Self-Help Tips for Women With Eating Disorders

woman trying to throw up in the toilets

While eating disorders impact both men and women, women tend to suffer from them to a much greater degree.  This may be largely due to society’s relentless pressure on females to be supermodel thin and cellulite-free.  Sadly, it’s the exception not the rule to fit such unrealistic and unhealthy standards, yet many females strive to do just that.

Of course, eating disorders may also develop for other reasons, such as a distorted body image or the need to ease stress and self-soothe with excessive amounts of food.  Family conflict and the fierce need for control may also play a role.

Regardless of the cause, professional help is often necessary.  However, managing and overcoming your eating disorder shouldn’t stop there.  You can take additional steps to help get your life back on track and enhance your  treatment.  Not only will these tips help you overcome your disorder; following them will also help you feel more empowered – which is especially beneficial for anyone dealing with disordered eating.

Following are several lifestyle tips that will help you in your recovery journey.

Bulimia Nervosa

Know your triggers.  Individuals with bulimia often binge in response to stressful situations, negative emotions or other specific events.  The urge to purge, take laxatives, or exercise excessively may be especially strong if you have a special occasion coming up or are feeling especially down about yourself (and your body).  The greater your self-awareness, the better equipped you can be to avoid those triggers or have a game plan in place when they’re unavoidable. 

Keep exercise in check.  Bulimics often use excessive exercise as a way to burn off the calories from a binge-eating episode.  A 30-minute jog can easily turn into a six-mile run if you’re not careful. Going to the gym may tap into negative feelings about your body and weight, especially if you compare yourself to women who seem to be thinner or more fit than you.  Talk to your treatment providers about your best exercise options, as well as how to keep exercise from becoming excessive.  You might also find an exercise partner – preferably someone who knows about your bulimia and will be supportive but firm when you work out together. 

Follow your treatment plan.  If you want to make progress, it’s crucial that you attend all treatment sessions and not deviate from your meal plans.  You won’t always feel like it, and at times you’ll want to give up and throw in the towel.  That’s normal – you’re human, after all.  But you’ll make more progress and recover more quickly and fully if you stay on track with all aspects of your treatment.  You’ll also have a better chance of thwarting or reducing the negative health effects that bulimia can cause.

Supplement if necessary.  Although you may not have been restricting calories as severely as someone with anorexia, binging and purging can still result in significant nutritional deficits.  Supplementing your diet with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients may help facilitate your progress.  Talk to your doctor or nutritional counselor to determine if, and what kinds, of supplements would be beneficial. 

Treat yourself with kindness.  Bulimia and low self-worth often go hand in hand.  Now more than ever is the time to pamper yourself in healthy ways (i.e. not with a quart of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!) and treat yourself just as lovingly as you would a close friend.  Beating yourself up will only make you more vulnerable to falling back into old, unhealthy habits.

Don’t weigh, measure, or check.  It’s going to be very tempting, but getting on the scales or scrutinizing your figure  in the mirror will be detrimental to your progress – and may set you back significantly if it triggers a binge-eating episode. Find something to distract yourself whenever you feel the urge to get out the tape measure or hop on the scale.

Rid your cupboards and refrigerator of your favorite binge foods.  Yes, you can always go to the store to get more.  However, if it’s not readily available, you’ll be less tempted to binge.

Binge Eating Disorder

Seek professional help.  It’s easy to underestimate the serious impact of binge eating disorder or fail to regard it as a mental health issue.  Instead, it’s often minimized and inappropriately regarded as a mere lack of self-discipline. Don’t let shame, pride, or the fear of appearing foolish get in the way of reaching out for help.  Binge eating is a serious problem that often requires professional help in order to overcome it.  Once you get into treatment, stick with the plan.

Start the day with a healthy breakfast.  It’s not uncommon with binge-eating disorder to skip breakfast. Unfortunately, this can make you more vulnerable to binge-eating later in the day.  A breakfast high in protein and healthy fat will keep hunger away for several hours.

