Eating disorders and sickness
Being ill sucks! No matter how strong-willed you are, you’ll end up reverting to a more primal state of being. Whether that’s curled up in the foetal position with a hot water bottle, cuddled up to your favourite person or shut off in a dark room. We all seek comfort.
It’s automatic. Let me cut through the bullshit, when you’re ill you feel like shit and you need comfort. Comfort is often in the form of self-care, but when you have issues with food your ‘self-care’ is very different than others.
Taking care of yourself really isn’t something you do. So instead, your self-care looks like over-eating or under eating, restricting, scolding or self-sabotage. Your body will crave carbs and fats, but your mind will punish and restrict; starting that cycle again.
Why having managing an eating disorder and sickness so hard?
I’m sure there are lots of scientific reasons, and I won’t even pretend to have the credentials to share them with you. But the long and the short of it is a habit. We’ve taught ourselves that happiness lies in a lower weight, a smaller size, a longer distance on the treadmill. When we are unwell, we want to find that happiness, to be comforted, but our natural comfort is completely different from what it should be.
To be honest, that might only be relevant to me. But through my years of CBT and DBT I have learnt some key skills to coping with being ill, whether that’s a cold or a tummy bug, and managing the negative, dangerous eating habits that often follows.
Managing being sick
Plan, plan, plan.
I love, hate and live off meal plans. They are the bane of my life and the saving grace to most of my days. Truly, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the medical DBT meal plan guidance I was given. So, plan your meals.
Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack; all of them. Especially when you are ill. You will think you need ‘healthy’ things but remember balance is vital. Have vegetables, fats, proteins, carbs and sugars (yes sugar)! Your body will thank you.
I don’t know about anyone else, but my eating issues had me relating resting to ‘unhealthy’ ‘fat’ ‘bad’ ‘lazy’ and all the other synonyms I could think of. This isn’t true in life, but it certainly isn’t true when you are ill. Plan in some naps, go to bed early, sleep when you feel drowsy, cuddle up with a hot-water bottle and maybe cut down on the exertion.
Exercise and food issues go hand in hand, and not always in a good way. You will need to exercise, but not as often or as vigorously as you think. Go for a short walk, pop to the shops, do some stretches; those are the types of exercise that will help you heal and get better.
If you are battling with your own demands around exercise, be kind to yourself. Remember that 1, 2, or even 3 weeks off exercise will not negatively damage your overall health. Find some gentle ways to stretch, move and enjoy your body – don’t overdo it.
Have a backup plan
A backup plan is something I never really understood but would often need. I would search for ‘what to do after a binge’ or ‘how to manage urges’ without taking into account that this was a call for a backup plan, a need for something in place when I slipped up. A backup plan can look however you want, it can be detailed or vague but keep it clear. Always include:
- A positive tone – call a friend, look at old pictures, even look at quotes if they help.
- An opportunity to rest – take a nap, watch Netflix or have a bath; just switch off.
- A chance to forgive – do something for YOU, this can be something big such as dying your hair or something small such as opening the window when you can’t be bothered to move. Do something only for you, that you planned to do, that makes you feel better. Mine is often taking the bins out because…I never do it, but I like a clean kitchen.
- Starting again can look however you want. Make a new meal plan, eat the next meal on the meal plan, reach out to a friend, go outside. The key here is to remember, with any relapse, that you haven’t failed, it’s nothing bad and you can start again with a clean slate.
These are all things that I do, and they may not work for you. However, if you’re ill and dealing with a food issue, remember to be kind, to rest and to take care. If you have any other suggestions of what works, let me know!