When you enter an eating disorder treatment center, you’re given a safe, supportive place to heal. You’re nurtured by people who understand what you’re going through — professionals and peers. You learn how to talk openly about your feelings and struggles as you face challenges and learn new coping skills. You can rest when you need it. Treatment can feel like a cocoon … a place to safely recover. What a gift!

Inevitably, you must leave treatment and reenter the big, messy, unpredictable world. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by this transition, and to even resist it a little. But it is still a transition you must make. When you finish treatment, your world and day-to-day life are going to look and feel different. These tips can help you through it all.

Eating disorder recovery inspiration

  1. Every day, you get to make a choice. It’s up to you to choose recovery.
  2. Eating disorder recovery does not happen in a straight line. There will be ups and downs. On the good days and on the bad days, you are still making progress — as long as you continue to choose recovery.
  3. If you talk to others in eating disorder recovery, the vast majority will tell you how hard recovery is. They will also tell you that you can do this. We believe in you and are here for you every step of the way.
  4. If you feel like you’re failing at recovery, please know that you are absolutely not failing. Life in recovery is hard! When you struggle, turn each situation around and ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Give yourself a big dose of self-compassion and self-love and remind yourself that you can do this.
  5. Remind yourself why you choose recovery. What led you to treatment in the first place? Let that inspire you to keep going.
  6. Feeling like you might give up on recovery? When you feel like giving up, write out a list of your values and your desires for your future — and let those guide you in taking the next best step for you.
  7. It’s okay to have difficult and painful thoughts, feelings and emotions. It’s okay to struggle in recovery. You may not know how you are going to get through this, but you will.
  8. Try using a mantra or repeating positive affirmations when needed: “I am right where I belong. It took all I’ve been through to get here. I am right where I need to be.” We believe in you and we are here for you.
  9. Acknowledge all your successes in recovery — even the small ones — by creating mini celebrations for yourself: start a gratitude practice, pat yourself on the back after asking for help, reward yourself with your favorite forms of self-care and always remind yourself to breathe.
  10. A life worth living only happens when you put recovery first — no matter what.
  11. This new life in recovery is tough. If life feels too overwhelming, draw on the skills you learned in treatment or reach out to your treatment team for help.

Dealing with perfectionism

  1. Many who struggle with eating disorders also struggle with perfectionism. Remember: rigid rules and regulations only lead to suffering, anxiety and shame.
  2. Life isn’t perfect. Don’t expect recovery to be. Recovery is being perfectly imperfect.
  3. In recovery we learn about the importance of flexibility . We learn how to let go of rigid expectations to find a world full of spontaneity, surprises and joy. If you tend toward being inflexible, try changing your daily routine or exploring new experiences (museums, hiking, social engagements, etc.)
  4. When you feel like you are spiraling, remember that you are not alone. What can you do? Reach out for support! See a doctor or mental health professional, or call a friend or family member. You don’t have to go through this all alone.

Coping with challenges

  1. On hard days, it’s okay to take breaks. Make time for gentle movement, breathing exercises, body scans or other relaxation activities. Check in with yourself if you’re struggling; notice how you feel and determine what you need at that moment.
  2. When we allow ourselves to really feel our feelings — the good and the bad — when we allow ourselves to feel them without escaping, but simply just pausing and noticing, we get the opportunity to explore a new relationship with our feelings.
  3. No matter how hard today feels, no matter how painful, remember this: You have access to the tools you need. Reach out to us or to your treatment team if you need more help.
  4. If you feel the urge to use eating disorder behaviors, take a second to pause. Can you allow those feelings and ideas to linger  … without acting on them? Remind the eating disorder, “You can no longer bully me.”
  5. If you’re having a hard day, try urge surfing. This practice helps you ride the wave for urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors. The goal of urge surfing is not to eliminate desires, urges or impulses. That task is impossible. The goal is to learn that not all desires, urges or impulses must be satisfied or responded to.

If you are numbing your feelings

  1. You are going to be triggered in recovery. Stress is going to happen. You may be tempted to numb uncomfortable feelings with binge eating, purging, or using drugs or alcohol. However, it is extremely valuable to be able to feel your feelings without numbing them, without putting any barriers between you and your feelings. Reach out for help if you feel you lack the coping skills to handle hardships. 
  2. You spent months or years numbing your pain by using eating disorder behaviors. As you make progress in recovery and difficult feelings start to surface, you may seek other behaviors that will continue to keep you numb. Please know that there are healthier, more effective ways to cope with the pain. One of our top recommendations is to talk about what’s going on with a trusted friend, family member or treatment provider. Some people find benefits from journaling or getting involved in the creative arts. Meditation and mindful movement can also be healing.