Don’t diet.  The feeling of deprivation that accompanies most “diets” can quickly trigger a binge episode.  In fact, it can make it worse than usual.  Breaking your “diet” and binging can feel like a double failure – and the guilt and self-loathing are worse than ever.  If you’re overweight, talk to a doctor or nutritionist about the safest and best way for you to go about losing the unwanted pounds.

Many people find that following a Paleo lifestyle (i.e. eating like our ancestors, avoiding grain, sugar, and often dairy as well) helps them overcome the desire to binge without any feelings of deprivation.  By eliminating empty carbs and sweets from their diet, they quickly find that they no longer crave them.  Since weight loss is often achieved without counting calories (because carbs are significantly removed by eliminating the above foods), it ends up being a win-win situation – weight loss without restricting calories, feeling hungry or craving sweets.

Get sufficient nutrition. Excess calories don’t automatically mean sufficient nutrients.  In fact, it’s often the opposite.  Binge foods are often unusually high in empty calories and carbs, sugar or salt, and unhealthy fats.  Nutritional supplements may be necessary to ensure your body is getting what it needs.  Proper nutrition will also reduce cravings and better enable you to lose any excess weight.

Limit the food you have on hand.  It’s much harder to binge if your refrigerator and cupboards aren’t full or don’t contain your favorite binge foods.  Granted, you can always get in the car and go to the store, but having to do so can be a good deterrent.  

Don’t Isolate.  Binge eating is typically a solo event, hidden from others.  The more time you spend alone, the more likely you will be to binge eat.  Additionally, having supportive people in your life will help you get through treatment and feel better about yourself. 

Know when you’re most vulnerable. Binge eating episodes are often triggered by other things, including the time of day (usually late evening or night time), stress, boredom, and painful emotions.  The more aware you are of when you’re most likely to binge eat, the easier it will be to make necessary lifestyle changes.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most serious – and potentially deadly – psychiatric disorders.  This is because it can result in extremely serious and even life-threatening medical problems.  It’s critical that you get into treatment as soon as possible in order to reduce the potential damage to your health while overcoming the underlying psychological issues.

Follow your treatment plan very closely – Treatment for anorexia can be especially tedious, lengthy and frustrating.  But the more closely you adhere to your treatment regimen, the more progress  you’ll make – and the less time it will take to reach your goals.  No matter how much you want to give up, skip a therapy session, or go back to old eating habits, don’t.  It will get better!

Put away the scale.  Better yet, throw it away, donate it to charity or give it to a friend while you’re working on your eating disorder.  One of the symptoms of anorexia is an obsession with losing weight – even to the point of looking emaciated.  The slightest increase on the scale can plunge you into despair and trigger another episode of extreme calorie restriction.  As tempting as it is to get on the scale, it’s crucial to your progress to avoid it.  Leave your weight checks for the nurse at your doctor’s office.  On a similar note, resist the urge to measure yourself or check your body in the mirror.  The slightest perceived bulge or ¼” gain can have the same negative effect as an increase in the number on the scale.

Surround yourself with support.  The shame and stigma that often accompany a mental health condition – including eating disorders – can make you want to withdraw socially.  Now more than ever you need to surround yourself with friends and family who love you – just the way you are.  The people who truly care about you want to see you succeed, and won’t judge you based on your weight or body shape.  Don’t push them away.  If you don’t have much of a support system, consider joining a support group for individuals with eating disorders.  A good support system is highly beneficial for anyone trying to recover from any type of health issue.

Find something you’re passionate about or really enjoy.  When you’re focused on something that taps into your passion or gives you great joy, you’ll be much less likely to think about your weight, your body shape or food.

Supplement as needed.  Anorexia often leads to malnourishment due to the constant severe restriction of calories.  Your body won’t heal overnight, and even if you are eating better, you may not be getting all the nutrients your body requires.  Proper nutrition will not only help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, it will also help you feel and function better.  Talk to your doctor or nutrition counselor about vitamins, minerals and other nutritional supplements that may be beneficial.

With proper treatment, increased self-awareness, plenty of support, proper nutrition and lifestyle changes, eating disorders can be overcome.  If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or feel that there’s something wrong with your relationship to food, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.


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