Today our Arts Psychotherapist, Dafni Antonarou is sharing her advice for resisting the urge to binge or purge and challenging that unwell voice long-term…
Our clients and social media followers often ask the difficult question of “how to resist eating disorder urges”. Although when you are in it, it can feel hopeless and unattainable, there are ways to manage the urges coming from your eating disorder voice and work towards tackling them, slowly challenging the ED demon.
How To Resist The Urge To Binge Or Purge
- Firstly, you need to identify what the triggers are.
If it’s a case that you keep looking at yourself in the mirror or weighing yourself, then cover the mirror up until you feel stronger and put those scales away. Consider why you feel like bingeing or purging – what is your eating disorder voice trying to do or say? Is it trying to take away your control or is it just your body telling you that you are hungry/thirsty and that bingeing/purging isn’t really the solution but it really does need nourishing? Learn about your feelings and moods (sadness, guilt, boredom, loneliness, stressed, upset, angry), how you react in certain situations and relationships with other people – are you around negative people? Do they make you feel inferior and worthless? Once you have identified the triggers a pattern may emerge which can be changed.
- Identify when your most vulnerable time of day is.
For many, it is evening. Once this has been established, write a list of techniques and activities that you can use for the future.
- Develop a network of people around you.
People who will give you the love, support and encouragement that you need to help you with your recovery journey. It could be a family member, a friend, your therapist or anyone whom you feel comfortable around. When you have the urge the binge or purge, speak to that person. By doing so, you are diverting your attention and putting yourself back in control, rather than the unwell voice of your eating disorder.
- Plan your meals/snacks ahead of time.
If somebody else cooks for you, ask them to do that and stick to the plan. The shopping list should only include what is needed for those meals/snacks. Having additional food items in the house can create overwhelm or temptation.
- Try distraction techniques.
Going for a walk, a drive in the car, phoning or visiting a friend, watching TV, singing and dancing to your favourite music, doing arts and crafts, reading a book, exercising for enjoyment or even tidying/re-arranging your room (Marie Kondo style or not), tend to work. You obviously need to choose something that you enjoy doing!
- Give journaling a go.
For journaling to be more worthwhile and of benefit, it ideally should be done every day as it is an outlet for you to write down good things that happened, any problems encountered, your goals and any self-assurances as well as, and more importantly, both your positive and negative feelings, emotions and thoughts. It can also be a place for self-reflection and development.
As well as being a source of relief and healing, writing can also be very therapeutic and creative. It should most definitely not become a chore and should never get to the situation where you are feeling overwhelmed by maintaining a journal. Journaling gives you time to express yourself with no filters, is a personal space with no judgement.
- Write a letter to yourself during one of your strong urges about why you don’t want to engage in the binge-purge cycle.
Keep a notebook or device handy so that you don’t have to look around for it and let the urge beat you. Once the letter is complete, keep it safe and pull it out each time you need it. Seeing it written down reinforces your feelings even more.
- Practise mindfulness meditation.
This is a mind-body approach which helps people to be fully present with and manage their thoughts and feelings.
Practising mindfulness meditation allows the mind and body to reconnect, subsequently moving towards healing and recovery (in conjunction with other therapy and techniques). It can help slow your breathing down, quiet your mind, relax you and help you find inner peace. It also helps the mind to focus on one thing at a time – a breath, a feeling/emotion, a sound, a word.
Meditating changes your brain and the way your body responds. Ongoing meditation will help keep things in perspective by helping you to detach from unhealthy thought patterns. It can provide cognitive and psychological benefits.
- Use affirmations/mantras.
If you haven’t heard of them before, affirmations/mantras are statements that can be used to challenge your mood and overcome any self-destructive and negative thoughts you may have.
Affirmations/mantras work by reprogramming your mind to encourage us to believe in certain things about ourselves. Essentially, they are used to promote positive self-talk that represents the real version of ourselves and our potential.
The benefits of affirmations/mantras are endless if you find ones that resonate with you. They should be written in the present tense as if they are happening, with you wanting to believe them.
For these to really work, affirmations/mantras need to be looked at daily, ideally several times a day. Some people like to write them down on a list which can be displayed in a convenient, personal space and just read from them, speaking each one out loud. Others like to keep writing them down each day perhaps using note cards which can easily be stored away until the following day. Pinterest boards and apps on your phone are an easy and quick way of referring to your affirmations/mantras too. Most importantly, try and be patient and compassionate with yourself. Try different options as different things work for different people.
- Show yourself more compassion.
We have often found that people with EDs are extremely compassionate to others but struggle with self-compassion. Throughout this journey, it is helpful for one to create acts of compassion and self-compassion as this allows room to challenge the ED’s perfectionist expectations but also offers more possibilities to connect with others and oneself. Next time you notice the ED voice being loud, beating you up and making you feel guilty etc., think of what you would say to a friend or loved one if these things were being said to them. How would you respond or act? Try and say the response out loud and with time you may be able to be more direct and make this transition faster.
- Prioritise self-care.
This is so important and will make you feel much better and more in the moment. Also, ask yourself whether you are getting enough sleep? Have you got coping strategies in place to deal with stress? What are you doing for enjoyment? If the answer is no, then this will impact on how you feel and your moods, resulting in possible further urges to binge-purge.
- Shout NO at your eating disorder and keep repeating it.
It may take a while but hang on in there… you can stop the urge!
When it comes to managing eating disorder urges, try and take it one at time. As humans, we get impatient and expect change quickly. Habits need repetitions to root and grow. With ED urges, choose one that feels safe enough to challenge, allow yourself time to get used to the idea, and then start to challenge it, but remember: be compassionate to yourself if it comes back, or hasn’t gone to plan. And when you are ready, move to the next one.
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