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4 Recovery “Tools” that Helped Me a Lot

I’ve never liked Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. And while I’m very grateful to my therapist and think it’s very important to have a therapist when recovering from an eating disorder–especially in the early stages–I don’t believe that therapy was the most helpful tool in my personal recovery.

Recent breakfast: Eggs, a roll with butter and jam, and a big ole grapefruit half

For today’s post, I just wanted to bop by and share some of the tools which were most helpful for me in my recovery journey.

Swing Dance

When I first started recovery, my brain just did not function like normal. In fact, it took me years to overcome the food-obsession brain that happens as a biological response to starvation. I found it almost as hard to concentrate on things like books and movies in the first months of recovery as I’d found it when I still had anorexia.

One of the only things that I found gave me some blessed release from that crazy brain-spin inability to concentrate was swing dance. Dancing was not only fun–and it’s so fun–but it was one of only times during my week that I felt able to be in the moment.

What’s more, it gave me a couple of things people really need when they’re in recovery: friends, goals, and joy. Having friends, goals, and joy outside of eating and exercise are so so important in overcoming an eating disorder.

Grad School and Teaching

I’ve always been a very intellectual person, so being part of an academic community has been a big part of that friends, goals, and joy nexus, if you will.

A lot of my meals in grad school took place at a messy desk that looked something like this.

Also, boredom has always been a trigger for me, especially in wanting to exercise; I often feel guilty “wasting” my time by being inactive if I don’t have a ton of work to do. Have I written about that before? I could do a post on that.

Grad school and teaching probably solved the boredom problem a lot more than needed–geez louise I was a busy woman in grad school–but it did certainly give me a whole lot to think about besides eating and exercise.


My family has always been super-supportive and amazing. But when I first started recovery, I was in a weird place in my life where I’d just graduated college, a lot of my friends had moved away, and my colleagues at work were not in my peer group in terms of age or interests. Even though I didn’t feel isolated at the time, I realize in retrospect that I was actually quite isolated.

Since moving to Colorado, I’ve formed some wonderful relationships. I started dating my boyfriend here, and he has been such a helpful support person in my life. Plus, both of the roommates I’ve had here have been awesome and my colleagues in the English department are super-cool and people that I’ve felt quite connected to.I think having good relationships helps make your life about more than just you, and making my life about more than just me has made a big difference for my mental health. (This is not to say, by the way, that mental illness is caused by selfishness. Just that focusing on things external to myself has been a really useful tool for my specific mental health needs.)

And how can I forget my blogging relationships! Even before I started my own blog, reading about others’ experience with recovery was really helpful to me, and actually getting to know y’all now that I have my own blog has helped strengthen my confidence in my recovery a ton!

Reading about Health at Every Size

In part, I think, because false notions about health were a significant part of my eating disorder, one of the most important things which helped me recover was educating myself about Health at Every Size. In fact, I can’t really imagine being recovered without embracing a Health at Every Size mentality, these things are so closely linked in my mind.

Falafel plate I grabbed from a Greek chain called Garbanzo after a long day at work. Is falafel amazing, or is it amazing?

Understanding its principles has given me an enormous freedom around food. Accepting HAES means I trust that my body will find the size that’s best for it and I can really trust my body’s cues: when I’m hungry, when I’m not hungry, when I’m tired, when I’m itching to move. It’s hard for me to imagine trusting those cues if I also believed that BMI is something I’m supposed to have control over.

In case you’re curious, I first started reading about HAES via the Eating Disorders Institute (formerly Your Eatopia), founder and proponent of the controversial MinnieMaud Method. I didn’t follow MinnieMaud, and I don’t know whether or not it would have been better if I had, but the site did open my eyes to a world of folks who believe that the way we talk about health and weight is waaaay too simplistic.


Linking up with Amanda to share these thoughts for Thinking Out Loud Thursday.


What tools have been most helpful for you in your recovery journey?

