The well-known belief that someone has developed an eating disorder out of the fear of becoming or being fat unfortunately does not apply to most sufferers. More often, individuals who develop eating disorders experience intense emotions, traumas, or a loss of control and use food to cope with their negative internal states. Whether it is through binging, purging, restricting, calorie counting or ‘pure’ eating, some people begin to use food and weight as a means of feeling in control and subduing/numbing the negative emotions that are difficult to face. By concentrating on weight loss and food intake, the mind is unable to attend to the painful issues the individual wishes to avoid. Despite, the coping mechanism of food and weight being very effective, it often leads an individual into treacherous territory where their health and life is threatened. Once a person reaches this point, they need to make a choice as to whether or not they are willing to give up their negative coping mechanisms for more positive ones.
Positive coping mechanisms can be difficult to practice in the place of the oh-so-familiar and safe methods of restriction, binging, and purging. After all, if something works, why change the way to do it? Well, when a coping mechanism threatens health and livelihood, efforts to replace the particular mechanism should be sought. It’s not easy, it is not fun, and—at first—no one beginning recovery will want to partake in any new behaviors. Some may claim that they do not know of any other ways to deal with emotions while others might deny that their eating-disordered behaviors are not a maladaptive avenue of coping. No matter the feelings or thoughts an individual has toward adapting to new coping skills, it is imperative to their progress to be committed to replacing the eating-disorder behaviors.
For Therapy this week, I need to come up with 21 coping skills that I am able to do and am willing to do in place of eating-disordered ways of coping. Below is my list.
- Concentrate on your breathing
- Squeeze a stress ball
- Scream in a pillow
- Read a book, magazine, favorite blog, or for class
- Listen to music
- Go for a light walk
- Go outside
- Play guitar
- Revisit your blog and other recovery resources
- Play with your pet(s)
- Watch a TV episode or movie
- Do the dishes
- Get out your DSLR camera and accessories and take photos.
- Scribble the heck out of a piece of paper
- Crochet or knit (even if it is a choppy job)
- Contact a support buddy
- Remind yourself that your thoughts, perceptions and feeling may be off-kilter
- Remember all the reasons why you want to recover
- Play a board game with your husband, play with a yoyo, play a mindless iPhone game app.
Granted, all of these coping skills may not work and some may work only in certain situations while others may not. For example, if I’m on campus or in a class, playing with a yoyo or screaming into a pillow are not going to be possible or appropriate. There is a lot of trial-and-error involved in creating a solid list of coping skills. Some things that may not appear to be of any benefit might provide to be one of the best while others that are predicted to work well may not work well at all. Regardless of how many successes and failures in trying to find new coping skills, however, stay determined in building a new—and more functional—arsenal of healthy outlets of coping with stress and emotion. Also, upon brainstorming a list, make sure to include a wide variety of skills that can be used across different scenarios.
Most importantly, above making a list, actually DO and PRACTICE your new coping methods. From my personal experience, all you are going to want to do is engage in the eating-disordered ways of making yourself feel alright again. However, if you are genuinely committed to recovering, keep at it. Carry out the healthy methods every time. After a while, you will begin to form new habits.