Eating disorders are alarmingly prevalent in the United States, with an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men being affected by one at some point in their lives.
But despite how common they are, they remain stigmatized to a large extent, with sufferers feeling unable to seek help until the situation has already gotten out of control.
This stigma makes managing an eating disorder more difficult than it needs to be, particularly when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle while in recovery.
While breaking the behavior patterns associated with eating disorders is crucial, it's only the first stage of recovery. Lasting success depends on establishing a healthy lifestyle after an eating disorder.
For the best chance of leading a healthy life after an eating disorder, check out these tips.
1. Overcome the Idea that Food Is Bad
When you experience disordered eating, it's common to see food as the enemy. And unlike other addictions, you can't avoid it altogether. Food is everywhere and you need it to survive.
So the first change that you need to make is to undo this mental conditioning.
Give yourself permission to enjoy all types of foods. In the early stages of recovery, this can prove difficult, so a helpful strategy is to "experiment" with one new food at a time. Asking friends or loved ones to eat with you can help provide support.
This is also a time to reconnect with your personal preferences. Allowing yourself to eat what you crave goes a long way towards helping you feel content and developing a healthier relationship with food.
2. Stay Appropriately Hydrated
Dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities often go hand-in-hand with eating disorders, so part of how to live a healthy lifestyle is establishing good hydration habits.
Proper hydration would be important no matter what, but it is especially so if you're recovering from an eating disorder. When you're dehydrated, your body sends out signals that are often mistaken for hunger, which can exacerbate disordered eating. Learning to maintain good baseline hydration will help allow for clarity in what your body is asking for.
3. Learn to Practice Self-Care
Self-criticism is a major driver of most eating disorders. Learning to be gentle with yourself is a major part of lasting recovery.
Mentally, this could include taking time to focus on your positive qualities. It can also include practicing body awareness. Taking a few moments a day to "check-in" with your body and focus on feeling all of your physical sensations can help you to stay grounded and learn to appreciate your body.
Physically, self-care can mean taking the time to pamper and maintain your body. And spiritually, you need to discover what activities allow you to cultivate joy and practice them.
Living a Healthy Lifestyle After an Eating Disorder Is Possible
Though they can manifest at any age, eating disorders often form early with 13% of youths developing one before the age of 20. Many of these youths think their eating disorder will define them for the rest of their lives.
But that doesn't need to be the case. Long-term recovery is possible, and living a healthy lifestyle is a major step.
Just as important as making the right lifestyle changes is learning to cultivate who you are as a person. To better understand this importance, read up on why relying on willpower alone doesn't always lead to successful recovery.