Written by Diney Bindman
Eating disorders are considered by some researchers to be similar to addictive behaviors such as substance use and excessive alcohol disorders, as individuals with these addictions narrow their behavioral repertoire. With eating disorders, the sole desire is weight loss and to take control of one’s life by restricting food intake and doing excessive exercise to such extremes that it interferes with daily activities. The relentlessness in pursuit of starvation, despite profoundly negative physical, emotional and social consequences, is a difficult cycle to break, but it is possible.
How common are eating disorders?
Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating impact approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the USA and up to 3.4 million people in the UK and are present across all demographics, regardless of age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion or gender. According to the Priory Group, the leading behavioral care provider in the UK, these eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life in the UK than any other mental health condition.
For those with eating disorders, there is currently no medication that can be prescribed as a standalone treatment, although the mental health issues that often accompany eating disorders can be treated with medication for depression, anxiety or mood disorders. Studies are currently underway examining contributing factors to eating disorders, such as genetics, hormones and neurobiology, but in the meantime, those who suffer from an eating disorder find themselves inadequately treated by the available NHS facilities. To recover from an eating disorder itself takes time, and no one is saying it is an easy journey, as part of these disorders causes an individual to obsess about him or herself in the mirror, where they see a distorted image. Additionally, secrecy is common across many addictive behaviors and individuals will often go to extreme lengths to hide their addiction from those around them.
Are eating disorders really considered clinical conditions?
Eating disorders are not simply a fabrication of one’s imagination or a desire to be thin, as they provoke a serious, often debilitating state of mind. There is a positive road to recovery, however. I personally know five women of varying ages who have suffered with excessive bulimia and anorexia nervosa, all of whom have found different roads to recovery. Their success emphasizes the fact that there is light at the end of the tunnel for any current sufferers.
Breaking down the steps to recovery
In the case of these five women, although their experiences were very different, the common factor between them was a moment of realization or an epiphany when they recognized that they were damaging their bodies and their lives by maintaining obsessive behaviors. The decision that life had to be better than the one they were currently surviving was the starting point to their recovery, and it could be yours too.
The next step is to analyze what triggers binge eating and purging, or simply not eating. Stress, loneliness, sadness can be triggers, or perhaps being in a particular place, room or in someone’s company. By examining what triggers the eating behavior for you, you will be able to develop strategies for managing those triggers effectively.
It’s also important to take note of what you’re doing at that moment when you want to binge and purge, or when you refuse to eat. Often breaking this cycle is a matter of getting through a difficult moment, so you should come up with a distraction to help you tolerate these moments and help you get through it. Distractions can be a powerful weapon in combating the anxiety which often triggers binge eating or starvation. Repetitive tasks, such as knitting, drawing or baking, can offer a good distraction to get through these moments, as can removing yourself physically from that dark place and time by taking a walk or hopping into the car for a drive with the radio on.
Integrating healthy habits to aid recovery
Moving towards healthy, sustainable life habits, rather than living with damaging, destructive behaviors, can help to rewire our brains over time from practicing an obsessive denial of food to building consistent and healthy eating habits.
The best way to do this is to reconnect with your body, as eating disorders can make you feel as if your body has turned against you. An essential part of recovery is to heal that relationship and reconnect with your body as friend, and not a foe. Experts suggest that one key to this process is throwing away any bathroom scales to reinforce the idea that you aren’t and never will be defined by your weight.
Throughout this process, it’s essential to surround yourself with family and/or trusted friends as a support group, and it is a good idea to follow a reliable daily routine to give yourself as few opportunities as possible to struggle with your trigger points. Some healthy ways to start your day are to incorporate meditation, yoga, or physical exercise into your routine, or to begin each day by writing a list of all the things in your life for which you are grateful. Three of the aforementioned women turned to yoga and spiritual healing at this point, and all five wrote daily journals of gratitude.
At the end of the day, recovery requires that you build consistent, healthy habits that are sustainable. These can lead to tangible results because they help to rewire your brain to follow a new normal, which is a large part of what makes recovery possible.
Oberit: rewarding recovery and making it fun
We’ve all, at some time in our lives, started something with enthusiasm and then given up. We are human, after all. But it's proven that rewards can work to keep that motivation to succeed strong and positive, and to help maintain your new routine in weak moments.
Oberit was developed with this approach in mind, by converting your daily habits into a digital currency to then “spend” on healthy products and services in our marketplace, which is designed to encourage a substance-free, healthy, sustainable lifestyle. With great incentives to stay on track, you’ll find that recovery feels fun and rewarding, instead of challenging and discouraging.
Recovery is all about helping return you to a version of yourself where you feel happy, stable and healthy. Forming healthy habits are the stepping stones to reaching that better life, but remember to take it one step at a time so you don’t fall. Even if there are bumps along the road, make sure to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back on the path again. You’ll be rewarded for doing so, and more importantly, you will be one step closer to achieving the new you.
Earn rewards for being your best self.