Self-help

The Role of Self-Help

Self-help is anything which you can do for yourself, to help you manage or recover from your eating disorder. Most self-help methods are designed to help you to bring the unconscious thoughts and beliefs that fuel your feelings and your behaviour into your conscious awareness. The more you are in a position to observe your behaviours and what is fuelling them, the more you will be enabled to manage or move away from them.

Self-help can involve following a self-help manual either on your own or with guidance from a professional. Some people find that they need the structure of a group (either a support group or a therapy group) or more supervised treatment to recover fully. Different things work for different people.

The aim of this section of the website is to explore possible self-help ideas / options which may be helpful to you.

Motivation to Change

Overcoming difficulties with eating can be very difficult. In order for you to really change your eating habits, you will need to be sure that your motivation levels are high. It could be helpful to ask yourself why you want to change your eating habits and to write down your reasons.

There are many reasons for changing. Think of what it could be like for you if you did manage to change your eating habits. You will be working towards reducing and eventually stopping the behaviours. You will be able to return to eating ordinary meals at ordinary times. You will be free of any negative feelings you may be experiencing associated with your behaviours. There will be no more need for secrecy about your eating habits. Your relationships with others will improve and be less strained.

Your social life will be more enjoyable. Food and eating will stop dominating your life and you will not be so intensely concerned about your weight and shape. Both your physical and your emotional health will improve. Your self-esteem will increase. You will feel less burdened by negative thinking and negative emotions. You will gain a sense of freedom…. the gifts of recovery are potentially endless.

If you feel that perhaps you are not yet motivated enough i.e. you recognise that you do not yet feel that the benefits of changing outweigh the benefits of remaining as you are, you may need to enlist help to work on your motivation levels. Try writing out a list of what you feel you have to gain by remaining as you are and another of what you will gain from recovery. Be as honest with yourself as you can about what you really want for yourself and work at tipping the balance in favour of recovery. Ask yourself to what extent the voice of the eating disorder is determining what you put on your list of reasons. Talk back to that voice and make any changes to your list that might seem appropriate. Don’t force yourself towards readiness for change. Accept and acknowledge where you are at this point in time. However slowly and hesitantly you may decide to move forward, an honest assessment and acceptance of where you are at now is in fact the very best place to start.

It is also important that you have the necessary supports in place to do this work. Once you have made the decision to change you will need to decide what kind of support you need. Do you need someone who can play an active part or do you just need general support from the people you know? Support can come from your family, a friend, colleagues in the workplace, etc. Where you choose to look for support will depend very much on your individual circumstances. Whatever you decide, try to be open, honest and direct with others about your support needs

It will also be worthwhile considering whether now would be the right time to start. If you are going away on holiday soon or if you are in the middle of a relationship breakdown, exams, or any other stressful situation, now might not be the right time. On the other hand, unless there is a serious reason for not starting now, try to commit yourself to beginning at a definite time in the near future.

Changing Your Thought Patterns

Your concerns about your weight and shape form the basis of your desire to engage in eating disorder behaviours including restrictive eating, excessive exercising, binge eating etc. Changing your behaviour patterns will help you to stop these behaviours, but in order for this to have long lasting effects, it is important that you challenge and change your thought patterns as well.

Your thoughts and beliefs influence everything you feel about yourself and everything you do. It is likely that how you feel about your weight and shape is closely related to how you feel about yourself. If you lose weight, you probably feel you are a better person. If you gain weight, you feel like a failure and believe that people will like you less. Neither of these feelings represents the truth. In reality, you are essentially the same person irrespective of body weight, even though you may not feel like the same person.

Building new thought patterns to establish a more positive image of yourself is integral to recovery. Everybody talks to themselves all the time. Stay alert to the chatter in your mind and notice negative self talk. When the self-critical voice pops up, it will help if you have a strategy for turning the negative thoughts into positive ones. When you find yourself being self-critical, stop and pay yourself a compliment, find something positive and affirming to say about yourself.

