by June Alexander
Each New Year’s Day for many years I created a list of resolutions. The lead resolution always was: “Eat three meals and three snacks daily.” Sounds good and easy, but I always shattered this resolution within hours. Making an annual resolution about food when you have an eating disorder, is not a good idea because the eating disorder always wins (and makes you feel dreadful).
Beware therefore, that an eating disorder thrives on destroying New Year resolutions that seem good for you. During my 30’s, when embarking on recovery, I was questioning my beliefs, values, morals, everything, in a quest to discover my sense of self, that is my self-identity. After 20 years with an eating disorder, I had no idea who I was. I had tried so hard to “manage,” but had always failed, because the eating disorder was manipulating both thoughts and behaviors. My minister, overwhelmed by my life story thus far, encouraged me to persist in efforts to connect with true-me, and gave assurance that “God is in favor of new starts.”
Queen of new starts
Recovering one’s healthy self in adulthood from an eating disorder developed in childhood requires many new starts and resolutions. I became the queen of both. Many of the new starts were proven quickly to be in the wrong direction, with resolutions failing within hours of being made. It was not that I was wrong, my treatment team hastened to reassure me, but that the path I was venturing on was not right for me. “Try again,” they said. And so I did. Again and again. This is what happens when you have no sense of healthy self and do not know which way is right for you. I was gingerly putting one foot in front of the other, hoping the next step would provide stability, but fearing I would fall in a deep, dark hole. Have you felt like this?
A pathway built on self-love and self-compassion
I somehow had to find a pathway that would be secure and stable, connect with healthy, authentic “me,” and lead to the light. Amazingly, eventually, I found this path, and with it, my freedom. For 12 years, I have had no need to list “three meals and three snacks daily” as a resolution, because the meals and snacks are an automatic part of everyday life.
Reintegrating the many parts of mind and body into one healthy self takes time. Healing from within takes perseverance, patience and persistence. It takes many new starts. Rather than set myself up for failure by playing to the eating disorder’s tune, I learned to forgive my healthy self and to make a fresh start as soon as I became aware the eating disorder had tricked me yet again. Gradually the tricking dwindled and petered out to nothing.
My minister was right: I am so glad I listened, and kept making a new start until I found “me”. Today, I do not feel a need to make resolutions with an ironclad, black-and-white, do-or-die determination that they will last an entire year. Any resolutions made today are based on self-love and self-compassion, with the aim of enriching my life, because I can always improve, and that of others.
Resolutions for living life to the full
Right now, for instance, my main resolution is to care for myself and attend to detailed planning so that I can travel across the world from Melbourne to visit as many friends and family as possible in Missouri in early March on my way to the AED ICED Conference in New York City. You see, 2019 marks 50 years since I was an American Field Service student who graduated from high school in Wellsville-Middletown, and I am hoping to catch up with some class mates from back then, and spend time with my super wonderful host family with whom I have stayed in contact all these years. Already I am feeling excited. I am free to do this because today I am in the driver’s seat, navigating and plotting my life. My eating disorder is long silenced.
Strategies for self-care
A New Year is definitely as good a time as any to make a new start, and to help you on your way, here are some strategies (drawn from my memoir, A Girl Called Tim, Escape from an Eating Disorder Hell) that I have found useful in regaining connection with my healthy self and maintaining and cultivating ongoing self-enrichment:
- Daily journaling about thoughts and feelings.
- Eating three nutritious meals and three snacks daily. Food is medicine.
- No calorie counting, and no weighing.
- Employment or study can provide a sense of purpose and self-worth at a time when nothing else does.
- Being candid with understanding family members, as they provide ongoing support.
- Listing positive things done during the day: like speaking cheerfully to the checkout person at the supermarket, planting seedlings, baking a cake, phoning a friend.
- When feeling anxious, dividing the day into quarters. Making it to 10:30am, and writing down how I am coping, again at 1pm, and so on.
- Repeating affirmations, such as “Action beats anxiety” and “I deserve to be treated with respect,” at times of stress.
- Accepting that prescription drugs, while causing side effects, are at times essential.
- Focusing on taking care of my healthy self. Strengthening self-awareness helps in managing situations that otherwise might enable eating disorder thoughts.
- Imagery is helpful. For example, I picture a raw egg, with the yolk my soul, and the white the world around me. No matter what goes on in the white, I strive to protect my yolk. Whole, the yolk is my safe place, my haven, but if it scrambles, it means the eating disorder is causing a disconnection. What is your favorite self-help image?
- Being my own best friend. Would I want to bruise or abuse my best friend? No, no, no! So I will not bruise or abuse myself, either.
- Asking: Does this thought or feeling belong with my illness, or with me? If with illness, hit the delete button.
- When feeling vulnerable and confused, allowing guidance by trusted others.
- Attending to feelings as they arise, helps to diminish food as a coping tool or issue.
- Embracing the moment with friends and family, having fun!
- Walking by the sea with my puppy. Embracing the beauty of nature is food for the soul.
- Cuddling my cats.
- Preparing for and facing a stressful situation or fear, followed by a debrief in a supportive environment, often brings a self-growth reward in an unexpected and delightful way.
- Acknowledging the right to be born and to live is empowering.
- Connecting and sharing with like-minded others and participating in support groups helps to silence eating disorder thoughts.
- Whether you are nine or 99, or somewhere between, start writing your story, because your story counts.
Mentoring – Writing Your Story
Would you like help in writing your story? As a writing mentor, I offer understanding and guidance in expressing what you want to say with the written word. The process of writing your story can be very therapeutic. To arrange mentoring assistance, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.