Find someone who ‘gets’ it!
Expert Tips: When You Want To Give Up On Recovery (+ Journaling Prompts)
Josée Sovinsky, RD
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Recovery from an eating disorder (or any other mental illness) is a journey. With my clients, I celebrate many recovery wins, but I also support them through difficult moments. Let's get real here: Recovery is HARD. It requires a lot of work, patience and dedication. Because we are human, this can sometimes become very overwhelming.
To help get you through those moments, I connected with colleagues in order to put together a list of tips for when you feel like giving up on recovery. For those who find journaling helpful, I also included some prompts.
1. Remember Why You Want To Recover
Somewhere in your initial struggle, you decided it was time to heal. There is a reason why you started this journey. In those difficult moments, think of what makes recovery important to you. Will it allow you to spend more time on your hobbies and passions? Will it make you more available for connection?
Blair Mize, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, owner of Memphis Nutrition Group says : "Before giving up on recovery, take some time to think about and write down why you started pursuing recovery in the first place. By taking a look at where you started and noting milestones along the way, you may begin to see how far you've come and why making a full recovery still feels worthwhile."
Journaling Prompt: Why did you start your recovery/healing process?
2. Consider How Recovery Fits Into Your Goals and Values
A very powerful tool when working on recovery is thinking about your goals and values. Once you have established your values, you can think about how these are connected to recovery. For example, you may value family. Recovery is then in line with your values since it might allow you to spend more quality time with your family.
Before giving up on recovery, Paige Smathers, RDN, CD encourages you to take a step back and look at the big picture of your life. What do you want? As in, what do you REALLY want? Then, ask yourself how you get there. Check in with yourself by recognizing when your thoughts and desires for life are coming from a place of trust, respect, and fulfillment and when your desires might be coming from a space of bullying yourself and/or punishing yourself.
As Poonam Sahasrabudhe MSW, LSW reminds us, giving up on recovery and giving in to the eating disorder can be very tempting. Going back to what is known can be comforting. Try to remember how you felt in the eating disorder and ask yourself: Will going back to the eating disorder get you to your values? Will it help you feel more authentic and fulfilled? Will it help you feel more connected in relationships? Will it launch you toward your goals? Remember that you are amazing for your awareness and even considering changing what isn't working for you.
Journaling Prompt: What are your 3 most important values? How does working on recovery relate to these values?
3. Remember This: Recovery Isn't Linear
Recovery is a journey with many twists and turns. Annina Schmid (M.A., CCPA, OACCPP, CACCF) shares that recovery isn't a linear process, and a so-called "relapse" won't take you back to the place that you started from. It is important to acknowledge the good and the difficult days. Don't act on impulse, think about your choice today as a long-term investment in your future.
Journaling Prompt: What are 3 things you have learned in your healing process?
4. Be Kind With Yourself
I'll say it again: Recovery takes hard work. When we are being hard on ourselves in the process, it adds an extra layer of difficulty. I recognize it's easier said than done but do your best to approach yourself with kindness and compassion.
Remember you are doing the best you can with the tools you have.
I couldn't agree more with Edith Shreckengast, MS, RDN, CSSD who shares, "You are a warrior and recovery is sincerely and utterly allowing yourself to live again. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what your truest desire out of recovery is? There is no right or wrong way of recovery, but there is your way. That way is beautiful and unique in which no one else can replicate."
Dr. Maria Paredes, LPCS, CEDS, Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and owner of Three Birds Counseling reminds us that unlike the diet industry's messaging of "just do these 5 steps" or "take this silver bullet pill" or "30 days of this and you'll be happy," the recovery road is long and windy and complicated and often exhausting. But, it's worth it. YOU are worth it. The best advice she has is just to be kind to yourself. No matter what *steps back* or *wagons* you think you've fallen off or *mistakes* you feel you've made, still. Even then, be kind to yourself.
Journaling Prompt: What are 3 ways you can show yourself compassion?
The Bottom Line
There will be many ups and downs during recovery. This is normal. In those moments of despair, remembers why you want to recover and how recovery aligns with your values. Approach the situation which as much self-compassion as possible and as Dory said, "Just keep swimming".
You've got this, recovery warrior!
Josée Sovinsky is a passionate Registered Dietitian working in a community setting in Toronto, Ontario. After facing her own struggles with disordered eating during her degree, she developed a strong interest in helping those affected by eating disorders and mental illness. She decided to learn more about intuitive and mindful eating, body acceptance and Health at Every Size®, which now strongly guide her work. She dreams of a world free from mental health stigma, body shaming, and disordered eating. When she is not helping others make peace with food, she enjoys baking, photography and doing yoga in her living room. Visit Josée's website and connect with her on social media.
Spotted: A Diet in Disguise
Dr. Colleen Reichmann
I’m just going to come right out and say it- I hate the term “clean eating.” Never has a diet used such obviously guilt-ridden vernacular. The message behind clean eating is clear, isn’t it? Certain food is “clean” (i.e. moral, pure), and other food is “dirty” (impure, bad, amoral).
Clean eating culture is dangerous because it is not super transparent. Advocates of clean eating like to assert that it is not a diet, but a lifestyle change.” Sounds pretty doesn’t it? Lifestyle change. The small font not included by most clean eating advocates is that this lifestyle change includes a series of food rules and restrictions. Or, in other words, it is a change of your style of life into one that includes dieting.
Clean eating is a dressed up term for diet. Plain and simple. Where did this euphemism come from? Well, the idea of dieting seems to have gotten a little bit of a bad rap over the past ten years or so. Maybe that is because the public was catching on that diets don’t work. Maybe it coincides with the influx of militarized fitness fads. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure—the food industry and media have capitalized and continue to capitalize on the idea that we no longer need to diet—we just need to change. The worst part? We, the public, eat it up (pun intended).
