The One Secret To Dealing With An Eating Disorder And Live A Healthier Lifestyle

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How To Focus On Health And Wellness When You're Dealing With Eating Disorders
Self, Health And Wellness

I have been coaching a middle-aged woman, "Susan" (not her real name), for six months to help her overcome a binge eating. I use a strategy of focusing on health and wellness, not weight loss.

I developed this program over the last three years to help people struggling with eating disorders (like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder). In this program, we address disordered eating by incorporating a wellness program into treatment, concentrating on physical, spiritual, social, emotional, occupational, and financial aspects of wellness.

Patients are asked complete wellness logs every week and only complete food logs once a month. Most individuals who struggle with their eating behaviors or patterns have been logging their food daily for years, so this is quite a change in focus.

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With the monthly food logs, patients are instructed to record what they are eating, the time of day, and situation and feelings in which they consume food. This increases patients’ awareness of patterns, triggers to overeating, and, eventually, how they can get back on track.

While this food log leads to a greater understanding of eating patterns, some patients report that they feel unable to change the binge eating behavior, even though they now recognize and understand their patterns.

These patients report a long history of unhappiness, lack of fulfillment, and defeated thoughts, leaving them without the energy it takes to change eating patterns, despite their newfound understanding of proper nutrition and a healthy body image.

When I added the wellness component to my treatment, I began to see better results. Patients reported less binge eating and less dissatisfaction with their bodies.  

If you're also dealing with an eating disorder but you don't know where to start on the path to healthy living, you can incorporate this technique into your daily life.

In the wellness component of treatment, individuals were asked to complete wellness logs each day. They were instructed to write down choices they made each day to add joy and fulfillment to their lives.

For example, Susan reported wanting to binge eat on a cold, dreary weekend. When she went to her wellness sheets, she decided to work on spiritual and social wellness instead.

Social wellness is using good communication skills, developing and maintaining meaningful relationships, valuing diversity and practicing respect for self and others.

Susan decided she wanted to find a more diverse knitting circle in a part of the city that she rarely went to. So, she did some research, found such a group, and called the leader to see if she could become part of this new knitting circle.

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Feeling empowered by her active decision-making, she decided that she also wanted to strengthen her spirituality by taking a hike on a short walking trail close to home. This walk brought about a sensation of God’s peace and grace as the light filtered through the trees.

After getting home from the hike, she felt emboldened to call her sister to talk about an unsettling incident that occurred between them over the holidays. She realized that she had been feeling angry and distant from her sister since that interaction. While she felt awkward at the beginning of the conversation, the feelings evolved as they talked.

They both became less defensive and overcame the rupture in their relationship. She felt relieved and positive about having taken action to reconnect with her sister, with whom she had previously had a warm relationship and loving relationship. She had been missing their typical weekly talks and was glad to restore this part of her life.

Taking this step to improve her social wellness replaced her focus on food and overeating for the rest of the day.

By using a wellness program and not a weight program, patients are taught self-regulation skills. They develop a toolbox of strategies to manage uncomfortable emotions. They are also taught models of self-compassion strategies and ways to develop or increase pleasures that are not food-related, such as mindful living and having more satisfying relationships by improving interpersonal skills.

Susan had been in treatment for approximately six months and was experiencing fewer episodes of binge and overeating. She didn’t totally believe the wellness model was helping her until the day that she took her "annual pilgrimage" to the bookstore at the beginning of the New Year. 

All the newly released diet books were on display. She was shocked — and pleasantly surprised — when she stared at the table in the entrance. There were about 40 books on display and not one had the word "diet" in its title. Instead, the titles that appealed to her were the titles that she said, "greeted me with compassion" with words like mindfulness, meditation, body kindness, chakra balance, and yoga.

She saw books that encouraged her to be kind to her body and herself. These books emphasized eating better — not less — and to enjoy eating things she loves.

"There was no finger-pointing with shame and deprivation," she said. "No super-skinny people pronouncing that she could join their club if she just did five simple things or that the author could fix me in just thirty days."

She confessed that she hadn’t understood how effective the wellness treatment was until she experienced that moment in the bookstore.

"All of a sudden, my mind shifted from what I was losing to what I was already gaining," she continued. "It shouted, ‘I belong! I finally belong!’"

She began asking herself questions like "What am I eating today that adds nutrients to my body? What am I going to do today to help my body, and to decrease the pain in my joints and tendons? What am I going to do today that is fun?"

For the first time, her body and her self were working on the same team. She was no longer trying to separate herself from her body. This experience filled her up, rather than leaving her feeling empty and deprived.

"For the first time, my body has become my friend, working with me, hand in hand It’s no longer an intruder that I am trying to cure or escape," she shared.

Shifting to a focus on wellness became easier when for Susan when was more aware of how much she was gaining in life satisfaction rather than what she had to give up or deprive herself.

Experiencing fullness in her life fostered well-eating patterns and increased her motivation and commitment to care for and be kind to her body every day.

RELATED: 6 Signs You're At Risk Of Developing An Eating Disorder

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Dr. Anne Kearney Cooke is a New York Times bestselling author, sought after professional speaker, researcher, and licensed psychologist. She is internationally known for the treatment of eating disorders. Visit her website for more information.