The last week of February is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which is sponsored by NEDA and is promoted throughout the United States for everyone who has been affected by an eating disorder, whether directly or indirectly. This year’s theme “Come as You Are”, highlights NEDA’s movement towards inclusivity in the greater eating disorder community and their goal of unifying the field of eating disorders. Navigating life after eating disorder treatment, especially leaving a rigid treatment schedule and venturing out into the world of recovery. Individuals often will feel left out in society, which leaves them longing for inclusivity and the desire to be accepted. Feeling accepted in recovery can be the “make it or break it” in treatment. Part of feeling accepted requires you to take a stance against society’s norm, especially when it comes time to body shape, body image, and food.

Recovery is a lifelong journey, and the transition from acute treatment to long-term improvement in the real world can result in relapse if you do not learn to recognize your triggers and utilize healthy coping skills to prevent unhealthy behaviors. Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder all have a common ground: an obsession with body image, body weight, and food. However, these are not the underlying reasons that drive individuals to develop an eating disorder. Unhealthy emotional and mental trauma, past abuse, low self-esteem, poor coping skills, self-injury, mental health disorders, and substance abuse disorder are all common underlying triggers for developing an eating disorder. Although food is not necessarily the culprit, learning to have a healthy relationship with food while in recovery can be challenging. Many individuals struggle with issues of self-control when it comes time to food and body image, blurring the lines between rigidity and chaos. Finding a healthy balance is critical to be successful in recovery. The following are helpful tips about developing a healthy relationship with food while in recovery and while carrying on your life after eating disorder treatment.

• Let go of any rigid eating rules. Strict rules about food and eating can result in harmful eating disorders or behaviors. Having rigid rules can lead to future failure because these rules are often broken and can lead to further low self-esteem and guilt. Instead, adopt a healthy lifestyle that is manageable to follow. Instead of never eating desserts or junk food, try limiting these to maybe once a week. Always be kind to yourself and never discipline yourself for breaking a “rule” associated with food.

• Don’t diet. Diets are temporary fixes to a bigger underlying problem that often leads to self-doubt and disappointment. When you restrict yourself or put yourself on a diet, you become obsessed with food. Adopt a healthy lifestyle that is manageable. Speak to a nutritionist, buy more fruits and vegetables, eat whole grains, cut down on alcohol, juices, and soda, and most of all learn to love the way you eat.

• Adopt a regular eating schedule. You may be used to skipping meals, fasting for long periods and binging however now that you are in recovery, it is important to adopt a regular eating schedule where you obtain the full amount of nutrients required throughout the day. Try to eat every four hours; whether it is a small snack or a healthy meal, it is essential to replenish your body continuously throughout the day with the required nutrients.

• Learn to shop and cook for yourself. Taking a trip to the grocery store and learning how to cook with healthy foods can enable you to gain a better understanding of what healthy eating truly is. You may also find a new hobby. Avoiding fast food and restaurants can also help you appreciate a good home cooked meal and maintain a healthy mind and body.

• Learn to listen to your body. If you are in recovery for an eating disorder, you have probably spent a reasonable length of time ignoring your body’s signs of starvation and fullness. Whether you skipped meals, went days without eating, self-induced purged after meals, or binged in the past; you most likely never listened to your body. When continuing your life after eating disorder treatment, you need to make sure you listen to what your gut communicates to your brain when your body is depleted of nutrients or when you are full and sends signals to areas in the mind telling you that you are either hungry or full. If you are full stop eating and if you are hungry, then eat a balanced, nutritious meal.

• Stay away from the scale. Your primary goal in recovery is to learn to love and accept yourself, and in doing so, you will learn to adopt healthy eating patterns. If your weight needs to be monitored, then leave that up to healthcare professionals. Do not focus on how much weight you have lost or gained but instead focus on how you feel inside.

• Throw away fashion magazines. Fashion magazines are full of airbrushed images of unrealistic expectations that can lower your self-esteem and bring out feelings of insecurity.