Dr Natasha Bijlani is a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital Roehampton, and here she gives us her top tips for those who are in recovery from an eating disorder.
While there’s no magical quick-fix, there are still plenty of things you can do to take care of yourself as best you can.
Honesty is the best policy in many areas of life, including when you’re in recovery. Bijlani recommends you try to be as truthful as you can with the professionals treating you.
“The treatment recommended will be based on the history of symptoms you share with them and you will not recover fully if you feel unable to disclose everything relevant,” she says.
“If you are able to express your fears, preferences and dislikes, you will be able to get a treatment plan tailor-made for your individual needs, and you are more likely to achieve your goals.”
After reading more about how harmful diet culture is & how we've been taught to see and treat our own bodies, I can't wait to take more mindful steps towards my own healing from years of self depreciation, and gradually learn to feel more body positive 💪🏻❤️🌱#edrecovery— Megs 🐾 (@_megsrb) February 21, 2018
Recovery can seem like an uphill battle with no end in sight, which can be demoralising. Bijlani’s advice? “Take your recovery one day at a time. The progress you make is likely to be slow and it can feel quite daunting to project far into the future, especially at the start of treatment.”
Focusing on the short-term can do much to battle any feelings of helplessness you might be experiencing.
I've been having a really hard time with my ED while I've been living alone this past fortnight and I told my mum ✨ anyway I just got home and she had ordered this to my address BLESS up (@rubytandoh)
(had a bit of a happy cry and now some soup and chocolate) pic.twitter.com/wk5vKGg3kg— Bella Biddle (@simsalabella) February 14, 2018
Just like being honest with those who are helping you, it’s in your best interest to tell your supervising professional immediately if you have been finding it difficult to stick to the plan.
Slip-ups happen and that’s absolutely fine. Bijlani says: “No one is perfect (although those with eating disorders often have perfectionist tendencies and unrealistic expectations) and you may not easily be able to follow all the advice and recommendations they suggest.
“The sooner you inform them of any setbacks you may have, the sooner they will be able to provide support and corrective guidance.”
It's a long, rocky road to #edrecovery. Starting it is the hardest part and every day can seem like a challenge at first. But you've got this far and that's amazing. You're doing brilliantly, as are we all - whatever stage we're at. Hang in there xxx— Fighting With Food (@fightfoodblog) February 12, 2018
“Recovery with any illness is prone to fluctuations,” explains Bijlani. That’s why she urges you not to be so hard on yourself, which is such an important part of self-care.
“Accept that the journey to improving your relationship with food and your body image will be challenging, so try not to feel a failure on the days you might find it harder to keep to the plan agreed,” she suggests.
When you try on something old and it doesn’t fit any more, and you have to remind yourself that it doesn’t not fit because you got fat, it just doesn’t fit because you’re no longer underweight and unhealthy. #strongnotskinny #KeepTalkingMH #EatingDisorderAwarenessWeek pic.twitter.com/ruAC0BIaFE— Aimee (@dorkycatgirl) February 10, 2018
The journey to recovery can feel pretty lonely, but it’s important to know there are plenty of people available to help and offer support and advice.
Bijlani says: “Try and be open to suggestions, such as changes in diet and restrictions in exercise that are recommended, rather than rejecting them outright.”
4 years ago I decided I wanted to be healthy. I wasn’t going to let my disorder win because it would have killed me. I was so underweight I was at risk for a heart attack. I never thought I’d get where I am now. Healthy and loving my body. Recovery is possible #edrecovery— Samantha 🌙 (@1forget_menot1) February 18, 2018
Recovery doesn’t have to feel like a hard slog all the time. Bijlani suggests doing something that makes you feel good every day, so long as it doesn’t interfere with your treatment plan.
This will mean “you have something to look forward to, rather than feeling burdened by the effort of treatment,” she says.
While you should do things that make you happy, it’s also key to avoid anything that might be triggering – such as scrolling through Instagram and being inundated with unrealistic body expectations.
Let’s face it; doctors and family members are great, but they don’t always fully ‘get it’.
That’s why Bijlani says: “Consider seeking support from other sufferers who are motivated to recovery. Humans are essentially social beings, and sharing emotions and experiences during treatment with non-professionals can provide a valuable boost to your morale as well as companionship during the process.”
Sharing your own experiences also has the potential to help other survivors out there, and that could really boost your own confidence too.