Eating Disorder Recovery Inspiration: Wellness Tips
The lifestyle habits we choose each day can impact our moods, our energy levels and more. To support your mental and physical health, we’re sharing lifestyle choices that can support and deepen your eating disorder recovery. Before you make any significant lifestyle changes, please speak with your treatment team or health care provider first.
Make quality sleep a priority
Raise your hand if your day has ever been ruined following one night of poor sleep. If you raised your hand, you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American adults don't get enough sleep on a regular basis. Sleep deprivation, even minor, can launch a cascade of consequences that can negatively affect your physical health and emotional stability . Poor sleep can also affect mood, attention, concentration and memory . If you’ve struggled with insomnia, you may already know that insufficient sleep can make it hard to think clearly and regulate your emotions.
The good news is that you can take steps to improve your sleep habits to make the most of eating disorder recovery as follows:
- Find out if any medications or substances you ingest are negatively impacting your sleep. Some prescribed medications, along with alcohol and caffeine, can make it hard to fall asleep or may increase waking in the middle of the night. Talk to a physician before changing your medications.
- Set a consistent time for waking up each day -- even on the weekends. While it is tempting to sleep in on weekends to make up for a tiring workweek, this can backfire when you try to go to bed early the next night. Sleeping in, even occasionally, can worsen insomnia, which can potentially increase stress levels. Consistency is key.
- The “best” amount of sleep varies from person to person, but sleep experts typically recommend that you get six to eight hours.
We can’t stress enough how important quality sleep is to eating disorder recovery. If you experience sleep difficulties regularly, we encourage you to reach out to your treatment team to discuss strategies that can help.
Tip: Want to learn more about good sleep habits? Listen to our podcast showing you how to get a better night’s rest.
Manage everyday stressors so they aren’t overwhelming
Stress management is key in eating disorder recovery to keep your mood and energy levels stable. High stress levels are associated with worsening mental health . If you’ve been feeling stressed out or overwhelmed in recovery, look at your daily life. What steps can you take to reduce stress?
One of our favorite ways to reduce stress is to practice self-care regularly and often. Schedule self-care breaks on your calendar just like you would schedule a work meeting, a social event or a doctor appointment. If finances are tight, please know that self-care doesn’t have to be luxurious. Self-care can be as simple as calling a friend, taking a warm bath, enjoying a short walk in a favorite park or taking a five- to ten-minute break during the day to simply relax and breathe.
We know that many stressors are unavoidable. A new baby, a new job, moving to a new residence -- these are often positive experiences, but they are still highly stressful. To help you cope with daily stresses, try some of the following tips.
- Schedule time each day, even if it’s just fifteen minutes, to enjoy some “me” time, self-care or pleasure.
- Create a list of favorite hobbies that you truly enjoy, like playing games with others, gardening or reading. When you’re feeling down, anxious or bored, engage in one of these pastimes.
- Refrain from shaming and blaming others (relationship problems are stressful). Find ways to engage with others in supportive ways. If you find yourself struggling in your personal relationships, consider attending one of our weekly support groups where you can share your struggles and learn from others who may have similar concerns.
- Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Perfectionism and self-criticism can also increase stress.
- Engage in relaxation techniques daily, including deep breathing or a mindfulness practice.
- Start a daily gratitude practice.
- Dance to a favorite song, draw, write or bake. Channel your inner artist and nurture the healing power of creativity.
- Laugh with a good book or comedy special.
- Spend time playing with or cuddling up with a favorite pet.
- Ask for help when you need it.
Create an uplifting social support network
Did you ever feel as though your eating disorder was kind of a friend -- a trusted confidante? Perhaps your friendships suffered during the most intense periods of your eating disorder. Did the eating disorder take time away from friendships and socializing? When you let go of the eating disorder, what was left? Did you feel an empty space and wonder how to fill it?
Lack of social connection has been established as a significant risk factor for many chronic diseases, like hypertension, diabetes and cancer. It is also associated with stress, depression and poor health habits, like smoking. Lack of connection also prevents people from getting health care and support when they need it.
We are wired for connection. If you’re feeling empty or lonely without your eating disorder, invest that time and energy into connecting with friends and family members. Prioritize engaging with people whom you enjoy being close with and who make you feel safe. Connect with others by not only sharing worries and symptoms but with encouragement and support.
Tip: If you’re struggling with loneliness, please reach out to us. Consider joining one of our weekly support groups where you can share your inner truth with others in a safe space. And get more tips on improving your social connections here.
Explore a grounding mindfulness practice
Daily life can be highly chaotic and stressful for many of us. This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is a practice that can help you become more aware of the present moment by focusing on what you can see, hear, smell, feel and experience. When we are focused on the present moment, we are less worried about the future and less consumed by our past.
We strongly encourage all our patients and alumni in recovery to explore mindfulness. Mindfulness is known to offer relief to those who struggle with anxiety and depression. This powerful practice is a great addition to the other positive lifestyle changes we mention here, helping you become more in tune with your feelings and how you experience the world. In fact, the benefits of mindfulness can be felt after just a few days of practice. The beauty of mindfulness for anxiety is that there are many ways to practice, and you can even practice in short increments each day, at any time.
Practice mindfulness — Outdoors
A mindfulness practice combined with nature can be even more powerful than practicing indoors. Think about it. Our bodies are a part of the natural world, thriving on sunlight and fresh air. As you deepen your mindfulness practice, you become more in tune with your body, and being out in nature is a great place to do this. Here are some ways to begin.
- Start by practicing mindfulness indoors, sitting comfortably, without distraction.
