And here we come to the Cognitive Behavioral Model, first coined by Aaron Beck in the 1960's. This model has since been used to explain depression, social phobia, addiction, and many more mental illnesses. Plus, you guessed it, this model has also been helpful for eating disorders. While there is no one right answer for treating eating disorders, research has shown Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be effective and has been recommended as a best practice guideline in Australia and New Zealand.
So then we come to this question - how can we use this research backed CBT to our advantage in battling an eating disorder? What does this model look like for someone with an eating disorder? Example time. (Disclaimer: one persons experience is not all - this is based on my experience but it could look completely different for someone else)
Situation:I don't receive text messages back from friends I reached out to
Thoughts/Beliefs: they are probably trying to avoid me because I'm annoying or they don't like me
Emotions: sad, lonely, abandoned
Behaviors: binge mindlessly while also mindlessly getting lost in Netflix so I don't have to feel my feelings
Not a great cycle to go through - clearly. Take a few moments and identify your own cycles with this model in mind…. Now - there are only a couple things in here we actually have control over.
Situation: nope - shit happens and most of the time its out of our control
Thoughts/Beliefs: Yes, with some hard work! We can try to distract our automatic thoughts or combat them with facts of the situation. One of the best ways I've found to combat thoughts is to check in with my supports - for instance with the situation above my supports remind me of all the other things that may have lead to them not responding, "it's not you, sometimes shit happens" (ah yes, there is that uncontrollable stuff again)
Emotions: No changing here - what you feel is what you feel and that is 100% ok! Honor it, don’t run from it!
Behaviors: Yes! One of the things we have most control over in this model - something that we can absolutely work to change. Are you able to keep yourself busy with something else like painting or a puzzle, maybe shut doors to bathrooms or put away things that might be tempting for you to cope with in the moment.
This model can be like a road map to change. Hopefully you've taken the time to identify some of the cycles you go through, now take a look at those thoughts/beliefs and behaviors - the things you have the ability to change. Start brainstorming how you can interrupt these two aspects of the model, bring your thoughts to your team or supports! I know in the moment this cycle seems helpless - but there is hope to break free! The model does well explaining dangerous cycles, but it can do even better explaining positive ones. Remember what parts you have the power to change and always move toward recovery!
Written by: Rae Thomas
When you’re in recovery from an eating disorder your mind is often full of thoughts about your next meal, the next challenge and the next time you’re going to have to choose recovery over the disorder. With all of this going on, it can be very easy to neglect self care. But self care is crucial to the recovery process. Chances are if you’re in recovery you have a treatment team (of some sort) that helps support you when you need it. With the end goal being that you will be able to support yourself.
It’s also important to remember that when you’re in recovery from an eating disorder self care doesn’t just mean bath bombs or getting your nails done. It means doing the things you neglected to do for yourself when you were in the depths of your disorder.
EAT! Eating your prescribed meals in recovery is probably the number one way we have to take care of ourselves. It’s hard and often feels impossible - but it has to be done. In order to work on the underlying factors of your disorder, your body has to be stable enough to think, feel and explore.
This one may seem obvious, but physically allowing yourself to rest is extremely important in your recovery. Relaxing it’s beneficial for you physically and mentally. Relaxing does not make you lazy. Relaxing does not make you weak. In fact, it makes you strong. Some people may choose to distract themselves as a form of relaxation. This could include watching TV, a movie or reading a book. For others, it may be helpful to reflect in some fashion. This could be meditation, mindfulness exercises or journaling. Regardless of what works best for you, relaxing will recharge you for your next obstacle in your recovery.
Another important form of self care in recovery is knowing when to stop, say no and setting boundaries. This is often hard for individuals in recovery. Often times, lack of boundaries contributed to feeding your eating disorder. This one takes time and requires a lot of patience with yourself. Start small, with something that’s not too hard to say no to and work your way from there.
I will admit, it is hard to think about taking care of yourself when you’ve always thought your needs didn’t matter. But they do. You need to be taken care of just as much as all the people you have poured your heart into. Self care is a stepping stone and useful tool on the journey to self love. Stay strong, don’t give up and give yourself a little pat on the back. The work is hard but will pay off a million times over in the end.
Written by: Katie from @edrecoveryblog
When self care isn't fun… when I have to force myself to truly carefor myself - that's when I struggle. Makes sense right? It's so easy to journal when I have nothing but good things to say. It's easy to meditate when I'm being really mindful.
