Being an adult afflicted with an eating disorder breeds a certain type of shame. Restrictive eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, are often misconstrued as illnesses affecting only teenagers and young adults.
However, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Other Illnesses (ANAD) reports that roughly 30 million individuals in the US are suffering from these disorders–people of every age, every gender, and every ethnicity. Unfortunately, the taboo of being an adult with a “child’s illness” is what stops so many from seeking help.
Don’t let yourself think this way. EDs are crippling tyrants at any age and everyone deserves freedom from them. If you’re an adult suffering from a restrictive eating disorder, please consider moving towards recovery by following the steps below.
Ask For Help
Recovery only begins when you decide that you want it to. It’s important that you book an appointment with your doctor after making the choice to start getting better. Eating disorders can have devastating effects on the body.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may suggest a variety of different tests. This will show whether you have developed any underlying health conditions. For instance, if you experience bulimic episodes, you should have your blood drawn and tested.
Purging can cause extreme dehydration and severely depleted levels of electrolytes. Low potassium is a contributing factor in heart attacks amongst eating disorder sufferers. Don’t tell yourself that you “aren’t sick enough” or “thin enough” to be at risk.
Eating disorders can wreck devastating havoc on your health, regardless of your body mass index (BMI) or the number on the scale. Physical health isn’t the only area of concern. Eating disorder sufferers also have high rates of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. (It’s been reported by ANAD that nearly 50% of individuals with eating disorders meet the diagnostic criteria for depression.)
The relationship between your mind and your body is fraught and needs assistance to heal. If you have insurance, you should look into getting referred by your family doctor to a psychologist or a psychiatrist who specializes in disordered eating. There are also counselors who charge on a sliding scale if you are a student, have a lower income, and/or don’t have adequate health insurance.
In extreme cases, in-patient care is necessary for recovery. Please be open to going to a specialized facility if your health is in a precarious state. This is about getting your life back on track. Prioritize yourself.
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Build A Support System
As scary as it is, you need to start talking about your eating disorder. Tell your family. Tell you friends. After living under the thumb of your eating disorder, you’ll likely have adapted to being quite secretive about your behaviors.
Don’t let shame or fear keep you silenced. There’s nothing weak in leaning on loved ones and letting them help keep you afloat. Together, you can begin to move towards a happier, healthier life.On the flip side, it’s equally important to identify any negative influences in your life. Maybe it’s a toxic partner who undermines your self-esteem.
Maybe it’s that friend who makes snide comments about your weight. If you have any of these harmful people in your life, you need to cut them out indefinitely. (Or, at least, until you’re a more stable place in your recovery.) Progress is often slow and fragile. You don’t need negative or harmful people compromising your ability to get better.
Try To Normalize Eating Patterns
Often, when you first attempt recovery, all foods seem terrifying. Or, alternately, you have a restricted list of “safe foods” that you feel comfortable eating and experience excruciating anxiety when deviating away from them. Take small steps at first.
You don’t have to eat all your “fear foods” on the first day of recovery, or even in the same month. It would be counterproductive to even try, because you’re likely to get overwhelmed and flee to the safety of familiar, disordered food habits. If you can, you should try working with a nutritionist to create a recovery meal plan.
That way, you’ll have someone else guiding your intake and helping to ensure you receive the balanced nutrition that your body so desperately needs. If a lack of financial means prevents this, try to educate yourself online.
There are resources available, like Cron-o-meter, that track the vitamins and macronutrients of your intake, rather than focusing on the number of calories. Calorie counting may be triggering for you, so try to avoid it if possible. For the first while, it may reduce anxiety to eat the same meals at the same times daily.
You need to get into the habit of a normalized eating schedule again. Once you can follow this plan more comfortably, then you can start being more adventurous with your food choices again. This approach is especially recommended for individuals who suffer from patterns of binge-eating.
Be gentle with yourself. Slip-ups will happen. Recovering from an eating disorder is never a straight path. Mentally berating yourself or engaging in self-harm is not the answer. Write a list of activities that make you feel calm and happy.
Keep it with you and pull it out whenever you’re feeling lost or defeated. Practice writing positive affirmations on post-it notes and stick them around your mirror, bedroom, or office space. Develop breathing exercises for when you’re feeling anxious or stressed.
Take long baths or hot showers to relax. Go for walks. Fill your speed dial with supportive friends you can call. Stretch. Try smiling at yourself in the mirror. If you can’t smile at your own reflection, try smiling at strangers on the metro.
Make someone else’s day better. Maybe these suggestions sound a little silly, but you’ll be amazed by how making a bunch of small, positive choices can improve your life on a larger scale.
Remember, recovery from a restrictive eating disorder doesn’t happen overnight. Every day you need to wake up and recommit to getting better. It’s not easy and it won’t be easy for a while, but it will get easier. Stay on the path, make consistently healthy choices, and a full recovery will be attainable.