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  1. Evangeline says:

    Concentrating on other things (like you said…books, movies, etc) was difficult for me too. Spending time at a local organic farm was my equivalent to your swing dance. It took my mind off of ED thoughts, and I think the biggest help was being around people there who had such a healthy, vibrant relationship with food.

    I’ve been hearing more and more lately about HAES. Do you have a book recommendation to help a newbie better understand the movement?

    1. Joyce says:

      Sure thing! Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon is great for starts. 🙂

  2. Emily says:

    I 100% agree with having other relationships and focusing on loving other people, and I love how relationships with my sisters have taught me and are teaching me about normal eaters and not eating that’s restricted by calories.

    I would have to say that the blogging community has really opened up such a world of encouragement, sisters in Christ who continually point me back to Jesus, and people who remind me that my identity is not in my body or the digestion problems I have after recovery.

    1. Joyce says:

      Glad you’ve found such important and helpful relationships, Emily! They make a huge difference!

  3. Diane Wahto says:

    I had a different sort of recovery, unrelated to food. It took years, but I was determined to be a whole person. I started writing poetry in 1983 and that was the beginning of my recovery journey. Like you, I had a job in a college, one I really liked, even with all the grading. I also enjoyed my journalism teaching job, but the deadlines were no fun. Then when a new principal came on the scene, it was a constant battle against censorship. The best thing I did for myself after your dad and his brothers left for college was to get into the WSU creative writing program. Pat has also been a great help to me, especially as we’re both gotten older. He decided to adopt a more healthful lifestyle and that helped me. No more potato chips in the house. I don’t really crave potato chips, but if they’re around I’ll eat them. We eat simple meals, which is good all the way around. He also does the heavy lifting without complaining. Life is good.

    1. Joyce says:

      I think it’s so awesome that you went back for that MFA after years of being away from school. So proud to be your granddaughter!

  4. Cora says:

    Interesting – I’ve been thinking *a lot* about this recently. Once again we are on a similar wavelength. I’ve been wanting to write about it, so you may see the majority of my comment in an upcoming post.

    But basically… yes. I’ve been fascinated, especially recently, to see how the things that are truly helping me the most in my ED recovery are not the standard “recovery protocols” and definitely not anything to do with ED hospital treatment. Its been developing and focusing on a burning passion – for me, my acting – and, my relationship with Dan. If I didn’t have a boyfriend/partner, I don’t know if I would be as far in my recovery, or as willing to keep going. That is a sad and scary thought. Obviously not everyone who is recovering, or has recovered, is in a relationship. So obviously it is not necessary. I need to do some more thinking on that one before I write any more.

    1. Joyce says:

      You’re so right. I think good relationships make a huge difference in recovery, and one of those relationships for me specifically has been my relationship with my boyfriend, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that for everyone. So glad that Dan’s been so supportive of you!

  5. I had so much trouble concentrating on things other than food and exercise. But finding activities and people who reminded me that life is more than food and exercise was key in helping me recover. Also, learning about Health At Every Size was a game changer for me too. Viewing things through a HAES lens has really changed my perspective for the better on so many things. Thanks for this!

    1. Joyce says:

      It’s so hard at the beginning not to constantly think about food and exercise. I’m so glad to be past that point–although it took awhile!

  6. Alyssa says:

    I love that the HAES movement helped you in your recovery. That is such a powerful movement I am so thankful to have stumbled upon. My relationships helped me throughout my journey as well and were always great support systems for me.

    1. Joyce says:

      HAES is such an awesome and important movement! I wish more people knew about it.

  7. Kaylee says:

    I’m still in the process of discovering other hobbies/passions/interests outside of food and school work (which is how my perfectionism and OCD primarily manifest). I totally agree on the boredom or feelings of unproductivity being a trigger. Would love to hear your thoughts on that!
    Hmm, I think discovering and connecting with this ED recovery community (blogiverse as I like to call it) has been most helpful for me.

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