When you treat yourself better, your body and mind become stronger and you will be more likely to overcome your unhealthy eating habits. Remember that your thoughts and feelings are intimately connected to your physical health. Uncomfortable feelings often trigger eating disorder behaviours. The behaviours can numb out feelings and distract attention from problems. Facing up to and tackling your emotions head on is a valuable strategy to cope with this kind of bingeing. This may involve confronting a colleague, discussing an unpleasant topic with your partner, or setting boundaries for your child. Whatever it is, dealing with the situation and naming what is happening rather than avoiding it is more likely to resolve the problem and may also relieve the urge to eat.

Each time you feel upset, look for the thoughts that made you feel this way. Try to work out whether they are rational or irrational. If there is no direct evidence for this thought, then it is probably irrational. Try to replace the thought with a rational one. For example, when you are stuck in traffic and you find yourself thinking how stupid you were for taking this route, try to realise that all the people around you took the same route and that this thought is therefore irrational.

Building Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is about self-awareness, self-confidence, self-worth, and self-acceptance. It’s about respecting yourself, looking after your body and soul and being proud of who and what you are.

Throughout the ages, our bodies have been manipulated to fit the latest fad. We’ve been trussed up, pumped up, corseted and bandaged. Waists have been pinched, skin bleached, ribs removed. The fat sucked out, the silicone injected in.

Open any magazine, view any billboard or watch any TV show and it’s easy to see that sections of today’s media promote an idealised notion of beauty. These repetitious images can diminish our self-esteem.

Wouldn’t you rather be measured by your individuality, your thinking and your lust for life? Stand up for who you really are… stand up for self-esteem.

There are many things that can be done which will help you feel better about yourself. Learning assertion skills, communication skills and ways of managing your emotions will always be met by a recovery in the way you experience your physical body

Useful exercises

  • Relaxation or meditation will help keep your mind from leaping into familiar self-critical thoughts and will help you to put all things into a proper perspective.
  • Massage helps you to rediscover a sense of connectedness and healing.
  • Exercise one of your senses each day. One day concentrate on smell. Smell flowers, a baby’s hair, wear your best perfume. Next day really listen. Listen to the birds, to the sound of silence, to music. Then touch… touch silk, your skin, a crystal. Rediscover the ways in which your body is a source of pleasure.
  • Repeat positive assertions. “I approve of myself” “I look good enough for me” especially if you are feeling body-bad.
  • Exercise, gently, stretch and breathe, learn to take pleasure in movement. Dance. Get in touch with the spirit inside the body – it is who you really are.
  • Learn to be assertive. Assertion and a sense of self-control go together.
  • Move through fear into freedom. Think of all the things you would do if you looked the way you dream of. Start slowly, with professional help if necessary, to do these things now, living is not just for “perfect” people.

Affirmations

In a self-help context, affirmations help us mobilize and focus our mental resources on our intended goal, and help bring it into being. An affirmation is simply a statement, directed towards yourself, that what you want to happen is happening… for example “my life is a gift, and I will not let my enjoyment of it be diminished by feeling guilty over my body size or how much I eat”.

You can write your affirmation down, ten or fifteen times in a row, every day. The repetition of this positive idea, over and over, lets the deepest centres of your brain know that this is to be taken seriously. At times of stress, you use it as a calming technique by repeating it to yourself either aloud or silently. This becomes your task, it tells your brain; this is what all available resources should be directed to.

The key here is that your mind is capable of doing some very amazing things when properly directed; when you can truly mobilize its resources to accomplishing a task, you should be prepared for some powerful results. The technique of writing affirmations can be very useful in overcoming limiting beliefs. Telling yourself, “I will love myself no matter what my eating patterns are,” or “My eating disorder is a temporary condition in my life” every morning, gradually establishes this idea in your mind, even when you previously believed the opposite

You can make up your own affirmations which will help you deal with a particular area you want to focus on, or here are some affirmations which you might like to try:

