Right before Justin and I got married, my eating disorder mentality came back without me even realizing it. I lost more weight than I should have (that I didn't need to lose in the first place) and I didn't notice how close I was to slipping back into my old destructive behaviors. Although that was two years ago, since then I've tried to put more effort into watching my thoughts and my actions so I can make sure it doesn't happen again. Over the past couple of years though, I've gained a little weight and I've been trying to grapple with how to exercise and eat healthier without laying out a welcome mat for my anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders at the same time. 

Last week, a friend messaged me about someone she knows that's going through the same thing and asked if I had any tips or thoughts on how they can be healthy and also lose weight, but not slip back into their eating disorders. While eating disorders might not ever go away, we shouldn't let them bully us around. If we want to be in control of our health, we need to be cautious with the steps we take to lose weight, have a pre-determined plan in our minds that we will stick to, be observant of our mental well-being, and constantly question what our motivations are behind losing weight or trying to become healthier. 

Exercising and changing your eating habits can seem terrifying once you've recovered from an eating disorder, but here are a couple ideas I shared with my friend that I think can help build a buffer between those two things and your past eating disorders: 

Avoid Numbers
  • This is especially important with food. Don't focus on calorie amounts or anything you find on a nutrition label (fats, sugar, carbs). Instead, focus on the actual health benefits of the foods you eat and the nutritional values that come from food (vitamins, minerals, etc.). Ask yourself, what are the things that my body needs to survive and how do these foods support all that I need my body to do? Even foods that are considered "unhealthy" by the dieting world, can benefit your body. We need fats, proteins, sugars, carbs, and calories for our bodies to function and do everything they were made to do. Obviously, you shouldn't eat McDonald's every day, but there are healthier ways to watch what you eat without cutting calories or only eating fruits and vegetables for your meals--our bodies can gain something good from almost everything that we eat. 
  • Don't weigh yourself and avoid scales as much as possible. Both can be major triggers and avoiding them can help you overcome a mentality where you believe your worth is equal to your weight. 
Avoid Portion Sizes
  • Controlling the amount that we eat is usually the first idea that comes to anyone's mind whenever they want to lose weight. When I was first recovering from my binge eating disorder and wondering about how I was going to lose all the weight that I gained, my doctor told me that one of the best things I could do was to listen to my stomach as I ate. He went on to say that I should eat until I was full enough not to be stuffed or hungry. Mindfulness when eating is definitely an acquired talent, but it does help you be more aware of what your body needs since portion sizes sometimes end up being too much food or not enough food for what our bodies need.
Set Firm Limits
  • Benjamin Franklin (according to the internet) once said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Preparation and planning are crucial when it comes to trying to lose-weight or pick up healthier habits post-eating disorder. You need to know your triggers are and be aware of the fact that you have lurking disorders that are still with you--even if you no longer restrict your diet, purge, or binge. Understanding this and using your knowledge of yourself and your disorders to construct your workouts and food habits will increase your chances of success. For instance, if I wanted to start working out and exercising consistently, I would set a limit where I could only exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. That way, I would be able to prevent my eating disorders from pushing me to extremes. 
Avoid the Gym
  • Especially if you are newly recovered from your eating disorder, avoid exercising in a gym at all costs. They usually have a competitive atmosphere and it's easier to compare your body to those around you in such an enclosed, intensely-focused space (both can be huge triggers for disordered behaviors). Instead, try to exercise in your home or outside where competition and judgment are less likely. 
Involve Friends and Family
  • While not everyone has family or friends that are aware of their eating disorders, both can be valuable tools when you're trying to lose weight or start healthier habits. If you feel comfortable with it, check in regularly with a someone about how your eating and exercising plans are going. (Keeping a journal where you can record any signs of your eating disorder coming back could also work if you have not told those closest to you about your eating disorder. You can use it to track your triggers and figure out if you are in a good spot to be exercising or changing your eating habits.) Be open and honest with them and with yourself. You could even ask for friends or family members to exercise with you. However, if you do this, make sure you are aware of your thoughts and feelings when exercising with another person. If you feel competitive towards them or judgemental towards yourself, stop immediately and figure out another way to involve them in your efforts. 
Check In With Yourself
  • When you are exercising or trying to eat healthier, listen to your thoughts and how you talk to yourself. Constantly ask yourself what your motivators are and why you are exercising or eating healthier. If your answers have anything to do with your appearance or weight, stop immediately and reassess your plan. Both of those motivators (along with any other motivators that are similar in nature) have nothing to do with health and everything to do with your eating disorders. 
Be Patient and Keep it Gradual
  • While losing weight quickly is really unhealthy and really bad for your body (heart issues, metabolism issues, organ stress), it also makes it much easier to redevelop an eating disorder (especially anorexia and bulimia, since the goal of both disorders is to lose weight fast). So, make sure you are patient with yourself and your progress. Celebrate the small victories and use that time to learn to love your body at all shapes, weights, and sizes. It took me three years to lose the weight I gained from my binge eating disorder and I feel like I grew more from that experience than I would have if I gave into diet culture and pushed myself as hard as could to lose weight in the shortest amount of time possible. It also helped me learn to understand which thoughts were mine, and which thoughts came from my eating disorders too. Weight loss and creating healthier habits is a process, not a race. 
Learning how to navigate your body after recovering from an eating disorder can be hard! Don't be afraid of yourself or your body, but remember to be aware of your disorders. If you want to lose weight, make sure that you focus on your overall health, rather than your size. Try to focus on how the exercise you are doing makes your body stronger and how the foods you are eating will help your body reach its full potential. 