I hear self care being coopted to mean anything luxurious: baths, face masks, roses, chocolates, movie dates. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of these and often budget solely for these self care treasures. But it moves us away from recognizing the nitty gritty parts of self care, where it does feel like a chore, where I'm angry about making the time, but grateful afterwards.
So here's the thing, what is self care actually supposed to do? What is the intent here? For me, self care is something that…
Ice cream and a book can certainly hit some of these but the minute I'm tested with a frustrating situation or some other obstacle - poof. Think of it like your phone - maybe you've charged it 100% but come at it with an hour long video or roaming challenges, you've got maybe an hour or two until its caput. But what if instead of just charging it, you upgraded the battery or deleted some apps so you could use that energy more effectively? This is the difference between flashy self care and nitty gritty not always fun but long lasting self care.
This summer has been a struggle, I've been in constant transition which has always been a challenge for me. After a morning of anxiety and panic attacks, my partner and I talked about what I needed to manage this while caring for my mind and body. "Well, you haven't been taking your meds." Looking confused, I reminded him I wasn't on any meds for my anxiety (no pill shaming here, please do whatever works for you!). He likened my regular exercise and meditation (two things that really help with my anxiety) to taking medication, "I mean, it helps right? And just like if someone doesn’t take their prescription meds for anxiety or depression, they may struggle, wouldn't it be the same with the things that work for you?" Lightbulb! I hadn't been doing the self care that actually helped, I had just been filling time with surface level luxuries. Did I want to make the time to be active almost every day? No. Did I want to commit to meditating more often? No. Do I want to now? No, not really. It sounds much better to get lost in Netflix or slumber. It sounds much more fun to fill every moment with adventure around my new city and make new friends. But I won't get far on these, these do not consistently check off the bullet's above. I need to make time to take my meds, we all do.
Sometimes we have to do the self care that we don't want to. We have to make plans, go to therapy, meal prep, meditate, etc. even when it seems like the opposite of the luscious pampering sold to us from societies understanding of self care. So ask yourself this, what do you want self care to do for you? And what things will check all those boxes for more than just one moment? What kind of meds do you need to take and how can you commit to taking them?
Written by: Rae Thomas
In recovery, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happiness really is. I've moved through a lot of options - appearance, praise, food, academic success, financial success, social media likes, sunshine, fitness accomplishments, wide spread recognition…
I just kept jumping from one thing to the next, continuously asking "so am I truly happy now?" And I would be, for a little while. I remember early on in my dance days being selected for a prestigious role. I spent the coming weeks cheesin' through campus, life was good! On stage finally performing this beautiful piece my mind swirled around the thought, "this is true happiness". And then it was over… and so was the euphoria… and so was any idea that I had finally made it to the wonderful land of 'happiness'.
I went round in this cycle with so many things thinking I made it and then losing it again just to go searching for something else. No way you too!? I hear it all the time from friends, family, random strangers that I've started chatting with because silence is more awkward than awkward small talk. Point is, we all have different ways of trying to create happiness in our lives, but there are two kinds of happiness here: momentary happiness or life happiness. If you're familiar, it’s the same concept as hedonic or eudaimonic pleasures from Aristotle (shout out to the philosophy nerds!) Getting a big dance role or being praised for your appearance - momentary happiness. It goes away eventually and then you're left looking for more. But life happiness is consistent, it’s the thing that doesn’t depend on anyone else or any other certain thing happening but rather it just exists in your life. Pretty abstract, I get it, but this is how I found my life happiness.
I went to a meditation class, and they asked us to ponder a question, what is most important? We were instructed to not think through it logically, just let things pop up in our head, acknowledge those answers, then move on to whatever came next, we continued this process until something stuck and kept popping up. Then they asked - what's most important about that most important thing? Again urging the same process of acknowledging and letting go. I landed on what brings me life happiness - connection. Connecting with people, nature, myself, my purpose, feeling intertwined with other things in my life, this is where I find long lasting happiness. That means not checking out moments of joy OR pain, it means staying connected in challenges. It means staying present when I'm uncomfortable and when I'm angry. It means that happiness is connecting with every single experience I will ever encounter. Maybe connection is your happiness, maybe it’s a higher power, or maybe its within adventure. Wherever it is, it will not mean that every moment is enjoyable, but it will mean every moment is worthy of living.
Written By: Rae Thomas
Emily Estes lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her Goldendoodle pup, Miss Adley Mae. Recovery from her own struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has led Emily to create community and resources to empower others on the journey. Emily owns Sage Nutrition, LLC where she serves as a Registered Dietitian. Her work revolves around her motto that "food is meant to nourish our bodies, not nurture us."