  • My worth as a person is not diminished in any way by my body size or my eating patterns.
  • I will love myself no matter what my eating patterns are.
  • I will judge my days not by what or how much I eat, but by the accomplishments I have made and the love I have given.
  • My life is a gift, and I will not let my enjoyment of it be diminished by feeling guilty over my body size or how much I eat.
  • I am finished blaming others, situations, and myself for the way I eat. I will take action minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day until I can eat normally again.
  • There is a normal eater within me. I will let her/him take over my life more and more each day as I am ready.
  • I love myself today.
  • I can imagine a life without having an eating disorder.
  • When I feel stressed, I will close my eyes and picture how my all-powerful, normal eater would handle the situation.
  • I believe I will be a normal eater again. I know I will be a normal eater again.
  • Today I will seek out things that are fun to do.
  • I experience and express my emotions freely.
  • Life is about change, and I adapt easily to the new.
  • I will not feel guilty for caring for myself.
  • I will let myself receive the healing I need.
  • I can have urges. I can also choose not to act on them.
  • I will resist anything that takes me off the chosen path of recovery.
  • Today I take time to inhale peace and exhale fear.
  • Today I will take every chance to participate in life, not control it.
  • I am naturally beautiful when I am myself.
  • I will never please everyone and that’s okay.
  • I believe life is worth living.
  • I will seek out people who empower me. And during those times when they are not around, I will know that I can empower myself.
  • I can move away from self-defeating habits.
  • Facing and feeling my fears will empower me to move on.
  • I have choices. I can choose new responses to old situations. I can learn to recognize my true needs and choose positive ways of satisfying them. I can choose recovery-NOW.
  • I have the power to heal.
  • I am in charge of my own journey.
  • I am facing my fears.
  • I am willing to trust the process of change.
  • I am worthy of positive changes today.
  • My eating disorder is a temporary condition in my life.

Improving Your Body Image Confidence

Body image confidence is characterized by mostly positive feelings about your body shape and size. Your body is valued as a good part of you that can help you enjoy life. For people who are confident about their bodies, all foods are seen as fitting into an overall healthy diet, without a sense that some foods are ‘good’ and some ‘bad’.

Here are some suggestions to help you improve your body image:

  • Your body is much more than what is visible from the outside. Reminding yourself of this will encourage you to be less focused on your appearance on more focused on your sense of wholeness
  • Remind yourself that being healthy means that you are well rested, eating well, thinking clearly and nurturing your soul. Your inner self and your outer self mirror each other.
  • Talk to yourself in the mirror. Focus on what you like and remind yourself that it is okay to like and appreciate what you see. Affirm yourself.
  • Remind yourself that you don’t want your body to be like that of anyone else – work towards totally embracing and accepting your own body. Work towards celebrating your uniqueness.
  • Take risks to challenge yourself. Think of things you normally wouldn’t do and try them. For example, set aside time for a relaxing evening to take care of yourself. Care for your body by treating yourself to a massage with the money you have saved by reducing your bingeing.
  • Visit somewhere you would not normally go on your own (provided it is safe to do so.). Spend time with yourself. The first person you need to get to know and love is yourself.
  • Acknowledge yourself and focus on your positive qualities and your talents. Make sure that you are not being too hard on yourself. However, don’t dismiss or ignore those qualities that you don’t like about yourself. Take a closer look and then think about what you can do to change them. It is likely that you have developed a set of rules for yourself about how to behave or how to be as a person. Insisting on being perfect and seeing yourself as a failure if you’re not will only make you feel worse about yourself. Instead of striving to be perfect, strive to do your best. Tell yourself that you can’t control everything, but that you can handle whatever happens. Remember that the only thing that you need to be able to deal with is what is arising in this present moment. If you can limit yourself to attending to the present moment without burdening yourself with what belongs in the past or might belong in the future, your task becomes so much easier.
  • Challenging and changing the way you think can be very difficult, especially when you attempt to do it on your own. Cognitive behavioural therapy could be very helpful as it focuses specifically on identifying, challenging, and changing defeating thoughts and negative self criticism.

Challenging and changing the way you think can be very difficult, especially when you attempt to do it on your own. Cognitive behavioural therapy could be very helpful as it focuses specifically on identifying, challenging, and changing defeating thoughts and negative self criticism.