Basically, when it comes to exercise and eating healthier, the end goal shouldn't be becoming skinnier, because, like a lot of us who have recovered from eating disorders know, being skinny does not necessarily mean that you're healthy.

 In fact, it usually means the exact opposite. 


Is counting calories, in your opinion, always bad? Or can it be appropriate when the calories goals are in a healthy range? Just curious. 

Hi there!

This is actually something that I've been grappling with over the past couple of weeks, so your question couldn't have been timed better :)  I haven't completely found the answer to it yet, but let me share with you what I've come up with so far:

Counting calories is a complex topic that can't be sorted into being entirely good or bad. With that in mind, I don't think counting calories is always bad or endangering, but I also do think that it should be avoided altogether--since, in many ways, it can be a double-edged sword that can harm not only ourselves, but those around us. Even with the best intentions, calorie counting can quickly become dangerous (I would even go as far as to say that calorie counting is a type of disordered eating on its own as well). I guess the best example of what I'm talking about can be found in my own experiences with the anorexia that resulted from a calorie-deficit diet I decided start when I was a sophomore in high school. Initially, my calorie counting was "healthy"--I watched portion sizes, set what seemed to be a safe limit, and made sure I was eating healthy foods that were also lower-calorie than what I had included in my diet before. However, calorie counting eventually became an obsession and my low-calorie diet turned into a low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb, low-food diet as I tried to push myself to lose more and more weight. I saw calories as my enemy because I related them to being unhealthy and saw them as unwanted. Eventually, my relationships with those around me also suffered and (as crazy as this seems) my calorie counting hurt those around me too. I shamed friends and family for what they were eating and I tried to promote my calorie counting disorder as the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle (there were also people who probably saw what I was doing and were influenced by me indirectly as well). I hate to think about it, but I'm sure the way that I talked about calories and food may have been the cause of or the justification for someone else's disorder. While calorie counting may temporarily help some people who need or want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, calorie counting placed in the wrong hands, prolonged over a significant period of time, or initiated for the wrong reasons will develop into an eating disorder.

