Hi everyone! In honour of eating disorder awareness week, I recently posted on instagram sharing some coping strategies relevant to my own current stage of recovery – dealing with weight gain and body changes.
Let me first clarify that it is not only completely okay, but also incredibly common, for gaining weight not to be a huge part of someone’s recovery. Because eating disorders are not just about weight. You can have an eating disorder at ANY weight. Even if weight change isn’t on your horizon, starting to normalize your eating or change your habits can still result in uncomfortable feelings – physically and mentally, so thought I’d take this time to share some coping skills I’ve tried that work for me, and to remind everyone that it is okay.
Side note: I know these might not all be long-term solutions and different people might prefer other things, but I believe it’s worth having options and I personally, always feel better when I can consult a list. Know that there are so many things you can try and you can keep trying as many times as you need, so please don’t give up hope.
Avoid body checking as much as possible
I cover my mirrors with towels on my particularly sensitive days and try to navigate potentially triggering situations (like the bathroom or bedroom) by focusing only one what I need to get done (I.e. brush my teeth & get out).
If I catch myself scrutinizing my appearance in the mirror I try my best to step away as soon as I realize. Most importantly – I ditched the scale. I had my boyfriend hide my scale because I know it’s going to do nothing but trigger me.
Make your environment as safe as possible
Unfollow diet or fitness accounts on instagram.
Get rid of smaller clothes, exercise guides or diet plans (donate them or give them to a friend).
Asses whether the aspects of your environment have a positive or negative impact on you.
As much as possible try to surround yourself with people who have healthy attitudes about weight and shape. If close friends or family say triggering things, politely tell them that it makes you uncomfortable or that you’d rather talk about something else.
Evaluate your boundaries with diet culture and other people – you don’t have to stay in situations or participate in discussions that make you uncomfortable. (I will be writing more on setting boundaries from diet culture in the future – as I work through this one a little more myself).
Remember that discomfort does not require a response – Separate your feelings from your behaviours.
Feeling uncomfortable, stressed, or full doesn’t necessarily mean you need to engage in (destructive) behaviours to compensate.
You CAN sit with uncomfortable feelings. You do not need to act on them.
The longer you tolerate the discomfort, the “easier” it gets. Human physiology can’t sustain levels of severe distress (e.g. fight or flight) for extended periods of time, so even when it might feel like your anxiety is at a peak, it will go down.
Distract & Delay
While you wait for these uncomfortable feelings to pass, it can be helpful to take your mind off them. I like to sit down after dinner and watch an episode or two of an enjoyable TV show while I digest and wait for the anxiety to subside and the sensation of fullness to fade.
Take things one day, one meal, one moment at a time. Tell yourself you will sit with the discomfort for five minutes – Set a timer on your phone. If you can do more after that five minutes, amazing! If not, that’s okay. Maybe try for 6 minutes next time.
Start small – everything helps. It might be good to brainstorm a list of distractions that you could have on hand in different situations.
Some friends have said they also enjoy reading, cleaning, listening to music or doing their makeup as well.
If you find yourself panicking it can also help to practice a mindful approach in “grounding” yourself (with your five sense). Hold a cold ice cube in your hands, look around the room and describe what you see, hear and smell. Control your breathing.
Wear clothes that are comfortable
Tight-fitting clothes are anxiety-inducing for me right now so I have mostly been living in big comfy sweaters and stretchy leggings. (Although this isn’t far from my usual “style” anyways).
At the same time that it can help to wear what is comfortable on your body, occasionally pushing yourself to dress up in something that makes you feel good about yourself or a little more confident can be really helpful too.
If you feel up to it, it might be good to buy yourself a few nice items of clothing that fit your current body and that you can feel good in. (They don’t have to be expensive, you could even go thrifting).
Challenge your automatic thoughts/thinking errors
Is it possible that your body has very little to do with your self-worth?
What do you value most about the people you love? (Likely not their appearance).
“Fat” is not a feeling. What are you actually feeling?
Why do we associate “fat” with negative feelings? Thinness doesn’t necessarily equate with happiness nor health.
Would you tell a child they had to “earn” their food?
Try to be kind to your body in other ways (Act “As If”)
Practice meditating or doing light yoga.
Buy face masks, body washes, or bath bombs.
Go for walks – get fresh air and sunlight.
Drink water and try to get enough sleep.
Don’t wait until you feel amazing in your body to do what’s good for you or to do what you want to do. Don’t wait until you fully feel like you deserve it to act like you do – just get started. Make small changes according to how someone who loves themselves might behave – they’ll feel less foreign as time goes on.
Make another list of activities that might be appropriate and enjoyable for in your current situation.
Remember your “why” – Think big picture
Sometimes I find it helpful to try and hold sight of the bigger picture to pull me out of a spiral.
Why did you begin your journey? What do you hope to do with your freedom? What inspires you to push forward. What pushed you to want to leave disorder behind?
(I know these can be hard to draw to mind when anxiety spikes – but after distracting and delaying you may be able to calm your thoughts enough to refocus).
This can include recovery “mantras” or affirmation statements such as “I know losing weight won’t make me happy“, “This body is the only one I’ve got so I guess I better learn to live with it“, or “I’m trying to be kinder to myself“. I would recommend writing ones down that don’t feel hokey or fake to you.
Remember that you have put your body through stress and it is slowly learning to trust you again.
Your hormones and weight will not fluctuate forever if you continue to provide for yourself. Your body knows how to heal itself, let it do its thing.
It takes time. I wish there were a magic wand I could wave to suddenly be “recovered” but there’s a lot to be learned by engaging in the process itself. These difficult moments are where the growth occurs. These hard times are chances to practice those DBT skills you may have heard about but didn’t know if you’d try.
It’s okay to struggle – it’s almost expected, but overcoming this struggle is where we build our strength, so please don’t give up.