Preparing for the Unexpected in Eating Disorder Recovery
Kelly Boaz, CNP
Recently, I went through a bout of severe stomach problems. There were very few foods I could eat without being sick. For most people, that’s a pain. For someone in eating disorder recovery, that’s dangerous. Trying to maintain recovery on a limited diet, and getting back on track afterward can be a challenge. Luckily, the work I’d done in my recovery gave me the tools I needed to stay safe.
Where Willpower Ends, The Work Begins
One of the biggest myths of eating disorder recovery is that you can just sort of “white knuckle” through. “If I just stick to my meal plan, and eat all my meals and snacks, I’ll be fine.” But life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you get the flu. Sometimes you’re on a long flight that doesn’t serve meals. Sometimes, you’re hit with a big emotional wrecking ball, and your appetite goes out the window. What do you do then?
For a lot of people in recovery, this can be a huge problem. Especially if you’ve recently left an inpatient or residential program, you may not have had to deal with getting back on track after missed meals. While it’s important to create these new, healthy routines around food, there isn’t a lot taught about what to do when you get off track. So, when wisdom teeth come out, a relapse can move in.
White-knuckling, or willpower, doesn’t last forever. It can’t. When it runs out, or when a wrench is thrown in your plans, you have to have a set of skills in place to keep going.
Getting Back On Track
The first thing I did when the stomach problems hit was telling someone what was going on - someone who knew my history, and would nudge me if I was heading down a dangerous path. Honesty is one of the most important tools you have in recovery. It not only alerts people when you need extra support but also rebuilds any trust that may have been lost during the worst parts of your eating disorder. Being open and honest with your treatment team and support network isn’t always easy, but it’s always a pro-recovery choice.
Next, I practiced a little self-care - no, not the bubble bath kind. I made sure I was resting AND sleeping, had all the foods I COULD eat readily available, and exercised my ability to say no. If I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, food-wise, I couldn’t expend any more energy than was absolutely necessary.
Finally, when it was time to include all the foods again, I skipped intuitive eating, and went straight to a meal plan. Often, when you haven’t been eating as you normally would, your hunger and fullness signals are off. Going back to a more mechanical way of eating is important to ensure you’re truly eating enough. Then, when you’re ready, you can move back into your normal intuitive programming.
Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans
While I don’t recommend seeking out opportunities to practice getting back on track, it’s important to have a strategy in place for when they invariably sneak up on you. Have a plan in place BEFORE disaster strikes, and make sure you implement it as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you’re in danger to throw yourself a lifeline.
If you haven’t got a team to help you build a relapse prevention plan, start with mine, and get specific: who will you enlist to keep you accountable? What are some foods to keep in the house that you can eat when illness strikes? Write out a meal plan for yourself that you can easily pull out and follow when you need a little extra structure.
Make sure your tool box is well-stocked, and ready for any emergency. And - the most important thing - don’t waste your time beating yourself up for getting off track. That energy can be so much better spent helping you get back on.
Kelly Boaz, CNP is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website.