- Focus on your breath. Feel the breath as it moves into the low belly, and into the chest. Notice how your body relaxes, or tightens, with each breath.
- Once you’ve sat a few times, noticing your breath and your physical experiences, it’s time to explore mindfulness outdoors.
- Visit a local park or outdoor environment that offers a view of natural beauty: trees, grasses, flowers, water, wildlife, etc. Make sure this location is easy for you to access regularly. Tune in and notice what happens in your body as you breathe mindfully in this new environment.
- Notice if a plant or tree or flower draws your attention. Begin to visit that plant, tree, flower or body of water regularly, at different times of day, in different weather conditions, or during different seasons. Tune in and notice what happens in your body as you engage with this natural element.
As we drop into our bodies, becoming more in tune with our breath, our experiences and our surroundings, we can more easily tune into the rhythms of the natural world around us. This can help ground us when stressors or uncertainties inevitably arise. Here are some additional ways to explore mindfulness in natural settings.
- Find a quiet place to eat lunch outside each day. Notice how this setting changes throughout the year and how your mood changes as well.
- Practice mindful walks in your favorite parks or city streets. Listen to the sounds and observe the changing sky.
- Notice the way the sun filters through the leaves of a tree. Observe all the different colors and textures.
- On sunny days, roll the car windows down and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
- Listen to the sounds of birds or gentle breezes rustling through the trees.
Tip: Check out our Mental Note podcast where we discuss the healing power of nature more in depth.
Explore mindful and joyful movement
Mindful, joyful movement offers several health benefits. When you learn to treat your body kindly and listen to its needs, you can learn how to move in a way that brings you joy and vitality while also making space for rest and healing.
Our consensus? Speak with your treatment team before starting any new movement routines. Recognize, if you tended to engage in excessive exercise in the past, that increasing physical activity can be a slippery slope that could lead you right back to your eating disorder.
Tip: If your treatment team is supportive of you starting a gentle, mindful movement practice, listen to our podcast on joyful movement, particularly if you have limited mobility.
Avoid or reduce substance use (with a note on caffeine)
In our society, people commonly turn to substances, including alcohol, medications and illegal drugs, to numb difficult experiences like social anxiety, loneliness and low self-esteem. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 50% of individuals with eating disorders turn to alcohol or illicit drugs regularly. This rate is five times higher than in the general population. While substances can effectively numb difficult feelings, they can also make you feel much, much worse over time. Additionally, if you are taking medications for mental health concerns, substances of abuse can interact with your medications, making them less effective.
If a person has only an eating disorder or a substance abuse problem, it can feel like an overwhelming and impossible challenge. When these diagnoses occur together, the mountain of recovery feels that much tougher to climb. Please remember that you can recover from both an eating disorder and a substance use disorder. Our team is ready to help if you need more support or a referral to a substance use treatment center.
A note on caffeine: When it comes to substances, alcohol and mind-altering drugs aren’t the only ones that can negatively impact your mental health. Notice how caffeine affects your sleep, mood and anxiety levels. Do you think caffeine is helping -- or hurting -- you? While caffeine is an incredibly popular substance that helps people focus and increase their energy, if you are struggling in recovery, you may want to reduce or eliminate it altogether. Medical providers caution people with insomnia and anxiety to avoid caffeine or use it minimally. This means that some people shouldn’t consume much at all. Others may want to avoid consuming it within four to six hours of bedtime.
Tip: Learn about the connection between eating disorders and substance use here.
Make lifestyle changes that stick
Now that you’ve identified helpful lifestyle changes that can support your eating disorder recovery, how do you actually make the changes? It can sometimes seem easy to make one new change, such as sitting for a daily meditation or being more consistent with your sleep habits, but sticking to these changes can be quite challenging. So, what can you use to motivate you to stick to these new positive changes? We encourage you to think about your values as you consider each of the following questions.
- WHY do you want to make positive lifestyle changes for your recovery?
- HOW did the eating disorder harm your mental and physical health?
- WHAT are your personal health goals now?
- HOW will these lifestyle changes improve your wellness?
- WHY do you want to make these changes now?
If you like to journal, consider writing responses to these questions in your journal. As you identify the positive lifestyle changes you’d like to make to support your eating disorder recovery, consider the following additional tips.
- Start small. You may even want to start by just making one change at a time.
- Avoid making any lifestyle changes that are drastic or extreme as those can be damaging to your mental (and physical) health. Extreme behaviors are connected to eating disorders.
- Remind yourself that you are not going through this alone. We encourage you to share any lifestyle changes you’d like to make with your therapist and dietitian, and possibly your physician.
- Create a list of the change(s) you’d like to make and post it where you can see it regularly. You can hold yourself accountable as you remind yourself of the ways in which you want to improve your life.
- Consider asking a friend or family member to make a change with you. Perhaps you both commit to reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption. Chat regularly about your progress or concerns.
- If you are unsuccessful at sticking to these new habits, it’s okay. You tried; you made an effort. And sometimes that is worth celebrating.
- Above all, be gentle with yourself.
Any new lifestyle choices that you choose must be safe for you. By avoiding extremes, you can move toward optimal wellness and long-term recovery. You can do this. We believe in you and are here if you need more support.
Tip: Join a weekly support group to discuss more helpful lifestyle changes that support your recovery.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and chronic disease. Accessed October 20, 2022.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and sleep disorders. Accessed October 20, 2022.
3. National Institute of Mental Health. I’m so stressed out! Fact sheet. Accessed October 20, 2022.