Eating disorders (young people)
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’).
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.
Jasmin wrote diaries for herself but also on her own recovery website. She found it helpful to...
Keeping a diary of his moods helped Nico notice patterns in his moods and eating and gave him the...
What I would do also which kind of, it might sound a bit weird, but while I was in the inpatients’ unit, and the best I could ‘cos I was very drowsy a lot of the time, I would always go to Paperchase and buy me like just a little diary book that I could draw things in about how I was feeling. And then kind of that kind of, when I come out I was looking back at kind of how low I was, ‘cos I’d got the help and that was like, “Wow I really was that low.” And then every day I’d write in how I was feeling, just like a diary. Or what had happened that day. But also like how I was feeling mood wise. And then it would show like a pattern in my moods. But like generally kind of if it was low over a period of like a few weeks, or it was high then I would make sure that I would look back for say like, for the past two weeks every night to see if like it’s, if my mood was changing. And if my mood was like, had the slightest change I would start to kind of do a lot of things to kind of pick myself up more. And I think that was one of the main things that kind of gave me the self, like the self, power of the self, like will power if you like, to kind of be able to kind of move on from being so low, being kind of, having these eating problems. That was also one of the other things ‘cos I could trace back how a lot of people, when they’re a lot low, they don’t know they’re so low in the sense that kind of they’re feeling that low. But so you need to be able to look back at yourself which helps.
Georgia loved blogging. She liked the anonymity and the helpful tips that people gave her.
In addition to writing, Anna kept a sketch book in which she drew about her experiences.
Steph played the flute and the piano on the hospital ward. It was an important outlet and helped...
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’.
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.
Zoe found yoga and meditation useful to help her relax and lift her moods. At first it was...
Katie's dog really helped her. He was always happy and Katie didn't have to worry about upsetting...
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.
Charlotte describes 'ice-diving' which has helped her with the urge to binge or self-harm.
There’s one particular skill in DBT which is called “Ice Diving,” which is when you’re very distressed, putting your face into a sink or a bowl of water with ice in, and you put your head in it. So it’s a bit like holding ice, but apparently the follicles on your face are meant to be more sensitive and it just gives you that real kind of shock and blast that I would either get from self-harming or binging. And that has worked for me on a few occasions. I guess it just, you have to get in there quite quickly to kind of prepare a bowl of water with ice in, and I think there’s also a couple of breathing exercises that work for me when I’m distressed, but I don’t know what the magic answer is. I don’t think there is one.
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”.
Lauren created positive cards and a positive wall reminding her of why to get better. She also...
Rachel made herself a compliments book to record compliments from people. She reads it when...
Mindfulness reduced Fiona-Grace's anxieties and helped her focus on the present.
Nico describes the benefits of having many different coping mechanisms.
Ewan found comfort in religion. He has searched for God in his own way.
Last reviewed October 2018.