One of the most difficult aspects of any behavioral change is continuing the behavioral changes once you have made them. This is true of Eating Disorder recovery as well. Once you have made the initial changes in treatment, it can be really hard to implement those changes into your life beyond treatment and establish a healthy pattern that encourages recovery. Here are some pointers for how to establish a healthy pattern to give yourself the best shot at making recovery last.
Easy does it:
Sometimes we get so excited about the positive changes we are making that we feel we can do anything. While that feeling of empowerment is helpful, and is often a hard-fought byproduct of the treatment process, it can also get us into trouble if we are not cautious. After treatment, many people want to jump right back into everything they were doing prior to treatment, but they don’t realize that it was those same conditions that led them into the eating disorder prior to treatment. Going right back into the same conditions at 100 miles an hour is often a setup for failure. It is preferable to take things slowly and ease your way back into the life responsibilities and challenges you had before treatment.
Take down your totem pole:
It’s important in the post-treatment phase of recovery to take a close look at the things in one’s life and reprioritize where needed. Sometimes people may find that the job they have is no longer bringing them satisfaction, or somepeople in their lives are not providing the support they need. Now is a good time to take down the totem pole and rearrange things. Maybe you need to prioritize spending time with your family over work, or engaging in meaningful relationships over maintaining unfulfilling social acquaintances. Establishing more desirable conditions in which keep the changes going will increase the probability that they stay that way.
When you are on a roll and making positive behavioral changes, things feel easy. You don’t have to plan so much and progress just kind of happens naturally. But that only lasts for a period of time. At some point life will throw a wrench in the gears, and it is during those times that good planning comes to the rescue. For example, if you are trying to continue positive changes with your meal plan, you may need to do some pre-emptive shopping that you didn’t have to do when you were in treatment. You may need to carry around extra snacks, water, coping tools, etc. You may need to sit down with a calendar and look ahead a few months to identify periods of time in which you are more likely to be stressed out, thrown off your regular schedule or experience changes. The extent to which you can map out the expected circumstances in your life will help you deal with the unexpected.
Do a little something every day:
You might not always be able to adhere so neatly to your anticipated plans, but do a little something no matter what. View your day like a wheel, and within that wheel there are all the things you have to do and things that are important to you. Your wheel might look something like this.
In order for that wheel to roll, all of the areas have to be in place. Take even one area out and you’ve got a lopsided tire that won’t get you very far. So even if you are unable to devote the precise amounts of time to each important activity, do just a little bit each day. For example, today you might not have time to do a volunteer activity, but take a moment and hold a door open for someone, or you could spend a few moments online planning your next volunteer opportunity. Whatever you do, try not to skimp on sleep, however because that will set you up for a tougher day the next day. If you are unable to spend time on something, just get some sleep and tell yourself before you go to bed that you will dream about it, that counts too.
Establishing healthy patterns can be difficult because of all the uncertainty and tumult that is part of daily life. Be flexible and compassionate with yourself, and if you happen to get off track, don’t panic. Gently redirect your focus and set your intention and you will be able to get yourself back on the path to enacting your new healthy patterns.
Matt Keck, MFT is co-founder and CEO of Cielo House Comprehensive Eating Disorder Treatment programs. He works with clients at all stages of recovery to establish healthy patterns and help them get more of what they want out of their lives.