Another problem that I've found within the context of counting calories is that it also teaches us to view food as a set of numbers rather than as a source of nutrition and it also antagonizes calories in the process. Calories are essential for our bodies to function and when we view them narrowly as numbers on a box or within the confines of a calorie limit, we detract from and forget the positive force that they are in our everyday lives. We need calories to live and to function properly. Also, calorie counting sometimes leads to the consumption of low-calorie foods that actually detract from our health instead of increasing our health. For instance, when I was counting calories, I would buy low-calorie foods from the store so that I could stay within my daily calorie limit I established. However, I didn't realize that some of those foods were low-calorie because they consisted of chemicals and artificial ingredients that did my body more harm than good. While I was staying within my calorie limit and losing weight by eating those foods, I was not necessarily becoming healthier. When I was a mentor in an eating disorder recovery group at my university, one of our meetings focused on teaching us to be aware of the nutritional values of foods and how those nutrients help our bodies, rather than focusing on calorie amounts. For example, a double cheeseburger can be around 800 calories, but it also provides around 40 grams of protein (which is essential for the growth and development of tissues in your body), along with being a good source of iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. We also talked about the necessity of carbs, sugars, calories, and fats in our bodies as well. Personally, I believe this is a much healthier approach to diets and food in general. With that being said, I don't think anyone should totally ignore calories, but I do think that calories and calorie limits definitely should not be the focal point of one's relationship with food and their personal health endeavors (especially when it comes to meals that include fruits, dairy products, vegetables, meat, and/or grains). Obviously, moderation, recommended daily amounts of various nutrients, and balance are also important to take into consideration with our diets, but it is also crucial to remember that there is always something positive to be gained for our bodies from just about everything we eat--regardless of calorie amounts. 

I probably feel as strongly as I do about this topic because when I recovered from my disorders, I also had to recover from calorie counting too. It fueled my disordered behaviors, my disorders themselves, and caused me to view food as something to be avoided, rather than embraced. Calorie counting is not always bad, but from my own experiences, I believe that there are better, safer ways to go about watching what one eats and controlling one's health. 

All-in-all, calorie counting is a high-stakes risk that I personally would not recommend taking. 


What advice would you give those who suspect a friend/loved one has an eating disorder?  What is the best way to approach the subject and/or help them and give them the support they need?  What kind of actions/reactions/support do you -or did you- wish your family would have done to help you in the many different phases?
Sorry!  I see you addressed most of my questions in a previous post I had somehow missed.  So that just leaves the first question - what to do if they don't approach you or tell you?
 Hi there!

One thing that I've learned since recovering from my disorders, is that once you've had an eating disorder, you can spot the telltale signs of one from a mile away.  However, even though I can spot people who may have disorders or disorder tendencies on a daily basis, it's something that I can't and won't directly confront them about (even if they are friends or family) until they have personally told me themselves what they are going through.

So, what can you do if you've heard that someone you know might have a disorder or if you strongly believe that they might have one?

And by that, I don't mean you should actually do nothing.

If you are worried about someone, you definitely should take action, but it's all in how you take that action. If they haven't approached or told you about what they're going through, the best thing that you can do is to take action behind the scenes and leave breadcrumbs for them to follow when they're ready to start the recovery process. If they are ready for help and have told you personally, then you can go full-force and help them find treatment etc.

The trick with approaching someone that you either think or know has an eating disorder is all within how you word things. One thing that's important to remember is that no one wants to be accused of being something they aren't or think they aren't. If you're concerned about someone and they haven't approached you about it yet, there's no harm in asking if they're doing okay. However, it's important to remember that they have the right to heal according to their own timeline (unless they are in immediate danger--you could probably directly address the fact that they have an eating disorder in a situation like this, but again, you would have to be delicate in how you approach that topic) and to keep their own secrets until they're ready to share them.

Here are a couple of sample conversations:

1. You: "Are you doing okay?"
    Them: "Yes, why?"
    You: "I've noticed that you've lost/gained a lot of weight lately and I was worried about you."

2. You: "Are you doing okay? I've noticed that you haven't been eating lately."
    Them: "Yeah, I'm doing fine--I've just been stressed out with school (could be a lie); thanks for asking though!"
    You (knowing that it could be a lie): You're welcome! I was worried about you. Let me know if can do anything to    help with your stress!"

3. You: "Are you okay? You spent a lot of time in the bathroom after dinner."
    Them: "I'm fine."
    You: "Good! I was worried about you!"

4. You: "Hey, I've noticed that you've been going into the kitchen late at night to eat, are doing okay?"
    Them: "...no."
    You: "What can I do to help you?"

In all of these sample conversations, the person asking the questions (you) never once straight out said that or asked if the other person had an eating disorder--which is probably the most important thing that you can do in situations like this. I remember when I was anorexic, my mom told me that I had taken my dieting too far and I was being reckless with my health. Although she was right, her comment made me incredibly defensive and caused me to shut myself off from her help. I also started to do more things behind her back as well.

