In my last post I briefly mentioned the daily practices that I use to stay on track in my recovery. I have found that having a daily routine including journaling, meditation, and embodied movement helps me stay grounded in myself and my body. At times in my recovery when I have maintained these daily practices, I find it relatively easy to move through life without being hindered by my eating disorder. At times in my recovery when I have neglected these practices, I have struggled.
Developing a daily routine that works for you can help keep you focused on your recovery. It can also help you identify areas of your recovery that are causing issues so you can discuss them with your treatment team. Early recovery can be a very uncomfortable time, so building in time for reflection and development of coping mechanisms is essential.
Here are a few things that have consistently been a part of my daily routine:
My college graduation present from my trusted mentor was a Batman journal and a beautiful set of pens. I asked her what I should write, and she suggested that every morning I just let my thoughts pour out on to the page, stream of consciousness style. So, I started writing for five minutes every morning about whatever came in to my head. After a month or so, I looked back through the journal entries and noticed a disturbing pattern: almost all my entries included worries about my weight and food.
The fact that these worries were coming out in my journaling every day made me more aware of my thoughts about weight and food, and I began to realize that I thought about these things almost all the time. To the point that it was interfering with my ability to do my job or interact with others. As I continued to journal about this obsession I began to realize that it was not as normal as I thought, and I decided that I needed to seek help. Journaling was the catalyst for getting me to my second outpatient treatment program.
When I was in treatment I was encouraged to keep journaling. I began to understand that my eating disorder had a lot to do with avoiding uncomfortable and intense feelings, so I began to write about these feelings as a way of processing them. It seemed like when I put pen to paper things came out that I hadn’t even acknowledged I was feeling. When I identified these feelings by writing about them I was better able to discuss them with my treatment team. Then my treatment team was able to suggest different coping mechanisms that helped me deal with those feelings without using behaviors.
Today I journal twice a day: once in the morning and once at night. Sometimes I write on journal prompts provided by my therapist or other trusted people in my life. Sometimes I just write stream of consciousness style and then reflect on what’s come up. Journaling daily allows me to get in touch with and process whatever thoughts or emotions I may be consciously or unconsciously avoiding, which allows me to address these emotions without resorting to behaviors.
I have struggled with meditation for a long time. I have gone through periods where I’ve meditated daily and then long stretches where I didn’t meditate at all. About five years ago I really committed to daily meditation and since then I’ve been on a journey to find a meditation practice that works in my life. The problem I had when I first started meditating was that I couldn’t quietly sit still for any extended period of time. I was too uncomfortable in my own skin. The thoughts in my head were too loud. I couldn’t calm down. Trying to just “sit and quiet my mind” ended up being incredibly stressful.
After trying this for months, I started asking other people about their meditation practices and I discovered that there are other ways to meditate than just sitting quietly. People told me about meditation practices that involved focusing on special kinds of breathing. Others told me about meditation practices that focus on silently repeating mantras. They told me about meditations practices that involved movement, like yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. I also heard about guided meditation, which involved listening to recordings of people leading spoken meditations. I tried all of them, testing out which ones I enjoyed and which ones actually worked to quiet my mind and get me in touch with my body.
The format I landed on was guided meditation. I found a great app called Insight Timer, which contains a library of guided meditations. The app even has meditations in multiple languages! When I began to search through their library of meditations I found they had meditations for specific topics like forgiveness, gratitude, self-love, compassion, and even eating disorders. Two of my favorite meditations from this app are: “There is nothing wrong with you” by Robin Rice and “Mindful Eating: Forgiveness for the Body” by Cinzia Pezzolesi.
I started using the app every morning to meditate for at least a couple minutes. Today I still use the app on almost a daily basis. I try to listen to a meditation that’s at least five minutes long, but on days that I’m running really late I’ll throw on something a minute or two long. I always try to tell myself that something is better than nothing.
