The road to eating disorder recovery is long and requires the help of professionals, loved ones and above all, acceptance and love from yourself. Developing positive behaviors and attitudes towards food and outlets for stress is critical to the longevity of any implemented plan. While your physical well-being is the first step, tending to your soul is just as important in ensuring a full recovery.
To be considered successful, anorexia nervosa treatment requires sufficient aftercare, in both outpatient and home settings. There needs to be personal responsibility, but you also need to be able to rely on doctors, family, and friends to have your back and be trained with how to help you in times of crisis. In addition to the strategies outlined by your treatment center, however, we have compiled a list of 10 positive habits and tips you can utilize for yourself to make sure that your recovery is smooth and permanent.
Like with all aftercare procedures, these will work best if you inform and, if possible, include your loved ones and support system. You will find that not only will these tips help your recovery, but your support system will benefit from doing them with you, and that will bring you all closer together.
Identifying Key Components of Aftercare
Anorexia nervosa treatment should end in strategic, well-planned aftercare, even in cases where a graduated return to a non-out-patient setting isn’t accessible (in the event the patient must move, for instance). Your treatment and recovery will focus on several primary factors:
- Establishing a positive support system — this will require the efforts of the treating clinic, your primary care physician, a counselor you can transition to and typically a nutritionist or dietitian. It will also include education and training for your loved ones. In some cases, particularly if there are comorbid mental health concerns like anxiety, a psychiatrist will be necessary to monitor any prescriptions.
- Creating positive self-care routines — this goes beyond simply eating nutritious food. Proper sleep hygiene, regular exercise and finding hobbies are all part of positive self-care.
- Avoiding triggers and learning to handle them — what triggered your eating disorder, to begin with, is something you’ll encounter again, even in aftercare. Recovery doesn’t mean stress won’t exist; it just means you’ll have the tools to defend yourself against it. You’ll also have the means and training to create rituals to cope with stress and triggers in a way that doesn’t cause a step back in your recovery or trigger some other conditions like depression or anxiety. Since eating disorders are often psychological attempts to reorder an unstructured or chaotic world, finding new, positive ways to cope is essential to recovery.
With these structures in mind, let’s look at some specific habits, tips, and routines that you can establish and use to reinforce the structure of your aftercare.
1 — Mindfulness meditation
Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, has become increasingly popular since the 1980s. While traditional mantra-based meditation focuses on intention, or a specific phrase or thought — your mantra — mindfulness meditation is intended to draw the practitioner into a state of focused-yet-diffused thought.
The goal is to allow you to evaluate your thoughts in a non-judgmental way; to allow them to surface and allow your mind to wander, acknowledging but then letting your thoughts go as they arise. No criticism of thoughts, even if they would be otherwise considered negative.
To practice mindfulness meditation, you start in a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. This allows your mind to wander, and that might make it go to places that cause you concern. The goal is to acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go, returning to focus on your breathing.
This tip is relevant to your recovery because it allows you to the space to examine afflictive emotions and impulses as they arise, and view them for what they are. It reduces the control emotions have over your thoughts and actions and makes you more deliberate. It’s an essential tool for an aftercare kit.
2 — Developing a skill
Any kind of hobby is good to help alleviate stress and form social bonds, but a skill is even better. Learning a skill like playing an instrument or painting teaches you discipline, the value of consistency and the power of practice. It also gives you a high sense of accomplishment and pride when you can look at what you’ve created. Studies indicate that people who practice a skill are significantly (25%) less likely than the average population to relapse into destructive behavior or (18%) suffer from anxiety or depression.
Certain skills will have particular value to recovery from eating disorders. In particular, cooking can give you a positive relationship with food. Understanding where food comes from, and how you can control it can make a frightening past turn into a beautiful future, regarding prior disordered eating.
Developing a skill is relevant to y our recovery because it teaches you perseverance and gives you something amazing to focus on. The education and peer involvement in skill-building is critically important and have a highly positive effect on your recovery in aftercare.
3 — Establishing daily routines
Some people react to the idea of a schedule as if it’s a prison, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our brains crave routine — when we do something over and over, the neurons associated with that habit get stronger and the neural impulses travel faster. This is why some things like brushing your teeth or riding a bike are simply second-nature. This is also why habits are so hard to break — the more you do them, the stronger the link and the easier it is to do them subconsciously.
