WHY SELF-CARE IS KEY IN EATING DISORDER RECOVERY
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
Self-care has become synonymous for long bubble baths, face masks, and candles. But it makes so much more.
From therapy and seeking out support, to boundary setting… Self care can include some big things. Things that often change your life. Hey, not all of them - but some!
And this is why if you’re recovering from disordered eating self-care might be a vital part of your recovery.
This blog will cover the different types of self-care, how they link to Intuitive Eating, and why self-care is vital in recovery.
What even is self-care?
Self-care is a way of tending to your:
Psychological - which is important for psychological wellbeing and independent motivation. According to something called self determination theory, we have three psychological needs - autonomy, competence and relatedness:
Autonomy - feel like you are in control of your choices and can take responsibility for yout decisions and actions
Competence - having the right sense of challenge that you can have a go at, that your goals can be achieved.
Relatedness - being connected with others around you and that others care about you.
Emotional - these are the conditions we need to feel happy or fulfilled. This may include things such as: Feeling safe, feeling accomplished, and feeling a part of something. In psychology there is a hierarchy of 9 emotional needs that Maslow (a psychologist) described.
At its base: security, volition (feel fulfilled), attention, emotional connection, community connection, privacy, a sense of self, a sense of achievement and at the very top - meaning.
Physical needs - the things you physically need to survive - seen as the basic necessities. This includes shelter, warmth, clothing, clean water, food, sleep and physical movement.
Self-care isn't one thing. But rather a toolkit you cultivate. It is very individual to you.
We live in a 24-7 go-go-go culture. So, we naturally spend most of our time super stressed. Allowing some self-care means not just physically taking care of yourself. But creating an environment that serves you best.
Sometimes that can be through things that we find hard such as enforcing boundaries or saying no to something we thought we wanted, but in hindsight is overwhelming.
Caring for yourself isn’t always easy - but it may be essential. Especially in disordered eating and eating disorder recovery.
How does self-care link to Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating by its very nature is a ‘self-care’ framework that’s specific to eating. This is because Intuitive Eating helps with something called Introspective Awareness or Interoception.
What is Interoceptive Awareness?
Interoception means sensing internal sensations in your body.
How your body sends a message to your brain about what’s going on inside, and how this affects you. This will then start a domino effect of behaviours inside and outside the body, as well as any effects on your brain.
If you’ve just eaten a large meal, your body might send a message to your brain which causes your body to start digestion and other processes, as well as telling your brain to get you to relax so it can digest.
Over time this can be more or less accurate depending on how much we ignore these signals. For example, if I said guess your own heart rate, this would be an example of what’s called interoceptive accuracy. It’s knowing what is going on inside your body.
Hunger in Intuitive Eating
In regards to Intuitive Eating, interoception also includes your body’s ability to tell if it is hungry.
Interoceptive hunger includes not only how your stomach feels and wanting food but also your brain telling you that you’re hungry. And interoceptive fullness includes both your stomach being full and your brain not thinking about food, the body itself feeling a little more energised.
Hunger in disordered eating
And if you’ve experienced disordered eating, chances are your interoceptive awareness might be lacking. A 2018 study found that those experiencing an eating disorder showed signs of interoceptive deficits - they couldn’t sense the condition of their body and this was considered central to the onset of their disorder.
Intuitive Eating by its very nature helps you tune back in with these sensations - hunger, fullness, satiety.
Self care is listening to your body and cultivating what will help it best - Intuitive Eating gets you back in tune with what your body needs.
Why self-care is important in disordered eating and eating disorder recovery
For those who have experienced disordered eating or an eating disorder, self-care might be difficult. This might be because of reasons including:
Your disordered eating might be linked with trauma
Often as a result of trauma we as humans dissociate from ourselves. This might come in the form of social withdrawal or self-destructive behaviours. Self-care is in ways the opposite of these behaviours so it can be a huge challenge.
You may experience food insecurity
Not knowing where or when your next meal is coming from can lead to a whole range of effects including stress and depression. This is because food is a basic physical need we all need to survive, and if this is an issue we don’t want to add self-care on top of this. It can be overwhelming.
You may lack routine
Self-care tends to rely on being incorporated into a routine to ensure the practices are repeatedly carried out. If you lack routine you may miss opportunities for self-care, or forget about implementing them.
You may have poor boundaries
We’ve all been there, but if you are constantly having your boundaries pushed by others you may have no space left for yourself. Self-care might seem like too much when you’re expelling all your energy on others. We recommend checking out the work of Michelle Elman, the ''queen of boundaries''
You may have poor emotional regulation
If you are at the mercy of your emotions then bouts of stress, anger or sadness might mean you skip self-care or feel as if it’s not working or worth it. This might also lead to self-sabotage where you don’t practice self-care on purpose due to how you’re feeling.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you recognise yourself in any of these situations know that it’s understandable to struggle to commit to a self-care practice.
Self-care allows room for self-compassion and understanding oneself. This can be hard after a period of not listening to what the body needs in favour of what we are told it needs. Especially if any form of disorder when it comes to eating is because we feel inadequate or unworthy.
Recovery isn’t easy. Having some self-compassion and setting yourself up to have your needs met physically, emotionally and psychologically will help with the process.
How to practice self-care in eating disorder recovery
We have a whole blog on self-care practices here.
1. Jenkins, Taylor and Laws (2018)