Aftercare is just as vital a part of eating disorder recovery as residential or day treatment. While most eating disorder treatment centers will provide online resources and other aftercare programs, people in recovery will have to learn to increase self-sufficiency and learn to care for themselves to keep that recovery going. Developing positive behaviors and attitudes towards food and outlets for stress is critical to the longevity of any implemented plan, and tending to the soul is key as well. In short, self-care is aftercare.
A social support system and professional team can help, of course, but in general, there needs to be personal responsibility.When a support system of doctors, family, and friends have your back and be trained with how to help you in times of crisis, there is a solid basis for recovery maintenance in place. In addition to the recovery and relapse prevention lessons taught by an eating disorder treatment center, however, we have compiled a list of 9 positive ways anyone who’s finished eating disorder treatment can promote self-care.
What Are the Keys to Aftercare?
Any worthwhile eating disorder treatment program will include a strategic, well-planned aftercare program, even if the client isn’t going into a step-down program. Thankfully online and telecommunication tech has gotten to the point that online aftercare is available to almost everyone. In 2021, we may all be sick of Zoom meetings, but they are a perfect way to keep in touch. Aftercare treatment and recovery will focus on several primary factors:
- Building a support system — this will require the efforts of the treatment center, your primary care physician, a dietician or nutritionist, and a therapist or psychiatrist. It will also include education and training for your loved ones, which can provide emotional support 2/7 and at home.
- Creating positive self-care routines — this goes beyond eating regularly and to satiety. Proper sleep hygiene, finding hobbies, and self-examination are all part of positive self-care.
- Avoiding triggers and learning to handle them — the factors that acted as triggers for disordered eating behaviors are still there after residential treatment ends. Recovery doesn’t mean stress won’t exist; it just means you’ll have the tools to defend yourself against it. Since eating disorders are often psychological attempts to reorder an unstructured or chaotic world, finding new, positive ways to cope is essential to recovery.
Keeping the general outline of aftercare requirements, let’s look at some specific habits, tips, and routines that you can use to care for yourself and maintain your recovery.
1 — Meditation and Yoga
Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation and the ancient spiritual practice of yoga, has become increasingly popular in recovery circles in recent years. Mindfulness mediation, in particular, is a relatively new practice that’s informed by evidence-based psychological methods. While traditional mantra-based meditation focuses on a unique mantra, mindfulness meditation is intended to draw the practitioner into a state of non-judgmental, objective self-awareness.
The goal is to allow a practitioner to be aware of their thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental way; to allow them to exist without acting on them or assigning value for them. The key is to avoid self-criticism of thoughts, even if they are identifiable as disordered.
Meditation and yoga are relevant to your recovery because they allow practitioners to be aware of their body and emotions they arise and view them objectively for what they are. It reduces the control emotions have over thoughts and actions and allows for measured decisions and impulse control. They are essential tools for any aftercare program.
2— Establish a Daily Routine and Stick to It
Practice makes perfect. Where once disordered eating behaviors were an individual’s routine, a new healthy routine can be established to replace them. In fact, cognitive retraining programs like CBT take advantage of our brains’ reactions to repeated routines. Repeated activity creates neural pathways for that activity, making it easier to do. This is why some things like brushing your teeth or walking to the bathroom at night in the dark are automatic. This is also why habits are so hard to break — why disordered eating behaviors become compulsions.
By establishing new habits and routines, it’s possible to replace disordered thoughts and behaviors with new, recovery-focused ones. Additionally, establishing a new routine imparts more willpower to use on non-recovery concerns like work, hobbies, and social life. When something becomes routine, it doesn’t take the same force of will to accomplish it. If your daily habit is to wake up, brush your teeth, and do a little yoga before going to school, you won’t have to focus as much on them as you would on trying new activities.
Routines are critical to your recovery because they will encompass the larger behaviors that keep your aftercare in check: going to sessions, journaling, keeping up with hobbies and friends, etc.
3 — Try to Engage with Fellow People in Recovery
Many eating disorder treatment centers will have regular group sessions for others in aftercare, in person, or more likely, online. By taking part in these groups, you can both give and receive support from other members of the eating disorder community. By doing talking to people who might be suffering the same way you did, you can have a profound effect on their lives and bolster your confidence and success in aftercare.
4 — Find an Eating Disorder-Informed Therapist
Whether you function better in group settings or one-on-one meetings, you will need to establish a regular routine of going to therapy. While the aftercare program may provide sessions and materials for self-care, you might want to consider finding a personal therapist as well. Be careful – eating disorder treatment, even in aftercare, requires specialized training on the part of the therapist.
Many medical doctors and some therapists are not aware of some of the key components of eating disorder treatment, such as the HAES (Healthy At Every Size) philosophy, and might inadvertently promote counterproductive attitudes. Look for a regular therapist that is eating disorder-informed. Your treatment center will most likely be able to provide references in your area.
5 — Walking
Keeping in mind that excessive exercise is quite common among people with eating disorders and physical activity can be triggering, taking a simple walk in the park or around the block is a wonderful form of self-care that anyone can do. It’s low-impact, doesn’t require any equipment, and best of all, can be a form of mediation in and of itself.
Additionally, walking benefits heart health, blood pressure, immune function, and many other physical ailments. Added to the mental health benefits of being outside and/or in a natural setting, the simple act of taking a walk can be among the best self-care techniques you’ll ever employ.
6— Spend Time With Your Family and Friends
Eating disorders have a way of forcing people into self-isolation. Many people who are still in the throes of an eating disorder stay away from close friends and loved ones for fear they might be judged for their disordered behaviors. In aftercare, it’s a prime form of self-care to re-establish those relationships and remember how much you enjoy spending time with them.
When people are isolated, they’re more likely to focus on past trauma or experience anxiety about the future. Being around friends and family can give you perspective on recovery and the things you truly hold dear.
Making sure to spend time with them also establishes who your support system consists of – who you can trust when you need a shoulder to lean on – and this will only always help your recovery. If you go to school, take classes in skills like painting or otherwise get out and mingle, social interaction can have a profoundly positive effect as well.
7 — Pick Up a New Hobby or Start Again on an Old One
Any kind of hobby is good to help alleviate stress and form social bonds. Taking on a new hobby like playing an instrument, gardening, or writing helps establish a routine, self-confidence, and imparts a new focus (plus gardening can provide yummy veggies for your post-recovery meals!). It also gives you a high sense of accomplishment and pride when you can look at what you’ve created.
Certain skills will have particular value to recovery from eating disorders. In particular, an interest in the culinary arts helps establish a positive relationship with food and eating – especially when you can share with your loved ones. Developing a skill is relevant to eating disorder recovery because it provides a goal, a meditative practice, and a sense of accomplishment. The education and peer involvement in skill-building are also critically important and have a highly positive effect on maintaining recovery.
8 — Daily Affirmations
All right – this sounds like a cliché, but daily affirmations are part of eating disorder treatment for a reason. An affirmation can be any kind of positive statement about who you are, what you can accomplish, or what you already have accomplished. Any time you think or say out loud that you are capable of doing something, that’s an affirmation. Some people write them out and say them every morning or night, or they might save them to boost confidence before an important event.
The point is to take something you believe about yourself, like “I am a strong and capable woman, and I can achieve anything.” Saying it out loud is best, but the key is to believe it – after time, it boosts confidence and mood.
It’s just as, if not more so important that you avoid negative self-talk. Criticizing yourself unjustly or being overly negative when something doesn’t work out can reverse the progress made in treatment, and can be a trigger for relapse.
Positive self-talk can make you stay focused on recovery, and help you realize just how amazing you are.