How to cope with the impact of an eating disorder 

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Health Assured team

25 March 2022

Living with an eating disorder is draining; it’s emotionally and mentally exhausting. With self-doubts and anxieties occupying a permanent residence in the mind, a low mood that lingers like a grey cloud, and a lack of interest in the people you love. It’s a lonely place. And it’s hard to communicate that to those around you. 

Food is woven into most of the things we do. For many people with an eating disorder, it’s hard to escape the constant stream of food-related conversations, dinner plans and diet culture. These external pressures creep up in all directions, making the negative inner voices seem even louder. 

No one should have to go through this alone. And although it can be challenging to reach out for help, sometimes it’s necessary to get through the hard times. Know that these feelings won’t last forever— and in the meantime—there are things you can do to help you cope. We’ve listed a few of these below. 

 

Grounding exercises

When floods of panic take over at the thought of the next meal or an upcoming event, grounding exercises can help you to find safety in the moment. You can use the exercise below at any time. Simply focus your attention on:

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch 

3 things you can hear 

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste 

Your senses act as an anchor to the present moment. Try to connect with them when you feel like you aren’t in control. A few deep breaths and a connection to the now can act as a lifeline in times of need. 

 

Pay attention to emotions

It’s tempting to push down, run away from, and bottle up painful emotions. But these emotions weigh heavy on the mind and the body. And over time—they build up. As much as they might feel difficult to bear, try your best to accept them as much as you can. 

By slowly starting to accept the way you feel and the situation you’re in, as hard as it might feel right now, it allows you to let go of what was weighing you down and start making changes. It was the famous psychologist Carl Rogers who said:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” 

Remember that nobody is perfect. We all have our flaws and imperfections. When we drop our resistance to negative thoughts and emotions, they become just that little bit more manageable. 

 

Challenge negative thoughts 

Identifying and challenging negative thought patterns is a big part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is often used to help people overcome eating disorders. The process involves paying attention to our thought patterns and looking out for unhelpful thinking habits or harmful beliefs. Here are some common examples below: 

All or nothing thinking. Viewing situations as black and white or right or wrong rather than anything in between. 

Shoulds and musts. Thinking I should do this, or I mustn’t do this. It adds pressure and sets unrealistic expectations. 

Critical self. Involves self-judgement and blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not fully our responsibility. 

Catastrophising. Imagining and assuming the worst possible outcome will happen. 

Familiarise yourself with these negative thinking habits and try to catch yourself in that negative cycle. Look for any evidence you can find against those thoughts. Sometimes it helps to write this down so you can take a step back and reflect on your internal critic. 

 

Support is out there, don’t face this alone

If you can, try to talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Opening up is difficult, but it can help you let things off your chest. Your GP can also provide a wealth of information and support on steps to help you get through this. 

Counselling is another great tool for eating disorders too. Talking confidentially to someone outside your life might help you to really unravel how you feel and begin to make positive changes in your life. 

If you have an EAP with Health Assured, remember our helpline is here 24/7, 365.

 

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