Social events and holidays

  1. If social events are hard for you in recovery, let someone know. Can you ask a trusted friend or relative to accompany you to parties or holiday gatherings? If they can’t go, ask if you can call or text them should you become anxious, upset or triggered.
  2. If you are going to a party and are not sure if you can stick to your meal plan, talk to your support team about creating a plan to avoid being triggered or using eating disorder behaviors.
  3. As you become more aware of your emotions around food, holiday traditions and family dynamics, you may wonder how to get through holidays. Talk with your treatment team if you need help with the following: people commenting on your appearance or what you are eating (or not eating), feeling tempted to stray from your meal plan, or feeling self-conscious or anxious.
  4. Holidays can be hard, especially when you’re new to recovery. Take a moment to write down what you want your holidays to look like. How can your values guide your holiday season? Do you have any favorite holiday traditions? How does your recovery relate to each holiday? Own your power and redefine what holidays mean to you.

Coping with anxiety

  1. Facing your fears is hard! But it is a necessary process that takes us one step closer to achieving our dreams and thriving in recovery. You have more courage than you think.
  2. In times of anxiety, can you step outside of yourself for a moment? Look around the room and refocus on the people around you. Reach out and connect with someone. When we shift the focus from fear to connection, we open ourselves up to joy and a deeper recovery.
  3. What are your go-to coping skills for anxiety? We recommend having some ideas lined up for moments you need them. Some examples: calling or texting a supportive friend, taking time to journal, meditate or enjoy a mindful walk. Whatever your personal recovery coping skills are, rely on them. Write them down. Memorize them. These will be your go-to problem solvers when you are struggling.
  4. Fact checking, a skill that comes from dialectical  behavior therapy, can help you cope with anxiety. When an anxious thought arises, take a moment to clear your head.
    • Identify the emotion.
    • What prompted this emotion?
    • Can you look at the situation from another point of view?
    • Is there a real threat?
    • Is anxiety really warranted?

Eating disorder lapses and relapses

  1. It’s common to experience shame in recovery when you slip into eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Even in these moments, you have a choice to continue to choose recovery. If you are having urges, try these steps.
    • Stop and notice how you are feeling. What is going on? Are you stressed? Have you gone through a major life change?
    • Breathe and remind yourself that you have a choice at this moment.
    • If you are feeling shame, call shame by its name. And let it go.
  2. If you do relapse, please know that you haven’t ruined everything. Be gentle with yourself. Relapse can offer us a teaching moment to become more deeply in tune with ourselves. If you fall, just get up, brush yourself off and keep moving forward in recovery.
  3. Life will throw you off balance. Illness, stress, and daily life changes can affect your hunger and your ability to make and eat foods. In recovery, there will be successes and there will be setbacks. Setbacks do tend to make us work a little harder in recovery and that’s okay.

Importance of a support system

  1. Staying up to date with your therapy, medical and dietitian appointments will be key in helping you stay connected and on the path to recovery. When you take better care of yourself in recovery, you are better able to be present and helpful to others.
  2. It’s very hard to get through recovery alone. Who can you go to when you need recovery support? Who can you text? Who can you call? Who can you see in person? 
  3. Your support system is made up of individuals who are your “safe people.” Go ahead and write down a list of safe people in your life. Let this list remind you that you are not alone. Who will truly support you if you need help, without judgment?
  4. Do you tend to isolate when times get tough? Don’t worry; you are far from alone. However, isolating yourself can increase feelings of self-loathing and shame. And isolating yourself might even lead to a relapse — which could make you feel even worse over time. Instead of withdrawing completely from everyone, try to keep in touch with a chosen few people daily. Make time to see them regularly, even if you choose to keep your visits short.

Setting boundaries

  1. If you find yourself saying “yes” too often — because you feel bad for saying “no” — know that it’s perfectly fine to set boundaries to protect yourself and your recovery. Setting boundaries can help to improve our self-esteem and increase joy as we start to prioritize activities in life that correspond to our highest values.
  2. If you think you’re saying “no” too much, or you are saying “no” because you just want to isolate, reach out to your therapist or a trusted friend to explore why.
  3. Instead of ruining relationships, boundaries help us preserve and maintain connections. This is because, with the right boundaries, both parties understand what the other needs. Both parties know how to keep the relationship healthy and harmonious. Instead of heading toward a rupture, with the right boundaries, relationships can strengthen and endure.

Final thoughts

Recovery is hard. But the discomfort you experience in recovery is temporary. It’s okay to have a bad day. Remind yourself: “This too shall pass.” Over time, all the pain and discomfort you are experiencing will lessen and will be easier to manage. One day, these challenges won’t look the same as they do now.