Practicing Self Care

in Recovery

What do you think of when you hear 'self care'? Most likely, the words conjure up images of candles and face masks (not the coronavirus kind) - maybe a bubble bath if you're feeling fancy. They might even feel a bit stressful: something else we're supposed to be good at (and spend lots of money on) in a productivity-obsessed world.

Like many things, self-care has become a much more complicated and commercialised version of something that's really quite simple. Fundamentally, self care means: 

  • Treating yourself with kindness

  • Putting your health and mental health first 

  • Taking some time out of your day to do something intentional just for you 

This might mean lighting a candle and putting on an exfoliating face mask - if that's your vibe. But it might not look anything like that. It could be as simple as saying no to a task you know you don't have time for, or getting a good night's sleep. 

But when you have an eating disorder, even this more basic definition can feel confusing. Things that might be uncomplicated acts of self-care for most people (reaching for a tub of ice cream after a long day, going for an endorphin-fuelled run) can be complex, dangerous acts. Often, the line between self care and self-destruction is incredibly hazy. 

When your instincts have been hijacked by an eating disorder, even the basic principle of doing something that makes you feel good is far from straightforward. The things that instinctively make you feel safe and give you pleasure are likely to be the very behaviours that fuel your eating disorder. 

Eating disorders involve denying yourself the most basic forms of self-care: nourishment, rest, forgiveness. They're often borne out of long-standing feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth. If your eating disorder has been a part of your life for some time, acts of self-care, which require treating yourself with kindness and taking time to focus solely on you, might feel unnatural and uncomfortable. 

So if you've been advised by your therapist/friend/mindfulness-guru-on-the-internet to practice self care and that feels overwhelming: that's completely understandable. Self-care goes against all the instincts that drive your eating disorder, so of course it's going to feel uncomfortable. But that's the exact reason why it's important. 

What good self care looks like will be different for everyone. It will depend on what your needs are at that moment, what gives you pleasure, and what resources you have available to you. Yours might be getting creative with some watercolours, taking ten minutes to lie on your bed and listen to your favourite album, or painting your nails. It might be taking a rest day (or week) from the gym, or waking up and sticking to your meal plan in spite of last night's binge. It might not feel good. In fact, it might feel really bad - at first. 

Like everything in recovery, self care takes work. If you've spent years telling yourself you're not good enough or punishing your body, it's going to take some time to adjust to treating yourself more kindly. This is a really important part of recovery: showing yourself with conscious acts that you are worthy of time, attention, care and love.

These are some helpful questions if you’re not sure if what you feel like doing counts as self care:

  1. Would I treat my best friend the way I'm treating myself right now?  

  2. Is this action coming from a place of kindness and love? 

  3. Would my therapist/best friend be proud of me for doing this?

  4. What is my purpose here? How is this serving me? 

  5. Which part of me am I looking after: am I fuelling my eating disorder, or nourishing the part of

        me that wants to recover? 

Written by Tasha Kleeman. 

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