Additionally, it's important to start conversations like this in private and not in a group setting. No one wants to be embarrassed or feel like its them against everyone else. Also, if they say that they are okay, don't press them for the answer that you want or the truth that you think they are hiding. Accept it and make sure to let them know that you're there to help if they need anything.

One of the best things about approaching someone with a disorder in this way is that if they're in denial, your words can plant a seed in their head and cause them to reexamine what they're doing. If they aren't in denial, it lets them know that someone has caught on to what's going on and that you're there to help if they need it.

Again, it's important not to accuse or call them out on their behaviors if you want them to genuinely recover. It has to be a decision that they make, not that they're resentfully forced in to. I found that I was able to fully recover from my binge eating disorder because I was the one to notice it and I was the one to take the initiative. By starting the recovery process through myself, I was able to take full responsibility for my recovery because my disorder was something that I fully acknowledged and wanted to end.

One way that I like to think of an eating disorder is to liken it to a house with a door that only has one handle which is on the inside where the eating disorder victim lives. People can knock on the door and try to get the victim to open it and come out, but ultimately it's up to the person inside of the house to open the door. They get to choose when to let you in and then they choose when they're ready to walk out of the house. You can't just break down the door on them and expect things to be okay.

Aside from talking with them, there also other things that you can do to help:

  • Compliment them on their non-physical traits, build up their self-esteem
  • Don't compliment them on their weight loss
  • Don't let them talk negatively about themselves or their bodies
  • Don't talk negatively about yourself or your body around them
  • Help them not feel bad about the food that they've eaten
  • Don't count calories, criticize the food that you've eaten, or talk about diets around them.
  • Keep in contact with them so that they can feel comfortable talking with you when they're ready; check up on them after talking to them too
  • Keep them company while they eat and after they eat so that they can be distracted from the thoughts of the disorder and purging methods
  • Serve them, let them know that they are loved 

Before I finish this, I have one last thought to add. When I was going through my disorders, hardly anyone noticed that anything was wrong or that I was struggling--especially during the binge eating. It hurt. I was so frustrated that no one was reaching out to me and that I had no one to talk to. That no one realized how miserable I was. Although I didn't necessarily want to talk about my disorder, I just wanted someone to notice what was going on. Someone to reach out to. Someone to be there to catch me. Someone to care.

I think that the fact that you want to help and are aware of what this person is going through is a great first step. I can't guarantee that things will go smoothly even if you're incredibly careful with how you help them, but just make sure that you use good judgement while trying to help them.

Good luck!


How can people with eating disorders reach out for and accept help from others? Eating has always been very personal for me. I don't know how I can include loved ones in my recovery journey when I can't even be honest with myself about my eating habits.

Hi there!

Accepting help from others and being honest with yourself are two of the hardest--but also most important, steps that anyone can take when trying to overcome an eating disorder. Personally, I really struggled with both throughout all three of my disorders; however, I realize now that being honest with myself enabled me to reach out and accept help from others when I was ready.

When I was anorexic, I was in complete denial about what I was doing. I thought that because I was the smallest I had ever been in my life, I was also my healthiest (which is definitely not true for anyone). Whenever friends or family tried to reach out to me, I would push them away and justify my actions. Not only did I make myself miserable, but I made them miserable as well.

My relationship with my family--especially my mom, became really strained when I became a binge eater. However, it was during this time that I was finally able to start accepting that my previous "diet" was an eating disorder and that turning to food for comfort (I would eat uncontrollably for hours in order to forget my depression, how much I hated myself, or to forget how I was treated at school) was a disorder as well. Despite realizing this, I had a lot of emotions trapped inside of me. My family didn't really know how to handle me, my depression, or my disorder; no matter what they did or said to help, it was wrong. I hated them for not understanding what I was going through or for not understanding in the way that I needed them to. Because of this, everyone tip-toed around me like  I was a bomb that was waiting to go off...which only made things worse.

Eventually, I went to a therapist and she helped me gain more control of my emotions and my relationship with my family.

Like you said, eating is a personal thing and I think eating disorders are even more so. I think that's one reason why connecting with others throughout recovery is so hard. Eating disorders are unique to each individual who experiences them--but they aren't something that you can overcome on your own. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a strong (and diverse) support group to heal an eating disorder victim.