Meditating gives me a reprieve from the racing thoughts that are so often associated with eating disorders. Meditating gives me a chance to slow down and really observe what is happening in my mind. It also provides a way for me to really connect to my body. Sometimes this is very uncomfortable because my feelings manifest in certain areas of my body, like anxiety can feel like a stomachache or tightness in my chest. Using meditation allows me to identify these physical manifestations of my feelings and become curious about them. When I could identify these feelings in my body and not be judgmental of them, I found that my body can give me clues about hidden emotions. I can also use meditation to work through these emotions so they don’t feel so overwhelming, which can help prevent me from using behaviors to manage my emotions.
Part of my active eating disorder was compulsive exercise, so finding a way to add movement back to my daily life was difficult for a long time. A note on this daily practice: do not try to add movement back in to your life without consulting with your treatment team. Most people in eating disorder recovery have a hard time with balanced exercise and it takes a lot of guidance to reintegrate movement safely and healthfully. I found it very helpful to work with my treatment team on movement rather than exercise. Instead of focusing on exercise, which felt like an obligation, focusing on movement allowed me to explore activities that felt fun and joyful in my body.
I started to hike a lot. Being in nature was both calming and rejuvenating. I kept my focus on my surroundings rather than miles or hours spent on the trail. Hiking was about seeing beautiful things and appreciating my body’s capabilities. The first time I stood at the summit of the highest mountain in Vermont I realized that my body was powerful and capable and I found a new appreciation for the things my body could accomplish when I was caring for it properly. This gave me more motivation to eat well and honor my body’s needs.
I also started practicing yoga. My relationship with yoga throughout the years has been difficult. When I was still active in my eating disorder I viewed yoga like any other form of exercise. It was for strength building and calorie burning. I would go through times of attending intense yoga classes every day, then not go to yoga at all for months. Yoga was also a great place for me to compare myself to others. I would critique my body against the other women in class and compare my progress in poses to theirs.
If you’re familiar with yoga, you’ll know that this experience is the exact opposite of the intention of yoga. Yoga is intended to be an inward, meditative practice. The practitioner works on connecting their mind, breath, and body, to become more aware of themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of Westernized yoga is focused on bodily fitness rather than spiritual fitness.
I started to have a different experience with yoga when I went in to outpatient treatment. The program I attended used therapeutic yoga as a treatment tool. I had group and one on one sessions with yoga therapists who taught me how to make yoga my own and how to use the practice to connect my body and my emotions. At first, it was incredibly uncomfortable. I was shocked to discover that my body was storing difficult emotions that I’d never processed and unleashing those stored emotions through movement was intense. Luckily, my treatment team was comprised of experts who were able to walk me through this uncomfortable process. I began to see yoga as a way to be present in my body and sit with my feelings in a safe way.
I have not dedicated myself to a continuous yoga practice for my entire recovery, but it is something I’m trying to add back to my daily routine right now. Adding daily, embodied movement to my routine has allowed me to appreciate my body in ways I never expected. It shows me that my body is strong and capable, regardless of its size or shape.
I won’t lie, doing all these things on a daily basis takes time. I spend 20-30 minutes every morning and night journaling, meditating, and doing some yoga. It can seem overwhelming to set aside that kind of time in an already busy schedule. What worked for me was adding practices one at a time and starting with short versions of each practice. When I started meditating it was two to three minutes once a day. Slowly I began to add minutes on to that practice. Then I added five minutes of journaling. Then I started to add ten to fifteen minutes of yoga. Gradually, over a long period of time, I developed a solid morning and nighttime routine that was focused on self-reflection and self-care.
I would suggest trying one or two of these practices each day for a week. If they don’t work for you, then try something else! Building a routine of daily self-reflection and self-care practices is a very individual journey. What works for me may not work for you at all. Once you find a practice that works for you, try to do it consistently. Since I’m a perfectionist, I’ve had to learn to be compassionate with myself if I miss a day or two of my routine. I’m human and life gets busy. I just do my best to get back in to it as soon as I can.
Maintaining a daily routine throughout my recovery has helped me to connect with my body and mind in ways I didn’t think possible. It has also allowed me to process difficult emotions, which has helped me to avoid using behaviors. These practices have deepened my recovery and continue to help on the path to full recovery.