Disordered eating and self-care

Self-care has become synonymous for long bubble baths, face masks, and candles. But it means so much more.

From therapy and seeking out support, to boundary setting… Self care can include some big things. Things that often change your life. Hey, not all of them – but some!

And this is why if you’re recovering from disordered eating self-care might be a vital part of your recovery.

This blog will cover the six different types of self-care and how to engage in them.

What is self-care?

Self-care is a way of tending to your:

  • Psychological – which is important for psychological wellbeing and independent motivation. According to something called self determination theory, we have three psychological needs – autonomy, competence and relatedness:
  1. Autonomy – feel like you are in control of your choices and can take responsibility for yout decisions and actions
  2. Competence – having the right sense of challenge that you can have a go at, that your goals can be achieved.
  3. Relatedness – being connected with others around you and that others care about you.
  4. Emotional – these are the conditions we need to feel happy or fulfilled.

This may include things such as: Feeling safe, feeling accomplished, and feeling a part of something. In psychology there is a hierarchy of 9 emotional needs that Maslow (a psychologist) described.

At its base: security, volition (feel fulfilled), attention, emotional connection, community connection, privacy, a sense of self, a sense of achievement and at the very top – meaning.

  • Physical needs – the things you physically need to survive – seen as the basic necessities. This includes shelter, warmth, clothing, clean water, food, sleep and physical movement.

Self-care isn’t one thing. But rather a toolkit you cultivate. It is very individual to you.

We live in a 24-7 go-go-go culture. So, we naturally spend most of our time super stressed. Allowing some self-care means not just physically taking care of yourself. But creating an environment that serves you best.

Sometimes that can be through things that we find hard such as enforcing boundaries or saying no to something we thought we wanted, but in hindsight is overwhelming.

Caring for yourself isn’t always easy – but it may be essential. Especially in disordered eating and eating disorder recovery.

How does self-care link to Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating by its very nature is a ‘self-care’ framework that’s specific to eating. This is because Intuitive Eating helps with something called Introspective Awareness or Interoception.

What is Interoceptive Awareness?

Interoception means sensing internal sensations in your body.

This means:

How your body sends a message to your brain about what’s going on inside, and how this affects you. This will then start a domino effect of behaviours inside and outside the body, as well as any effects on your brain.

If you’ve just eaten a large meal, your body might send a message to your brain which causes your body to start digestion and other processes, as well as telling your brain to get you to relax so it can digest.

Over time this can be more or less accurate depending on how much we ignore these signals. For example, if I said guess your own heart rate, this would be an example of what’s called interoceptive accuracy. It’s knowing what is going on inside your body.

Self care is listening to your body and cultivating what will help it best – Intuitive Eating gets you back in tune with what your body needs.

Why self-care is important in disordered eating and eating disorder recovery

For those who have experienced disordered eating or an eating disorder, self-care might be difficult. This might be because of reasons including:

  • Your disordered eating might be linked with trauma

Often as a result of trauma we as humans dissociate from ourselves. This might come in the form of social withdrawal or self-destructive behaviours. Self-care is in ways the opposite of these behaviours so it can be a huge challenge.

  • You may experience food insecurity

Not knowing where or when your next meal is coming from can lead to a whole range of effects including stress and depression. This is because food is a basic physical need we all need to survive, and if this is an issue we don’t want to add self-care on top of this. It can be overwhelming.

  • You may lack routine

Self-care tends to rely on being incorporated into a routine to ensure the practices are repeatedly carried out. If you lack routine you may miss opportunities for self-care, or forget about implementing them.

  • You may have poor boundaries

We’ve all been there, but if you are constantly having your boundaries pushed by others you may have no space left for yourself. Self-care might seem like too much when you’re expelling all your energy on others. We recommend checking out the work of Michelle Elman, the ”queen of boundaries”

  • You may have poor emotional regulation

If you are at the mercy of your emotions then bouts of stress, anger or sadness might mean you skip self-care or feel as if it’s not working or worth it. This might also lead to self-sabotage where you don’t practice self-care on purpose due to how you’re feeling.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you recognise yourself in any of these situations know that it’s understandable to struggle to commit to a self-care practice.

Self-care allows room for self-compassion and understanding oneself. This can be hard after a period of not listening to what the body needs in favour of what we are told it needs. Especially if any form of disorder when it comes to eating is because we feel inadequate or unworthy.

Recovery isn’t easy. Having some self-compassion and setting yourself up to have your needs met physically, emotionally and psychologically will help with the process.

How to practice self-care in eating disorder recovery

Types of self care

There are 6 tips of self-care:

1. Physical self-care: Activities that improve your physical health.

Examples include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Having regular health check ups
  • Having days off when sick
  • Being active

This can also include the ‘stereotypical’ self-care activities such as:

On some days the smallest things count. Such as cleaning your teeth, eating a meal, and taking a shower.

Maybe even organising your emails or cleaning your house – I know, not exactly riveting stuff. But cultivating habits over time might be a major improvement to your life e.g. limit social media usage in the morning, sleep better, decluttering your space etc.

Ask yourself what makes your body feel calm and balanced. Or what do you need to do to feel slightly more in control of your day?

2. Emotional self-care: Activities that help you reflect on your emotions – positive and negative – and process them.

Examples include:

  • Having time for self-reflection
  • Seeing a therapist
  • Having comfort activities and places
  • Having compassion for yourself and others
  • Journalling

Ask yourself how am I really feeling? And am I trying to escape that feeling?

