Eating disorders

Coping with an eating disorder and self-help

Young people we spoke with found different ways of coping with an eating disorder. People had found strategies to help them overcome the urge to binge, to become comfortable with eating, or to tackle other issues such as low confidence or social anxiety. (For more see ‘Working towards recovery’).

Getting creative

Creative activities, such as writing, drawing, singing, listening to and playing music, helped many to cope. People often wrote diaries and said that it was important to get negative thoughts out. Diaries were also helpful in tracking changes in moods. A few people blogged and described it as a great way to write anonymously about the personal experiences that they struggled to tell their family and friends.

Many people described listening to music, as well as playing an instrument and writing music, as important processes for coping. People said music helped them relax and performing could help boost their confidence. Elene described singing as her “saving grace”; it gave her a sense of worth and being accepted. Some performed music publicly' Andrew played the drums and had toured with different bands and orchestras in America and China. He said gigging and the crowds gave him a “huge buzz”.
Lauren wrote a song “Hold on” about letting go of her eating disorder that she’s played at gigs. For Nico, listening to music could make him feel worse but learning to play a new instrument was like finding a new way to cope.
Getting social

For people with an eating disorder, social situations can cause feelings of worry and eating in public could be particularly stressful. People can lack self-confidence and try to avoid social events, only to become more isolated (for more see ‘Social life and public places’). Learning to become more social was often a major part of recovery. People said that being open and letting other people know what they were going through made a big difference. Jasmin said, once you open up, you may be surprised to realise how many people care. David said it was good to listen to his friends because they reminded him of what was “normal Friends could help challenge people’s firmly held thoughts and beliefs.” Elizabeth describes how her friend helps challenge her thoughts:

“One of my friends in particular is very like maternal almost. She looks after me and says stuff like, in a very kind of honest way; “Lizzie that’s very strange that you think it’s not okay to have fun. That’s not what normal people think.” Because for such a long time I thought that was the norm. And to have that challenged is quite useful.” Elizabeth

Knowing the importance of being listened to, many people volunteered to support other people going through similar problems. Volunteering in itself could become a key part of their own recovery. People had volunteered through Beat, Body Gossip, Men Get Eating Disorders Too and YoungMinds. A few people had also started their own campaigns, to put their own experiences to use and spread awareness of eating disorders. Jasmin' ‘Through the clouds’ and Hannah Z and Rebekah' ‘Hungry for Change’. 
(For more see ‘Working towards recovery’).

People often had busy lives and described themselves as very ‘driven’. They had to learn how to take time off. Relaxation meant different things to different people. Some had learnt relaxation techniques; others just had a bath or went out for a coffee and to people watch. Music and writing could be relaxing too. Some had learnt yoga or breathing exercises, sometimes from workshops they attended during a hospital stay.
Animals could be an important source of company and support. Spending time with a pet was enjoyable and, for some, the only positive relationship they experienced in everyday life. Jamie found it therapeutic to look after horses, his cats and other animals. Some loved walking their dogs but had to be careful not to do too much exercise.

Many people found out about techniques that could help them decrease an urge to binge or self-harm, or ease obsessive thoughts and calorie counting. Some people took up activities that required a lot of concentration. It also helped people to make sure they were not in situations where they could easily engage in habits of the eating disorder. Nico said he tried to be in a public place if he had an urge to purge so would take his dog out for a walk. People had also been given practical advice about how to reduce self-harming.
Learning to be positive about yourself

Developing ways to be proactive, think positively and improve self-worth were important in recovery and coping. Some people had created “positive” walls, cards, lists or compliments-books to remind them of their reasons to get better. Annabelle stuck her bone scan results on the wall to remind her to “keep going”.
For many, there was a clear link between an eating disorder and low mood or depression. They found it useful to try and focus on things that lifted their mood (for more see ‘Working towards recovery’). People who tended to be “worriers” and consumed by negative thoughts talked about learning to live in the moment and taking things “day-by-day”.
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Some people found help in religion. Ewan said, “At the worst point of illness it [faith] saved my life”. Nico said it was important to become “self-resourceful” and find ways of coping that work for each individual. He also said it’s important to find new things to try.

Last reviewed October 2018.


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