Looking back, I think that the most important step that I took towards being honest with myself was telling my mom that I thought I had a binge eating disorder and then looking for medical help. From there, I was able to find professionals who gave me the tools and support that I needed to heal--and with this, Elaine Cheung, my therapist, was a godsend. I sincerely believe that having an unbiased, third-party to talk to was one of the best resources that I could have had--especially at the beginning of my recovery. Talking to family members--or even friends, about eating disorders or other emotional experiences, will always have strong emotional consequences on both sides...there can be a lot of unintended misunderstanding. My therapist looked at me objectively which allowed me to say things to her that I couldn't have said to others--she allowed me to talk about my relationships at home without offending anyone at home. By doing this, I was slowly able to release a lot of emotional pressure within myself and get to a state of relative calm where I could then move forward and take bigger strides towards recovery.

Another thing that I came to realize is that you have to give those around you some slack. I think a lot of my fear and frustration towards my family came from me expecting them to perfectly understand what I was going through--which they never could have done; not because they didn't want to, but rather because they couldn't. Well-meant sympathy is never the same as empathy. They also weren't eating disorder specialists. I expected them to save me when they were just as lost with how to help me as I was. I was so focused on myself drowning, that it was hard to see them drowning beside me.

I don't know if this answered your question, but I think you already hit the nail on the head. The first step towards including those around you is to be honest with yourself which then enables your to be honest with them. I remember that after meeting with Elaine for a while, she suggested that I sit with my family and officially tell them what I was going through--put it all out in the open so that everyone was on the same page. It was terrifying and embarrassing, but it helped. It's a wall that I would have eventually climbed at one point or another, but as soon as I did, I was able to move on to the next hurdle in front of me.

So, the sooner you do in your road to recovery, the better.

I can't guarantee how your family will react to something like this, but it's important to remember that whatever they do, it will be out of love and concern (even if it's sometimes misguided).

So make sure that you're not only patient with yourself, but patient with them too.

You can overcome your disorder, I believe in you.

You can do this!


Hey Aly! I have a question for you, and it's a little personal but I'm not really sure where else to get good information. Recently, someone really close to me confided in me that they have been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. I want to do my best to help them through their pains and help them stay on the road to recovery, but I'm not sure how to be a support without seeming pushy for their recovery. What do you think would be helpful/constructive behavior?
Hi! Thanks for getting in contact with me, I'm always happy to be a resource to help other people who are going through similar things that I experienced. This is a little bit of a tricky question because everyone experiences their eating disorders differently. When my family first started to notice that I had an eating disorder, they tended to pester me or guilt me out of my behaviors...which only made things worse. They were acting out of love, but I constantly felt like I was being attacked or treated like an infant. I think the best thing that you can do right now is to support this person in whatever way you can--whether it's being a listening ear/ letting them vent to you, offering sympathy and understanding when needed; or just asking them how they're doing that day or at a specific moment. I found that when I had someone that I felt like I could report to, I did better and stayed on track. Don't criticize their eating habits (especially in front of other people) and don't assume that every time they're going to the bathroom is to purge. Be patient and give them space, but don't allow them to be or feel isolated. There's a difference between pestering and letting them know that you're thinking of them and noticing their struggle. Engage in conversation in, during, and after meals. Try to be around this person during meal and snack times as a support system. Try to use body positive phrases and don't criticize your weight or eating habits around them. If you want, you can send this person my way and let them know that I can be a resource for her personally too; It's one thing to have someone sympathize with you and another thing to have someone empathize with you. I know that I personally started to do better when I found other people who had gone through what I was experiencing; I felt validated and hopeful. Although empathy is definitely important, sympathy is equally so. I remember wishing that I had friends who would have taken the time to notice and acknowledge what I was going though. I think knowing that someone is actively caring and worrying about you is incredibly enabling and healing too. As far as medial help goes, if they don't have an eating disorder doctor already, they could start seeing Dr. Michael Spigarelli in Salt Lake City for help; he saved my life and is an eating disorder specialist. Therapists and eating disorder groups can also help too (I'm actually a mentor for a group at my university right now). I hope this wasn't information overload, but let me know if there's anything else I can do, I'm here to help! Thanks again for messaging me, I hope that all goes well for your friend!

No comments