Robin Raven, a young journalist, recovered from her eating disorder and wants other people to know what worked for her. Below you can read her story an how self-compassion and making decisions in advance were two of the biggest factors.
I wouldn’t wish an eating disorder on anyone else, not even on those who bullied me about my weight as a child and adult. Growing up both depriving myself of food regularly and being fat was a dual hell for me, and I’ll never forget the many days walking by the school cafeteria and feeling so hungry, inhaling the aromas, having had no breakfast and no lunch to look forward to eating myself. From the time I went on my first diet at 11 years old, I woke up every morning on a diet for decades; it just didn’t always last through the day. People want to label fat people as lazy or foolish, with no concept of the complexity that actually goes into the eating disorders behind changes in size.
Psychology Today reports that eating disorders are the most dangerous of all psychological disorders, and they bring so much pain along with the physical dangers. However, today I am happily in recovery from my compulsive overeating disorder, and I work to stay that way every day, often relying on the practices that empowered me to quit the eating disorder that plagued me since early childhood. Today, I am walking the road of recovery with the help of these tools.
1. Radical Journaling
Writing in my journal has been a passion of mine since I started a “Little House on the Prairie” diary as a kid. It brings me such joy to express my feelings on paper. In addition to keeping a diary for fun, I engage in what I call radical journaling. I’ve made a commitment to myself to write at least three pages every day, and within those specific three or more pages, I write about the deepest thoughts and feelings I’m having that day. These may include thoughts I have about my old tendency to self-destruct or how I feel about the future. I just try to get out the innermost feelings I have. Getting them out on paper helps me to make sense of things and no longer feel that I’m repressing the pain or longings of the day. That’s especially important for me since repressing my feelings can be a trigger for my old behavior.
2. Being Kind to Myself
Compassion for others has always come easy for me, but I was always extremely hard on myself. The simple notion of being kind to myself was a difficult concept to put into practice. I’d spent so much time berating myself for all the times I’d binged and hurt myself. For my own recovery, I had to learn to be kind and extend compassion to myself. And you know what? When I looked back and delved into the origins of my eating disorder in therapy, it was impossible not to have compassion for my younger self and understand how I’d waged a hard battle against my eating disorder before I had the tools to truly recover.
Professionals agree that finding compassion for oneself is a strong tool for recovery. Carla Korn, LMFT, who specializes in treating those with eating disorders and body image issues, advises, “Have compassion for yourself. Disordered eating develops as a way to help a person cope with uncomfortable feeling and emotions. The eating disorder probably helped you to function when you didn’t know a better way to do so.”
3. Maintaining My Motivation
At the start of my recovery from disordered eating, I was very enthusiastic. I was on a sort of beginner’s high and couldn’t wait to see my progress. That’s how I’d also started every diet of my life, too. I soon remembered that it’s impossible to sustain that level of enthusiasm over the long haul. It’s just not practical. Human nature is such that motivation ebbs and flows. So, to stick with my recovery, I had to figure out ways to maintain my motivation.
4. Eating Regularly
Eating may seem like a darn weird tool for staying abstinent from compulsive overeating, but eating regularly is definitely among the more important things I do for my health and recovery each day. By making sure I eat regularly and don’t skip a lot of meals, I avoid getting too hungry, which triggers me to eat far more than I need.
Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., CGP, CEDS, and author of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight, cautions that it is important to eat regular meals and snacks to avoid getting too hungry. Feeling hungry and deprived can trigger eating disorder behaviors.
5. Surrounding Myself with Support
I have a team of people who are there to offer me support, which is a huge blessing. If I’m in crisis, or just need someone to be there for me, I know I can turn to a dear friend who coaches me, a therapist, other friends and loved ones, and support groups.
A variety of support groups are available for compulsive overeating and other eating disorders. Overeaters Anonymous is probably the largest group with meetings all over the country, including online, telephone, and face-to-face meetings. The Overeaters Anonymous website allows you to easily search for a meeting that works for your schedule. Other support groups include Compulsive Eaters Anonymous and SMART recovery groups. If you don’t know where to start, you can contact the helpline at the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237.
6. Making Choices Before Temptation Comes
If I wait to see how I’m going to feel about eating an entire chocolate cake before I am sitting alone in a room with a delectable vegan chocolate cake, I’m probably going to want to scarf it down as quickly as possible at the earliest opportunity. However, if I carefully assess the situation and make a decision about eating the cake beforehand, I am able to pause before the desire to binge and whatever else may be fueling the temptation at the moment take over.
Making advance decisions on how to fill the empty feeling and raw pain that fueled the addictive behavior is crucial to my ongoing recovery. Before I am at an event with that chocolate cake or even if I’m going to have it all to myself, I decide exactly how much I am going to eat and why. That doesn’t mean I won’t eat other, healthier foods at the event if I’m still hungry, but I won’t binge on any of my trigger foods. I know what moderation means to me and I choose that before I’m in the heat of the moment when I may be unable to make any rational decisions.
Finally, I’ve found that there are no simple answers or all-encompassing solutions for the complex state of being that is abstinence from compulsive overeating. However, I do know that not one penny spent on the hugely profitable diet industry got me any closer to releasing the pounds than I was before and that relying on these tools has seen me through some difficult times of my recovery. I believe there is hope for anyone.
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