sick, start a new diet, limit your food, binge in secret, weigh yourself, weigh yourself again?
When you are stressed, my love, I know this because I do the exact same thing.
During times of stress, we want to have a constant. It’s human nature. We like routine, we like constants, we like ‘norms’ and ‘usuals’ and if you’re a bit more wound-up than the normal person, like I am, then you also like control.
We love being in control.
It brings us a sense of balance and self-management.
When we feel most out of control with our emotions or the world around us, we want to control something to make up for it→ enter your eating disorder.
Eating disorders bring a false perception of control. They make us feel like we’re safe, we’re accomplished, we are secure. Because they trick us into believe that control is synonymous with calculation.
We track our food. We track our steps.
We track our ounces of water.
We track our weight.
And we believe that the more ‘perfect’ we can make all of this, the more ‘perfect’ we then are in return, but your eating disorder doesn’t tell you something, it leaves out a very specific point, you are not your diet. You are not your body. Therefore, these ‘goals’ we set on our diets, body weight, frame, size, restrictions, etc. have nothing to do with ourselves when it comes to happiness, worthiness, confidence, etc.
Because just like you aren’t your disorder, you also are not your disorders ‘accomplishments.’
See most people who struggle with eating disorders love to accomplish. We are high-achievers with even higher expectations placed on ourselves BY ourselves and another reaction to stress is feeling like we are ‘enough.’ When we’re stressed, our coping mechanism is to control, restrict, limit our diets or bodies in the hopes of feeling safe AND successful.
Because success is a distraction, as well.
We focus on ‘accomplishing’ what ED tells us to strive for. This takes away our stress, only briefly, because we redirect our focus on goal setting and goal crushing.
Sound familiar? That’s because this is how I coped with stress for almost a decade.
I would feel stressed. This would trigger me to run away from this emotion. I didn’t want to feel stress or pain or fear or disappointment. I would pre-occupy my mind with another task, something I could focus all my attention on, something that would take a lot of time and energy, something that would distract me from the negative emotions I didn’t want to be feeling AND something that I thought would bring about positive ones.
Shrinking my body.
It’s a simple coping mechanism, but just because it’s simple to understand doesn’t mean it’s simple to change.
So, how do we change this coping mechanism when we feel stress, especially when the world around us is feeling stressed, as well?
Understand that Stress is Normal
I used to feel CRAZY when I would feel stressed! I felt like I wasn’t supposed to ever feel nervous or anxious. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone because everyone around me seemed to be as calm as a cucumber *they aren’t and you’re allowed to experience stress and seek support for it* Phone a friend, talk to a loved one, write about it in a journal or even say it out loud! I think something to realize when it comes to stress is that the longer and harder you bottle it up, the longer and harsher it is to live with it. Release it! Get that anxious energy out! Life is truly about energy and if you’re holding onto negative or painful vibrations of it, why not release them to fill that space with love? Don’t hold stress in. Why? You don’t want it in the first place! So, let it go and let it go quickly!
How to Let it Go!
Move your body, change your environment, alter your physical body to alter your mental state! When we feel stressed, we tend to breathe shorter and more rapidly, we tense our muscles, we focus on what we can’t change or don’t want to happen, and all of these physiological changes puts our bodies in a state of fight or flight. I like to stretch when I start to feel anxious or stressed out! Just like physically talking about stress releases the energy around it, so does physical movement! Take a walk, go outside, even try just sitting up straighter and breathing deeper, this will calm your body, which in turn signals to your brain that you’re safe & there’s no danger.
Remember how I talked about how eating disorders deceive us into believing we have control and our lives are so much better when we are in the depths of our disorder? Remind yourself what it actually felt like when you were really struggling. Write down the feelings, experiences, maybe even the missed opportunities your disorder brought you over the time it hung around and keep this list handy somewhere! I like to keep it in my phone, so that when I’m faced with that initial feeling of panic and it triggers me to want to return to my old eating disorder ways, I can look at my reality check list and see that this wasn’t the answer back then and it won’t be this time either!
Find a new coping mechanism
This tip goes hand-in-hand with gratitude, but now better than ever is an incredible time to FOCUS and DEDICATE to your own mental health, hobbies, interests, self-care, etc.! During times of stress, it is SO important to take care of ourselves completely! Meaning our physical bodies, mental health, emotional, financial, spiritual, social AND I want to add creative health! Creativity is one of life’s greatest blessings, I swear by that, so find something that you have ALWAYS wanted to do or learn or create or design, and do it! I think we live in a society that has somewhat brainwashed us into believing that having hobbies or interests purely for fun is a waste of time because time=productivity=money. This is not true! Do things just for you! I’ve taken up knitting because I have always wanted to learn how to knit, but also ALWAYS told myself that it was silly or a waste of time if I wasn’t going to be the world’s best knitter or something! Every time you’re faced with stress or a moment of panic and your mind is searching for a distraction, choose your new scapegoat. Maybe it’s reading or writing or painting or learning Spanish, but instead of turning to eating disorder rituals or old habits, turn to your new hobby or interest and the more you do this, the more the neural pathway in your brain will redirect your trigger to be from self-harm to self-celebration in times of stress!
I hope these tips helped you and I want to send each and everyone of you so much love and support now more than ever! Remember even though sports, holiday parties, gym memberships, etc. are cancelled for a short time YOUR EATING DISORDER RECOVERY IS NEVER CANCELLED & neither is mine<3