A concept that seems to come up with all of my clients (not just ones with eating disorders) is the concept of self-care. Many people are very, very good at taking care of other people - children, spouses, friends and other family members - but not so good at taking care of themselves. When we don't take care of ourselves, we often find ourselves stressed out, anxious and generally not doing so well. At this point, many people turn to 'crutches' to fill their lives such as alcohol, drugs, food, or simply withdrawing. Issues such as eating disorders or emotional eating may also be triggered. These 'crutches' may help you get through the stress of the moment, but add more problems to your plate in the long run.
Does this sound familiar?
By making self-care a priority, we can avoid many of the long-term issues that come up when we don't take care of ourselves. However, many of my clients have never taken care of themselves and don't even really know where to start. I like to think about self-care in terms of different areas in our lives. You can choose one or two areas to focus on initially and eventually work on other areas as you begin to regain energy and find the time and balance to do so.
Taking care of oneself physically is an area that is so important for people with eating disorders to focus on. This includes providing your body with the proper nutrition to live and flourish. Without enough food, our minds become more obsessive and anxious. Not to mention, all of our body's systems rely on nutrition to work well. If you aren't getting enough food, you aren't feeling as well as you could. If you aren't sure if you are giving your body the food it needs, consider making an appointment with a dietician.
Physical care also includes moderate exercise. If you have an eating disorder, you'll want to talk with your treatment team about how much is appropriate for you. For some people, taking a walk in the park or a restorative yoga class will be enough. Other people will be able (and need) to work on including cardio workouts into their lives.
Other ways to take care of yourself physically are to simply to get enough sleep at night and to keep up with basic things like hygiene, keeping doctor's appointments and taking medications as prescribed.
It may sound counterintuitive but taking care of our relationships and consciously working to maintain positive and supportive relationships is a huge part of self-care. As humans, we need connection with other people. This doesn't mean that you always need to do everything to maintain a relationship. It means that healthy relationships go both ways and have good boundaries.
If you identify with a religious or spiritual tradition, how are you including it in your life? Regularly attending services, reading scripture (or spiritual texts), praying or meditating are all wonderful ways to connect with your spirituality. When someone does identify with a tradition but aren't active in it, they often tell me that they feel like something is lacking in their lives. Even if you don't fully identify with a particular tradition or you've been turned off by one you grew up in, keep searching. Spirituality is often a journey rather than a destination.
Even if you don't describe yourself as creative, you are. Whether you are interested in music, writing, painting or dance (or something else) - engage in it. If you aren't sure what you enjoy doing that is creative, explore books about different topics at the library or consider taking a class. Many arts and crafts stores and community colleges offer informal courses that are often inexpensive.