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Coping Strategies : Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

Originally written by @Hope
Transferred by @emsworld

In order to overcome anorexia, you first need to understand that it meets a need in your life. For example, maybe you feel powerless in many parts of your life, but you can control what you eat. Saying “no” to food, getting the best of hunger, and controlling the number on the scale may make you feel strong and successful—at least for a short while. You may even come to enjoy your hunger pangs as reminders of a “special talent” that most people can’t achieve. Anorexia may also be a way of distracting yourself from difficult emotions. When you spend most of your time thinking about food, dieting, and weight loss, you don’t have to face other problems in your life or deal with complicated emotions. Unfortunately, any boost you get from starving yourself or shedding pounds is extremely short-lived. Dieting and weight loss can’t repair the negative self-image at the heart of anorexia. The only way to do that is to identify the emotional need that self-starvation fulfills and find other ways to meet it.

 

Steps to anorexia recovery

- Admit you have a problem. Up until now, you’ve been invested in the idea that life will be better—that you’ll finally feel good—if you lose more weight. The first step in anorexia recovery is admitting that your relentless pursuit of thinness is out of your control and acknowledging the physical and emotional damage that you’ve suffered because of it.

- Talk to someone. It can be hard to talk about what you’re going through, especially if you’ve kept your anorexia a secret for a long time. You may be ashamed, ambivalent, or afraid. But it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. Find a good listener—someone who will support you as you try to get better. You can find one here

- Stay away from people, places, and activities that trigger your obsession with being thin. You may need to avoid looking at fashion or fitness magazines, spend less time with friends who constantly diet and talk about losing weight, and stay away from weight loss web sites and “pro-ana” sites that promote anorexia.

- Seek professional help. The advice and support of trained eating disorder professionals can help you regain your health, learn to eat normally again, and develop healthier attitudes about food and your body.

 

Step one : Learn to tolerate your feelings

Identifying the underlying issues that drive your eating disorder is the first step toward recovery, but insight alone is not enough. Let’s say, for example, that following restrictive food rules makes you feel safe and powerful. When you take that coping mechanism away, you will be confronted with the feelings of fear and helplessness your anorexia helped you avoid.

Reconnecting with your feelings can be extremely uncomfortable. It’s why you may feel worse at the beginning of your recovery. But the answer isn’t to return to the destructive eating habits you previously used to distract yourself; it’s to learn how to accept and tolerate all of your feelings—even the negative ones.

 

i) Using mindfulness to cope with difficult emotions

When you start to feel overwhelmed by negativity, discomfort, or the urge to restrict food, take a moment to stop whatever you’re doing and investigate what’s going on inside.

- Identify the emotion you’re feeling. Do your best to name what you’re feeling. Is it guilt? Shame? Helplessness? Loneliness? Anxiety? Disappointment? Fear? Insecurity?

- Accept the experience you’re having. Avoidance and resistance only make negative emotions stronger. Instead, try to accept what you’re feeling without judging it or yourself.

- Dig deeper. Explore what’s going on. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What kinds of thoughts are going through your head?

- Distance yourself. Realize that you are NOT your feelings. Emotions are passing events, like clouds moving across the sky. They don’t define who you are.

Once you learn how to accept and tolerate your feelings, they’ll no longer seem so scary. You’ll realize that you’re still in control and that negative emotions are only temporary. Once you stop fighting them, they’ll quickly pass.

 

Step 2: Challenge damaging mindsets

People with anorexia are often perfectionists and overachievers. They’re the “good” daughters and sons who do what they’re told, try to excel in everything they do, and focus on pleasing others. But while they may appear to have it all together, inside they feel helpless, inadequate, and worthless.

If that sounds familiar to you, here’s the good news: these feelings don’t reflect reality. They’re fueled by irrational, self-sabotaging ways of thinking that you can learn to overcome.

 

i)Damaging mindsets that fuel anorexia

- All-or-nothing thinking. Through this harshly critical lens, if you’re not perfect, you’re a total failure. You have a hard time seeing shades of gray, at least when it comes to yourself.

- Emotional reasoning. You believe if you feel a certain way, it must be true. “I feel fat” means “I am fat.” “I feel hopeless” means you’ll never get better.

- Musts, must-nots, and have-tos. You hold yourself to a rigid set of rules (“I must not eat more than x number of calories,” “I have to get straight A’s,” “I must always be in control.” etc.) and beat yourself up if you break them.

- Labeling. You label yourself and call yourself names based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. “I’m unhappy with how I look” becomes “I’m disgusting.” Slipping up becomes “I’m a loser” or a “failure.”

- Catastrophizing. You jump to the worst-case scenario. If you backslide in recovery, for example, you assume that there’s no hope you’ll ever get better.

 

ii) Put your thoughts on the witness stand

Once you identify the destructive thoughts patterns that you default to, you can start to challenge them with questions such as:

“What’s the evidence that this thought is true? Not true?”

“What would I tell a friend who had this thought?”

“Is there another way of looking at the situation or an alternate explanation?”

“How might I look at this situation if I didn’t have anorexia?”

As you cross-examine your negative thoughts, you may be surprised at how quickly they crumble. In the process, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective.

 

Step 3 : Develop a healthier relationship with food

Even though anorexia isn’t fundamentally about food, over time you’ve developed harmful food habits that can be tough to break. Part of recovery is developing a healthier relationship with food. This entails:

Getting back to a healthy weight

Starting to eat more food

Changing how you think about yourself and food

 

i)Letting go of rigid food rules

While following rigid food rules may help you feel in control, it’s a temporary illusion. The truth is that these rules are controlling you, not the other way around. In order to get better, you’ll need to let go. This is a big change that will feel scary at first, but day by day, it will get easier.

- Get back in touch with your body. If you have anorexia, you’ve learned to ignore your body’s hunger and fullness signals. You may not even recognize them anymore. The goal is to get back in touch with these internal cues, so you can eat based on your physiological needs.

- Allow yourself to eat all foods. Instead of putting certain food off limits, eat whatever you want, But pay attention to how you feel physically after eating different foods. Ideally, what you eat should leave you feeling satisfied and energized.

- Get rid of your scale. Instead of focusing on weight as a measurement of self-worth, focus on how you feel. Make health and vitality your goal, not a number on the scale.

 

Some helpful links:

-Eating Disorders Anonymous

-Effective Coping Skills: Eating Disorder

-Eating Disorder , Self Help Guide

-Eating Disorder Support Groups

-International Eating Disorder Support

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