What I call the “secondary” symptoms of an eating disorder (described here) are often the trickiest to not only beat but even to spot. The trick to recognizing these little buggers is that they stick around even after the primary symptoms (binging, purging, restricting) dissipate. These are tiny little rituals and behaviours that keep the eating disorder thoughts alive making it harder to keep the primary symptoms under control, and making full recovery very difficult.
Body Checking – This is still something I struggle with because I found that I was body checking constantly. There are the common ways of measuring, weighing and checking in the mirror but I struggled with a few extra issues that I will explain a little further down. When it comes to measuring, weighing and checking the mirror is to avoid it at all costs.
When tempted to measure yourself – don’t! Get rid of all measuring tapes and anything else you may have used to judge your physical size – this includes trying on clothes that you know (or even think) don’t fit. I found it helpful to have a bag by my closet and as I tried clothes on in the mornings I would put clothes that didn’t fit into the bag. Often times I wouldn’t even try them on. When the bag is full I vacuum seal it, put it away and start another bag.
With weighing, it is important to recognize your patterns and interrupt them. I used to weigh myself 10-15 times a day so my first goal was to reduce that. The best thing I did was to move the scale into my husband’s office, this made it harder for me to get to the scale as often as I wanted and eventually I was down to weighing once a day. From there I tried my hardest to increase the amount of days between weigh-ins. Now, I do it once every 2-3 weeks on the days I see m therapist. When my weight evens out, I will likely never use the scale again.
Mirror checking is fairly straightforward though incredibly difficult. When you are ill you see and judge your reflection EVERYWHERE! Windows, car mirrors, store windows, puddles, laptop screens, camera lenses, spoons, sunglasses – everything becomes the enemy. Seeing as these things are everywhere and not always avoidable the best option is to avert your eyes and just don’t look. It will take every ounce of strength that you have but do everything in your power to avoid looking. I know it sounds incredibly easy and there has to be something else to it but this one just takes sheer willpower and resolve.
Nutrient Tracking – This one is also a question of using sheer force until the urge to keep track of calories lessens. Until that happens, delete all calorie tracking apps, favourited web pages, written pages and any other records of nutritional information you might have. I know for me personally, I didn’t need these things to keep track of my calories and other details of the food I had eaten – I kept a mental tally going. IF this is the case, do everything you can to banish the numbers from your mind, push the thoughts away and soon they will stop coming. Eventually an egg will just be an egg.
Habits, Rituals and Routines – Take a look at my definitions of these symptoms here and start to notice any rituals, habits or routines in your life. Keep in mind that the littlest thing can be connected to your disorder without you even being aware of it. If you suspect a certain routine is an issue, try switching it up by changing the order and timing of it, or changing the routine all together! If this causes you to panic, start making excuses of why you can’t do it or reasons why you have to do it – it is an issue. Do your best to delay or interrupt the ritual and know that it may be impossible at first, but it WILL get easier the more you practice.
Self-Triggering – This is again a question of steadfast resolve to not participate in self-triggering behaviours. Start to question the things you are doing and see if they are making you feel better or worse about yourself. If looking at a friend’s photos causes you to compare your body and brings up urges for symptoms it’s probably not a good idea to look at those. I avoid things like restaurants with their nutritional information posted in plain view, websites with photos of women in bathing suits or media sites that talk about celebrity’s bodies, tv shows and movies with overly thin people, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show – anything that I know will make me feel worse about my body and bring up urges for symptoms.