3. Interpersonal and relationship self-care: Activities that nurture our relationship with others.

Even if you’re introverted, we all need a little bit of socialising to thrive. And it’s easy when life gets busy, or if we feel a little overwhelmed, we tend to cancel plans and withdraw into a little social isolation.

Examples include:

  • Spending time with people who support you
  • Having people in your life who listen to you and who you consider important
  • Such as scheduling a regular meet up or phone call with a loved one
  • Having a date night with your partner
  • Writing a note or letter to a loved one

And the opposite – if someone is draining your energy it may be time to step away from that relationship, or enforce some boundaries with that person.

Ask yourself who around you fills your energy up and who drains your energy? Who is no longer serving you?

4. Spiritual self-care: Activities that allow you to think bigger than yourself. Although the name implies some form of religion this is not always the case – but can be.

Examples include:

  • Taking time for reflection – maybe away from social media
  • Spending time in nature
  • Volunteering for a cause you feel strongly about
  • Creating a vision board to inspire yourself
  • Religious self-care can include going to a place of worship, meditation, or prayer

Ask yourself have I stopped to reflect on where I am and what I want?

5. Mental: Activities that stimulate your mind and foster a ‘healthy psyche’. This tends to focus on what we can control, and seeking out professionals for things that we can’t, and knowing it’s okay to ask for help.

Examples include:

  • Stimulation via reading a book
  • Going to a museum
  • Writing out thoughts and feelings
  • Working on mental self-care might also means learning to manage thoughts & feelings. Especially those that bring a ”charged response” to you
  • Setting boundaries and putting practices in place to help with this. This might be recognising the need to work with a professional to help with your mental health

Ask yourself how are you mentally talking to yourself and how does that make you feel? If negative thoughts start to arise do you know how to deal with them?

6. Professional and environmental:

Professional: Setting clear professional boundaries while ensuring your work needs are met and your professional life feels fulfilling.

Environmental: Creating a space that helps you feel calm, often a focus on being clutter-free and tidy.

Ways to use self care during recovery

Self care requires a little bit of reflection and tuning into what you need. This can be really important in recovery, helping with stress and avoiding burnout. Some have even described self-care as a form of self-preservation.

Physical self-care:

  • Follow whatever meal plan and nutritional recommendations you have in place for recovery. Especially if you are restoring weight this may be the first and most important step in your recovery.
  • Find a way of moving that you feel benefits you – maybe it’s walking, yoga or something slightly more strenuous. As long as you are approaching exercise from the perspective of self-care and not a form of control or punishment then it can benefit you.
  • If you are sick take a day off / take it a little easy. And this doesn’t just mean with a fever or down with a cold, if you’re struggling with your mental health or having a hard day in the recovery process take a step back and look after yourself.
  • Check in on yourself in terms of how much you are sleeping, drinking water, moving etc.

Emotional self-care:

  • Start a form of journal to help you see what you are feeling and start to process them, for many journaling in the morning helps set them up for the day but find a time that works for you.
  • Book a therapy appointment. Therapy is self-care and may be vital in helping you move away from a place of guilt in regard to your eating. A professional will give you more tools to work through your emotions.
  • Find activities you find comforting such as certain movies, reading, colouring,
  • Work on your self-talk. If you often speak negatively to yourself, focus on reframing this. This might be imagining you’re talking to your best friend, or using affirmations to change the language you use with yourself.
  • Stay in the present moment. Notice if you start to scroll on social media when you start to feel negative emotions creeping in, start to take note of them and how you normally cope. Maybe limiting your social media usage might be helpful here. Especially if it feeds any negativity.

Interpersonal self-care:

  • Practice saying the word ‘no’. Something I think most of us struggle with, but over time enforcing clear boundaries allows us to look after ourselves and take time to focus on what we need to for our recovery.
  • Set a boundary with friends / family in regards to speaking about diets / negative body image talk. Enforce these boundaries as you need to.
  • Join an eating disorder support group, this will help recovery feel less lonely.
  • Schedule a regular phone call or meeting with a friend who fills your energy and who supports you. This could be once a month even.
  • Avoid people that you feel drain your energy, make you feel bad, or encourage any of your symptoms. Protecting your energy is a form of self care.
  • Reduce the time you spend on social media, if it is your only form of connection it could have a negative impact on you, especially if it has previously fuelled disordered eating.
  • Write a letter to yourself or a loved one, whether you send it or not is your decision. But this could act as a form of journaling or connection.

Spiritual self-care:

  • Take five minutes every morning to reflect on your day, what you need to focus on. Maybe this is through some form of structured meditation, maybe it’s journalling or just sitting with yourself for a minute.
  • Create a vision board to inspire you, what things do you want to aim for. Maybe it’s goals that are not recovery related, or maybe they are.
  • Volunteer for a cause you care about, this will help you connect with things outside of yourself. And maybe socialise along the way.
  • If you are religious, take some time to attend a religious event or practice.

Mental self-care:

  • Find things that you find mentally stimulating – maybe it’s reading or learning something new. Maybe set a goal such as reading a certain number of books.
  • Seek out a therapist if you need some help with your mental health. It’s okay to ask for help, and a professional will help support you.
  • Make note of anything that arises in terms of your mental health, notice things that may trigger you or help you. Build a mental health toolkit.
  • Write a stream of consciousness style article on your thoughts, don’t edit or try and dictate it. Just let it out onto the paper. Do what you want with it after but get it out.

The most important thing – know what self-care works for you. What works for one person may be another’s nightmare. But knowing what works for you, and practising this repeatedly will allow you to best support your recovery.

We hope you can keep taking care of yourself,

Team Ease Nutrition Therapy x

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