eating disorder dietitian discusses behaviours to stop for eating disorder recovery
  • March 10, 2023

Behaviours to Avoid When Trying to Recover | Imbodi Health Eating Disorder Dietitian Clinic

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that can have a vast impact across many areas of a person’s life. […]

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that can have a vast impact across many areas of a person’s life. As such, eating disorder recovery can look very different from one person to the next. 

For some, recovery can feel like a tedious, ongoing process that requires a lot of time, energy and focus. Others may feel able to live a full and enjoyable life, with their recovery proceeding along steadily in the background (1)

There is no right or wrong way to recover from an eating disorder. A universal first step is acknowledging that there is a problem and making the active choice to try and overcome this, even if that means tackling just one negative behaviour at a time. 

 

In this article, we will discuss from behaviours to avoid when trying to recover from an eating disorder.

 

 

Common Eating Disorder Behaviours

When it comes to eating disorders, there are several common behaviours to avoid when trying to recover from an eating disorder. Many may seem harmless at face value, but can actually be extremely damaging to a person’s mental and physical health.

 

Some common eating disorder behaviours include: (2)

  • Regular dieting, including adopting different fad diets, or cutting out food groups, etc.
  • Extreme food restriction, with or without planned ‘cheat meals’ or unplanned binging
  • Obsessive counting/tracking of calorie intake
  • Frequent body-checking, such as over-analysing your appearance in mirrors, pinching/squeezing your flesh, etc.
  • Routinely weighing or measuring yourself
  • Unusual food rituals, like cutting food into very small pieces, chewing food a specific number of times, or only eating with certain cutlery
  • Avoiding eating in public/with others
  • Excessive exercise

 

For a more in depth discussion on different eating disorders and their emotional and behavioural signs, read our article How Do I Know If I Have An Eating Disorder? 

Of the behaviours mentioned above, many are not inherently harmful – in certain circumstances, people with a perfectly healthy relationship with food may engage in one or more of them.

However, in other cases, these behaviours can represent the ways that an eating disorder physically manifests.

While these behaviours themselves are not the whole problem, overcoming them is a huge step towards eating disorder recovery. Avoiding these behaviours may help to improve your relationship with food, as well as building self-confidence and empowering you to continue along your recovery journey.

 

eating disorder dietitian discusses behaviours to stop for eating disorder recovery

 

Strategies to Avoid These Behaviours

Below, we have devised a list of strategies that you can use to begin overcoming some harmful eating disorder behaviours:

 

Stop all dieting

Whilst it might seem difficult, trying to lose weight is the last thing you should be doing during eating disorder recovery, as a lot of ‘innocent’ dieting behaviours are actually eating disorder behaviours in disguise.

Instead of pursuing weight loss during this time, try to shift your focus towards other, more health-promoting goals. This could include boosting your gym performance, having more energy throughout the day or sleeping more restfully at night – all of which may improve when you begin eating regularly and enough (3).

 

Let yourself eat all the foods

An important fact to remember during eating disorder recovery is that there is no such thing as ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’.

Whilst some foods may typically be better for our physical health, they can still be harmful in excess. In contrast, less nutritious foods can also serve important roles that may be good for our overall well-being. These include bringing us joy, comfort and pleasure, providing a sense of tradition and community, or promoting social bonding. 

Referring to foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ overlooks these important factors. It implies that food is something we should either be praised, or feel guilty for eating – however this is never the case.

Besides, we all know that being told you can’t have something just makes you want it more! So if we tell ourselves that certain foods are ‘bad’ and that we shouldn’t eat them, we are more likely to want these foods, causing intense cravings to develop. This is often where the binge-restrict cycle begins, as sooner or later we give into our cravings and may then lose control (4).

Instead of labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and restricting what you are eating, start viewing all foods as neutral, and allow yourself to eat the foods you genuinely want to eat. By removing these labels, you also begin to remove the power that these foods have over your emotions and behaviours, helping you to see food for what it really is: just food.

 

eating disorder dietitian discusses behaviours to stop for eating disorder recovery

 

Catch your body checking and self-talk

In order to stop body checking, you first need to pinpoint exactly what you are doing, when you are doing it (5). This could mean spending a whole day actively observing your behaviours, and maybe even writing them down. When you are doing this, notice what you are looking at on your body, what you are thinking/saying to yourself about it, where you are when this is happening and how often these thoughts are occurring.

Noticing your body checking can be helpful, as you may be able to avoid certain settings or scenarios that trigger this urge (6). You can also begin to interrupt your body checking tendencies when they do happen. 