By establishing new habits and routines, you can remove old ones easier than just trying to get rid of old ones on their own. Additionally, adding healthy habits gives you more willpower to use on actual concerns like work, creative pursuits and avoiding relapse. This is because when we make choices, we use up a bit of willpower, which science seems to indicate is finite each day. Routines don’t take willpower because they are, well, routine. If your daily habit is to get out of bed, take a quick shower and start studying for class, there isn’t much necessary to ensure that happens, from an active willpower standpoint.
Routines are critical to your recovery because they will encompass the larger behaviors that keep your aftercare in check: going to sessions, journaling, keeping up with hobbies and friends, etc.
4 — Going to regular sessions
Whether you function better in group settings or one-on-one meetings, you will need to establish a regular routine of going to therapy. This will be set up before you leave treatment, but it’s going to be on you to make sure you make the appointments. Make it part of a routine and it won’t be something you even second-guess.
Going to therapy is probably the most important part of aftercare because you won’t be able to fully implement everything you learn in treatment on your own, at least not at first. Going to therapy will refresh the concepts and keep them sharp in your mind, and give you an outlet for your stress.
5 — Regular exercise
Exercise has been shown to keep your mind sharp and helps relieve anxiety and depression, in addition to the tremendous physical benefits. People who exercise regularly sleep better and more soundly, have more energy and are more inclined to keep to routines. Exercise, in this case, should be short bouts of cardio a few times per week (like sprints) and resistance training, either on machines or free weights.
Regular exercise also has the benefit of being a possible peer activity, giving you the chance to make new friends and stay connected with old ones.
In terms of your aftercare and recovery, exercise is simply beneficial to everyone for a wide range of reasons. It will improve your mood and give you confidence, a better sense of self-efficacy and self-worth, and makes it less likely you’ll feel inclined to go towards old, maladaptive routines to escape stress.
6 — Walking
Yes, this is different from exercise and should be done in addition to regularly working out. Walking is fairly simple and gives you time to think. It opens you up to creative impulses and has a positive effect on mood.
Additionally, walking benefits heart health, blood pressure, immune function and a slew of other physical conditions. If your body is in good shape, then you’ll simply feel better.
Again, for aftercare walking is a great routine to get into each day. You can walk with a loved one, chat and just enjoy being outside. Additionally, walking outside gives you ample vitamin D, which over 70% of adults are deficient in, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
7 — Engaging with friends, family and peers
Being alone can be difficult for anyone, but especially when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. You might ruminate on past problems, or worry about the future and you become your own echo chamber, making those negative thoughts louder and louder. Being around friends and family can give you perspective on recovery and the things you truly hold dear.
Being engaged with friends and family also gives you the ability to see on whom you can lean when you are having difficulties, and this will only always help your recovery. If you go to school, take classes in skills like painting or otherwise get out and mingle, social interaction can have a profoundly positive effect as well.
8 — Affirmations
Affirmations or positive self-talk are essential for most successful people, but many people don’t even realize they do them. Any time you think — whether very deliberately out-loud or internally — that you are capable of doing something, that’s an affirmation. Some people write them out and say them every morning or night, and some people just amp themselves up before a big test or a job interview. The point is to take something you believe about yourself, like “I am highly creative, and my work is valuable” and then say it. The more you say it, the more you’ll believe it, because, at the end of the day, we’re our own worst critics.
It’s just as, if not more so important that you avoid negative self-talk. Criticizing yourself unjustly or being overly negative when something doesn’t work out just as you wanted it to can have a tremendously damaging effect on your emotional and mental health.
Positive self-talk can make you stay focused on recovery, and help you realize just how amazing you are.
9 — Engage with other people in recovery
You can be a hero to someone else who is just starting on their recovery journey. By doing outreach and talking to people who might be suffering the same way you did, you can have a profound effect on their lives and bolster your confidence and success in aftercare.
10 — Become an expert about yourself
When you recover from an eating disorder, it can feel like you’ve vanquished a dragon. Studying eating disorders, their causes and how to treat them can take the teeth out of the condition, making it less frightening and putting you in a place to, like tip 9, help other people who are still struggling. The more you learn about something, the less frightening it is, and the less potential it has to take control of you.
By helping other people, learning about your previous struggles and why they occurred, you are less likely to relapse because you build a sense of self-efficacy. It’s been said quite a bit, but feeling that your actions have merit and that you’re in control of your health does profoundly affect your ability to stay strong.