Eating disorders are prevalent in our culture.
According to some interesting info from the National Eating Disorders Association, “At any given point in time between 0.3-0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men will suffer from anorexia nervosa.”
That might not sound like a lot, but when you think about it in the scope of the population of Ireland, where this guest author is from, that equates to between 150,000-200,000 of young women, and 50,000 young men.
Looking at it that way, it is a really huge number! And that is just one country out of the hundreds on Planet Earth.
Thank you so much to Chloe from Nyxie’s Nook for sharing this info, especially since I am not very knowledgeable on this topic. Keep reading to see her thoughts on the rituals that often accompany eating disorder treatment.
The truth about eating disorders
When it comes to mental illness, there are various unhealthy rituals to look out for. Specifically when dealing with an unruly eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa which relies heavily on ritualistic behaviours.
Please note that throughout this article I’m going to refer specifically to eating disorders, mostly that of Anorexia Nervosa. However, the exercises and methods of overcoming unhealthy rituals can be used for a wide variety of mental illnesses including OCD.
It’s no secret that our lives are often built on the foundation of habits and rituals. They’re formed early in our childhood through bedtimes, mealtimes and even screen time. Rituals provide familiar comfort and can often become a safety blanket to hide under when things get rough.
But what happens when mental illness causes us to develop unhealthy rituals? How do we begin to overcome them in order to gain more freedom in our lives?
Eating disorders maintain control over us by the use of emotions such as anxiety and extreme fear, often panic. They drive us to take part in comforting but unhealthy rituals in order to make the ‘voices’ stop or quiet down. But they can very easily take over our lives and soon leave no room for anything other than the eating disorder. It’s draining, time consuming and can end up dictating everything from where you go to who you go there with.
But why do rituals hold this control over us? And how can we begin to take that control back?
What are unhealthy rituals?
There are various unhealthy rituals to look out for in regards to an eating disorder.
Weighing yourself at the same time each day or numerous times throughout the day.
From my experience weighing yourself is one of the hardest habits to break when it comes to anorexia nervosa. It’s almost like an obsessive need to know just what’s happening with the number of the scale. The problem is that your weight fluctuates from daily, and even hourly depending on your fluid intake, menstrual cycle, bowel habits etc. The number can therefore be very misleading and cause various breakdowns for what later becomes no reason.
I’ve fallen into the trap of weighing myself not only daily but on several occasions throughout the day. This has led to many unhealthy coping mechanisms and has even led me to starve myself for several days just to get the results anorexia wants.
When weighing yourself becomes something you can’t live without, and when it starts influencing your behaviour in an extreme way, then it’s time to start thinking about leaving it behind. No matter how hard that might be.
Cutting food into tiny pieces or arranging food in a certain way on your plate.
This is another ritual I’ve found difficult to leave behind and I know many others in my position have also experienced. It’s called ‘food dismantling or dissection’ and is a known ritual of those suffering from an eating disorder, not necessarily anorexia nervosa.
Another common ritual is eating at the same time, in the same place.
Other unhealthy rituals may include;
- Body Checking.
- Hand washing, cleaning obsessively etc.
- Obsessively checking calories, food contents etc.
- Inability to accept small changes such as sleeping on a different side of the bed, parking elsewhere, sitting still for long periods of time opposed to obsessive movement etc.
How to begin to break unhealthy rituals.
Habits form neuro-pathways within our brains. They need to be challenged and changed in order to form new, more healthy habits. The only way to do this is by repeating said good habits over and over until our brains say ‘Oh! This is what we are meant to be doing now’!. It can be a long and tiring process, and experts believe that it can take anywhere up to 30 days to make a new habit stick. The same applies for leaving behind old, unhealthy habits.
This was a technique I was taught by a previous therapist. It’s meant to challenge us into switching up our small habits and stepping outside our comfort zones. These habits and rituals don’t have to start off being about food, and it’s actually better if they don’t. Instead, I focused on things like parking on a different side of the driveway or sleeping on the other side of the bed.
You can also:
- Put your watch on a different arm.
- Wear different earrings.
- Sleep on the other side of the bed.
- Park somewhere else for a change.
- Wear odd socks instead of ones that match.
Once you challenge daily habits, you can then start to take on food-related rituals.
Having someone to hold you accountable helps, whether this is someone in your social circle, someone you meet online, or someone within a group you’re attending. It’s easy to continue with unhealthy habits and keep it a secret. We can fool the world, and also ourselves, into thinking we’re getting better when we’re really not. When we pair up with others, we’re able to keep each other accountable for our own success and inevitable failures. Having someone else also reminds us that we’re not alone and we can always go to them for some guidance, or just for a vent.
Plan for failure but don’t let it ruin your progress.
As mentioned failure is inevitable. Success doesn’t come easy to most and often it’s only achievable after many, many failures. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all slip up.
But don’t let your failures stop you. Rather than beating yourself up over it, plan for it, expect it and get over it when it happens.
Challenge negative self talk with ‘but’.
It’s easy to judge ourselves. We’re often our own worst critics which is why it’s so hard to break habits in the first place, no matter how damaging they are. Next time you find yourself engaging in negative self talk, add in a ‘but’ if you’re unable to ward it off completely.
“I might have engaged in unhealthy behaviours today BUT it’s just one slip up. I can do better tomorrow.”
“I’ve failed my meal plan today BUT tomorrow I can try again.”
Important things to keep in mind.
If nothing else sticks with you from this post, try and remember these key points:It takes approximately 30 days to form a new habit. The same can be said for breaking old habits. Give yourself time and be consistent. Tweet this Don’t be so hard on yourself if you fail. We’re not perfect and slip ups are expected. Get up and try again tomorrow. Tweet this Surround yourself with people on your side. Get an accountability partner or join a group of like-minded people. Stay away from those who encourage the negative habits. Tweet this
Have you tried any of these tips before? What others would you recommend? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to share the post if you found it helpful!
If you are in eating disorder treatment, hang in there. Just take things one day at a time.
About the Author
Nyxie’s Nook is a blog focusing on mental health awareness, eating disorder recovery, wellness, and self-development. The blog was started in March 2019 in a bid to raise awareness for mental illness such as Anorexia Nervosa and Anxiety, two such disorders I suffer from. However, what started out as a hobby, quickly turned into something much, much more!
Nyxie’s Nook has become a place to talk about all mental health issues and the struggles that come along with recovery. I cover a variety of subjects ranging from general wellness right up to more specific recovery related content. I not only aim to cater to those in recovery but to people in all walks of life.