We charge out to buy spiralizers and denounce fruit as too sugary. We load smoothies with vegetables (seriously come up—let’s call a spade a spade—smoothies made mainly from vegetables suck) and whip up bone broth soup because of collagen. We are attracted like magnets to food products listed as organic. Milk chocolate? Processed crap, we mutter to ourselves. Cacao bits? Load ‘em up.
I do not actually have any problem with wanting to incorporate healthy food into one’s diet. However, anything taken to the extreme is problematic. It is just as bad to eat just kale three meals a day as it is to eat pop tarts three meals a day. And the problem is, the concept of clean eating becomes extreme so easily. Think about it. The term “clean” denotes a morality of the food that we consume. Some foods are good, clean, or pure. Others are bad, dirty, or amoral. We humans tend to become activated by messages about morality. Hence, the judgement-laden undertones of the term “clean eating” affect our psyche in undeniable ways.
The good news? There have been a spattering of articles over the past year or so that question the benefits of “clean eating,” hence it is reasonable to assume that the term will be defunct in the next five years. The bad news? Be aware: fad diets are shapeshifters. When one wears thin, the wellness industry tends to catch on and coins a brand new name for said diet. Hence the only way to truly shut down diet culture is to educate ourselves about those roses-by-other-names (i.e. diets in disguise).
So the next time you hear about the newest wellness fad involving food, be sure to ask yourself:
1. Does it encourage restriction?
Is this food fad suggesting that eating less is important? Is fullness considered a negative? Is the message “eat less to be happy” pushed at all?
2. Does it subtly or blatantly include the message that thinner=healthier or better?
Is the message behind the food fad, “eat this way and you will look like him/her?” Does it promote the idea that weight loss is the golden fountain of health?
3. Does it suggest cutting out certain food groups?
Does the food fad promote the message that certain foods should be completely banned from your energy intake? Is the word toxic used at all?
4. Does it promote mistrust of your body?
Does the message suggest that our bodies need to be outsmarted? Does it suggest that certain foods are the equivalent of drugs to our minds?
Summarily, when it comes to food fads, a good rule of thumb is—if it promises salvation through eating—it is a fad diet. So call out the wellness industry every time they shape-shift. Protect your emotional well-being by shouting back at diet and “wellness” culture. Food freedom and overall happiness will be worth the effort-I promise!
Dr. Colleen Reichmann is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing in Williamsburg, Virginia. She works in her private practice, Wildflower Therapy and is a staff psychologist at the College of William and Mary. She is recovered from an eating disorder, and this experience sparked her passion for spreading knowledge and awareness that full recovery is possible. She is now an eating disorders specialist, and has worked at various treatment facilities including University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro Center for Eating Disorder Care, and The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. She is an advocate for feminism, body positivity, health at every size, and FULL recovery. She writes about body image and eating disorders for morelove.org, Project Heal, Recovery Warriors, and The Mighty.
Visit her website.
Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Studies have shown that 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their weight and 42% are actively trying to lose weight by dieting and/or exercising.¹'³ These strategies rarely produce lasting weight loss. In fact, the vast majority of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it - often plus some. This type of yo-yo dieting can be harmful to one’s health.⁴
So why do Americans keep putting themselves through the deprivation associated with dieting if it doesn’t work and is potentially harmful? Perhaps a shift in mindset could break this cycle of “insanity.”
The Health At Every Size (HAES) approach argues that health is related to a person’s behaviors, not their weight.¹'² For example, a person can be “normal” weight and have high blood pressure, and a person can be “over” weight and have normal blood pressure. Interestingly, individuals classified as “overweight” based on their BMI live the longest, while those who are classified as “obese” have the same lifespan as “normal” weight individuals. Dieting has been associated with worsened physical and psychological outcomes, while HAES has been shown to improve them.
- Increased appetite
- Frequent obsessive thoughts about food
- Increased risk of depression
- Emotional overeating
- Weight loss followed by weight regain
- Reduced self-esteem
- Intuitive eating
- Improved psychological functioning
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Reduced overeating
- Maintenance of set-point weight
- Body acceptance and improved self-esteem
By focusing on health rather than weight, a person is able to break out of the cycle of dieting and care for their body in a loving and compassionate way. Dieting and trying to force the body to lose weight or look a certain way is the opposite of this. It is a way of fighting against the body. When a person cares for their body they treat it with kindness and respect — THIS is what HAES is all about.
It’s ok if you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around this. After all, it goes against everything our society teaches us. It may even go against what your doctor tells you. The truth is, you CAN be healthy without focusing on your weight. When you are taking care of your body and engaging in healthful behaviors, your weight will land where it is genetically meant to, without you needing to control it. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and this genetic diversity in humans is not only biologically advantageous, but it is beautiful. It makes each of us unique in our own skin.
Are you ready to end the war against your body? Are you ready for a mindset shift? If so, learn more about the HAES approach by visiting Linda Bacon's website and check out her resources.
1. Provencher et al. Health-At-Every-Size and Eating Behaviors: 1-Year Follow-Up of a Size Acceptance Intervention. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109:1854-61.
2. Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal. 2011;10:9.
3. NEDA Information and Referral Helpline. Statistics: Eating Disorders and their Precursors. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org. Accessed May 10, 2012.
4. Montani J-P, et al. Weight cycling during growth and beyond as a risk factor for later cardiovascular diseases: the ‘repeated overshoot’ theory. International Journal of Obesity. 2006;30:S58-S66.
Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City. She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.