Coping with Anorexia – Recovery Tips
If you have been diagnosed with anorexia it can initially feel very hard to follow an anorexia recovery plan. These tips are for coping with the early stages.
This article aims to avoid anything that might require a trigger warning, but will mention food.
The first steps in anorexia recovery – getting help
If you have been diagnosed with anorexia, that means you’ve achieved the first and most important step – asking for help, and allowing yourself to receive it. This is so important, and you’ve done so well in getting this far in your recovery. Talking to your parents, friends or health professionals honestly and giving them as much specific information as possible means they will have a better understanding and will be able to help.
If you’ve managed to ask for help, you deserve congratulations because that is a big step forward. It means you are able to accept you may not always be the best judge of what is healthy for your body. As you’ve probably heard before, a person with anorexia may have a distorted sense of body image, the extreme version of which is known as body dysmorphic disorder. Trained medical professionals are in a good position to judge if you are gaining too much weight. Therapists are able to help you to appreciate your body and have a more accurate understanding of your body image.
By the time you read this article, you are hopefully engaged in an anorexia recovery plan that may include several of the following:
- Eating disorder education
- Nutrition counselling
- Therapy (individual, group or family)
- Inpatient treatment if required
Taking small steps towards anorexia recovery
Through talking to others you will have an idea of how many calories you need to consume on a daily basis as part of your initial recovery.
What sort of things might a nutrition therapist tell you? And, if you have accepted that you would rather become more healthy, how can you help yourself to achieve the goals that they are helping you work towards?
Keeping a Food Diary
You may be expected to keep a food diary. This helps to ensure you have an accurate picture of what you’re eating on a daily basis, as the mind can play tricks and convince you you’re eating more than you are. Initially you may be disheartened because you’ll feel you’ve done really well, eating more than you’re comfortable with, but the food diary and monitoring may show that you’re over-estimating your food intake and under-estimating your needs.
Please don’t feel discouraged if you hear you’re over-estimating your intake. A therapist is likely to be impressed that you are eating regularly, even if they feel you aren’t really eating enough. They are probably right that you still aren’t eating enough for your body, but don’t feel bad about them saying it’s not enough and don’t feel that it’ll mean eating huge meals. The fact that you’re managing to eat more than you feel comfortable with is a really big achievement, don’t forget that. Remember that this is a whole new way of thinking for you and just by eating more than you usually would, you’re out of your comfort zone and working towards health. You will have good days, and you will have bad days where you want to scream, cry and break things. You may be feeling frightened. Just remember that you’ve done incredibly well to get this far and you’re giving yourself the help you need. Feel proud of yourself.
Coping with increasing your food intake
Your therapist may tell you that you mustn’t trick yourself with distractions while eating, and they will of course be right. But sometimes, in the early stages, it may feel impossible to increase your intake without distractions or tricks. Just remember that this is a really big deal for you, and you have been fantastic for sticking with it. If you feel you need distractions, this is important and it will help you get on an even keel in the early stages of recovery. Looking at your motivations and fears is really important, but it’s also very important to get into the routine of eating. If you initially just think of food as fuel, allow yourself to use that as a way of coping at first if you need to.
If it helps, you can consider that no-one eats food mindfully nowadays. Everyone has the odd working lunch, talks over breakfast or puts the TV on for dinner. Humans are social creatures, we’ve made food part of our interactions and whilst it’s not amazingly healthy for us to forget about how much food we’re putting into our bodies, you’re a person who can benefit from that mindset. Just concentrate on getting through the meal in these early recovery stages, maintaining a healthy weight and putting the right things into your body, and you can deal with engaging with your dinner later.
The ‘fake’ breakfast
You could try getting up early and eating a ‘fake’ breakfast, a piece of toast perhaps, then going back to sleep. You will wake up feeling like you haven’t eaten anything, but in fact you’ve been digesting food while you’re asleep. It is one method of tricking your stomach into eating when it really, really doesn’t want to.
Add a little bit to your snacks
Try taking little steps and adding just a bit to each of your snacks. Nuts are good to snack on, and they’ll boost your intake without having to eat too many.
Distractions may help
Distract yourself with entertainment while you eat. Music, TV, watching someone play a video game, reading… all of these may help a little.
Gently increase portion sizes
Could you try adding a couple of extra things to each meal, or increasing portion sizes ever so slightly? For example, if you’d normally chop up a medium carrot to have with dinner, have a large one? That way you’re looking at the same foods, and there’s only a little bit more than normal. And with snacks, if you normally grab a small banana, have a bigger one? Or, for variety and increasing nutrients, could you add something else small to your meal, such as a handful of peas as well as the carrot?
Use student cookbooks as a portion guide
You might try looking at some ‘single person’ or student cookbooks: the kind of thing that tells you how to make only one portion rather than the average cookbook which gives recipes for a family of four. That way you can see how much of everything is ‘supposed’ to be in one meal. Try and get as close to that as possible, but don’t feel bad if you find yourself using one and a half potatoes instead of two. Eventually, you can creep yourself up to the ‘proper’ portion size. If you do it slowly, you’ll find you’re only really adding a couple of chunks of this and a slice or two of this every time you make a recipe, and you’ll hardly notice the difference in size.
Put it on a larger plate
A portion can look too much for your hunger if it’s piled up on a really small plate. If you’re filling a small bowl with bananas and cereal, it’ll look like a lot to go through. If you’ve got a bigger bowl, it might trick your brain slightly into thinking that because there’s more space in the bowl, there’s less food there. This might help you prepare bigger portions without worrying about them, but it also might be part of why you think you’re eating a ‘full’ meal and your therapist is saying it’s not big enough. Your eyes are seeing that the plate is full, the brain thinks there is enough food on the plate and because you’re not used to a bigger portion, you’re not thinking ‘that’s not enough’ as soon as you’ve finished.
Higher calorie foods
If it’s the quantity of food that scares you, try looking at higher calorie foods.
You’re doing this for you
With so much external pressure coming on you to eat, it’s quite natural to feel resentful at times. You may give yourself a hard time if you don’t eat enough, but you may also feel like you’re only doing it because you have to. You may also feel irritated that your life seems to still be revolving around food. It’s absolutely to feel this, and you have done so well by helping yourself get this far while being brave enough to accept help from others. If you have been diagnosed with anorexia and part of a recovery plan you have already achieved so very much.