Clothes Shopping in Eating Disorder Recovery: Why and How to Rebuild Your Wardrobe

By Alexandra Hayes Robinson

Can the clothes you wear in eating disorder recovery have a positive impact on your mental health? Our experts share recovery-minded shopping tips.

The road to recovery often has some speed bumps along the way. One of those speed bumps can be navigating your wardrobe. Let’s be honest: Clothes and shopping can be triggering for most people, even those who haven’t struggled with eating disorders.

“Clothes are a way we express ourselves and communicate to the world around us,” explains Kaila Peak-Rishel, LCSW, CEDS-S, clinical director at Eating Recovery and Pathlight At Home.

While struggling with an eating disorder, the clothes you wear might be an expression of your internal struggle. “When I was deep in my eating disorder, I wanted to wear things that drew as little attention to myself and my body as possible,” shares Lindsay, an artist and Eating Recovery Center alum who is a few years into her recovery. “Navigating my wardrobe wasn’t about what felt good or expressed my personality. It was simply another way I avoided taking care of myself.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the clothes we wear during recovery also have a great impact on how we see ourselves during that time. “Having clothing that fits, isn't triggering, is comfortable and we feel good in all supports recovery,” Peak-Rishel explains.

While this means building or revamping a wardrobe that is suited for your mind and body in recovery, it also means something unique to each individual.

“For me, it’s more than just throwing out clothes that no longer fit and honoring the size my body is now, and it’s also more than just wearing what feels good,” Lindsay says. “It’s also about finding ways to express my personality and wear things that make me feel the most me.”

If you’re beginning the journey of building a recovery-focused wardrobe, here are tips to guide you through the process:

1. Ask for help.

If you’re transitioning home after treatment and feel nervous about approaching your “old” closet, just know how valid your feelings are. To help with the transition, try asking someone you trust to donate any clothing you know will not fit your body or that might be triggering for you -- before you come home.

“You can also ask them to cover your mirrors with affirmations or comforting images until you feel ready to face the mirror again,” Peak-Rishel says. “Plus, you can work with your outpatient team to build up your emotional management skills when you see yourself in full-length mirrors or go shopping.”

2. Start small.

When it’s time to go shopping, remember it’s okay to take baby steps. “Identify what you really need and just go on a shopping trip for that one item,” Peak-RIshel says. “So if you really need a new pair of pants for work, just go on one trip to make it less overwhelming.”

You can also consider shopping online, if going to the store feels like too big of a step -- or if you’re worried about size inclusivity.

"Unfortunately, many stores offer limited sizing,” Peak-Rishel adds. “This is a big area where we find anti-fat bias. Some folks have success with ordering online and trying on at home with a support person."

3. Make a plan.

Prior to shopping, Peak-Rishel also recommends going in with a plan. Ask yourself:

  • What will you do before you enter the store? (Deep breathing? Text a friend for support?) 
  • What is your plan if you get too overwhelmed? 
  • What are your warning signs that you need to enact that plan?

Having this in place can help keep you on track and make you feel more supported while shopping.

4. Focus on the fun.

While the road to recovery is serious business, don’t forget that it is also about finding what brings you joy.

“In treatment, there’s a lot of talk about throwing out ‘sick clothes,’ or clothes that were sizes you aspired to in your eating disorder,” Lindsay says. “That’s an important step, and it’s also important to find small ways to be in your body that feel fun, even if it’s just a silly accessory that makes you feel more yourself. Playfulness with your wardrobe can help make it less about weight and body shape.”

5. Stay on budget.

Building your recovery wardrobe should fit within your budget and not cause additional stress. Before getting started, set aside a budget that you feel comfortable putting toward new clothes.

Thrift stores are a great place to shop for unique, playful items that are also affordable. If you’re located near our flagship location in Denver, we recommend Recovery Rack (from our partners at The Eating Disorder Foundation), a no-cost, size-inclusive boutique curated from gently used clothing for those in recovery.

Are you a family member or caregiver of someone rebuilding their wardrobe while in eating disorder recovery?

Awesome! We’re so glad you’re here. The best way to support your loved one is to ask them how to help. This may include:

  • Going with your loved one during shopping trips so they are not alone. 
  • Helping them throw away old clothes or manage mirrors. 
  • Identifying your loved one's coping skills and understanding the ways they feel most supported in high-stress situations, so you have tools to help them in the moment.

For additional support while you build your recovery wardrobe, join one of our complimentary support groups.

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Written by

Alexandra Hayes Robinson

Alexandra Hayes Robinson is a writer and content strategist based in California. She's held senior leadership positions at Arianna Huffington's behavior change company Thrive Global and The Female…

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