For instance, when you notice yourself looking at a certain body part and having a negative thought about it, start to challenge that thought with something more positive or neutral, or actively drive your attention onto something else entirely.

It is also beneficial to set achievable body-checking goals, such as limiting the amount of minutes spent looking at yourself in the mirror per day, or only allowing yourself to change your outfit a certain number of times each morning. You can then gradually progress these over time.

The aim of these strategies is to counter your fixation on your body shape and weight (5). Whilst this may seem difficult at first – as it requires your attention and effort – it will steadily become easier as you break your old body checking habits.

 

Step away from the scales

Similar to body checking, regularly weighing and measuring yourself are behaviours that seem harmless at first, but may become compulsive and damaging.

Again, a good way to overcome these is to set yourself a goal that you can gradually progress. For instance, limit weighing yourself to only 2 times per week, then once per week, then 2 times per month and so on, until the urge to do so becomes minimal. 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

Stop calorie counting

Calorie counting/tracking is appealing for many people as it provides a strong sense of control over your diet and body composition. In many cases, it can be a useful tool to use, however during eating disorder recovery it largely does more harm than good.

Ideally, the advice here would be to delete the calorie counter apps and stop tracking completely! However, it isn’t always that easy, as you may feel that you don’t know how to eat normally without tracking your food intake.

Once again, a good approach is to gradually ease off tracking, even if that is with just one meal at a time. This could be achieved by asking a family member or friend to cook for you if you don’t yet feel comfortable cooking for yourself without tracking.

Along with limiting tracking, you can also aim to stop checking the nutrition labels on foods. Start small – for instance, don’t check the label on the sauce you are adding to your meal – then gradually work your way onto more prominent food items.

 

Increase dietary variety

The opposite of restriction is variety, therefore actively introducing more dietary variety is a helpful way to avoid the restrictive behaviours that may come with an eating disorder.

A simple way to increase your dietary variety is by trying to include foods of all different colours at each meal, with these predominantly coming from wholefoods like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. 

This is also a great way to ensure you are meeting your nutrient needs without rigid tracking, as different coloured fruits and vegetables typically contain different nutrients (7).

Certain food fears can also be common with eating disorders. Challenging these food fears is an essential step in improving your relationship with food, and increasing the variety in your diet. 

If you are unsure where to start with this, it can be useful working with an experienced eating disorder dietitian to support you along your journey. 

 

Exercise with a friend

Whilst exercise is generally considered a healthy behaviour, it is common for it to become a source of great distress and anguish when you are in the throes of an eating disorder. This is because it is often used as a form of self-punishment or a compensatory behaviour. 

Therefore, during eating disorder recovery, it is important to shift your perspective of exercise back to something that is positive, health-promoting and enjoyable.

A good way to do this is to begin exercising with a friend, doing something that is not too stressful on the body and that promotes a sense of social bonding and connection. 

It is also important to find a form of exercise that you genuinely enjoy, so that it doesn’t end up feeling like a chore. Remember – there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to exercise, so take the time to find what works best for you.

 

eating disorder dietitian discusses behaviours to stop for eating disorder recovery

 

Seeking Support

Whilst the above strategies may sound simple on paper, actually implementing them is often much more challenging. The behaviours alone are typicallg not the whole problem – they are just symptoms of a deeper and more profound issue.

Seeking help from professionals during recovery is therefore highly recommended, as they can help to address the root cause of your eating disorder, as well as provide you with individualised support to make the whole process less overwhelming.

For example, an eating disorder dietitian can help you to recognise which behaviours in yourself are problematic and work with you to devise strategies to change these, whilst ensuring you are also meeting your nutritional needs through different food-based tips and ideas (8).

Through the coordinated care of an eating disorder dietitian, along with a psychologist, general practitioner, and your own personal support network, eating disorder recovery can become much more managable.

 

 

Summary

Regardless of how long it may take, or how difficult the process may be, eating disorder recovery is possible, and is absolutely worth it. 

To kickstart your recovery, acknowledging that you have a problem is an integral first step, as you can then begin to overcome that problem one behaviour at a time. Whilst it may be confronting, seeking support from friends, family and health professionals also has the capacity to make recovery much more manageable.

Click the following link to book a discovery consultation with one of our own online dietitians, who may be able to help you along your own recovery journey, as this isn’t something you have to face alone.

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

Written by student dietitian Megan Keith

Reviewed by dietitian Jade Wrigley

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