Embracing New Beginnings & Coping with Change
Eating Disorders & Life Changes
Life is a series of beginnings and endings. Some beginnings are effortless and peaceful, while others are unexpected, messy and painful. For individuals with an eating disorder, new beginnings—like life transitions or big life changes—can be a source of anxiety and difficult emotions. Stressful life events are associated with increased disordered eating behaviors, including binge eating and unhealthy weight control practices.1
Being Open to Change
New beginnings can be equally scary as they are exciting. The status quo is safe, familiar and comfortable. Change is uncomfortable and feelings of discomfort can spark stress or anxiety. But not all beginnings are a choice, many are unexpected and painful. Being open, rather than resistant, to new beginnings allows you to adapt to changes in your life, and in turn have control over the direction you take when a chapter of your life ends.
Embrace the Newness
Everyone has to be a beginner or “the new guy” at some point. As the saying goes, you need to walk before you can run. Your next chapter may be completely different than your last. You can’t assume everything will work the same or that your old approach will work. Embrace the newness instead of fighting it. Ask for help, be curious and be ready to make mistakes. This is the time to make them and then laugh them off.
Reflect on the Past
It’s been said that new beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. When life forces us to change or adjust, the pain and sadness of something coming to an end can feel the world is ending or insurmountable. But how many times has an ending turned out to be a blessing in disguise? How often has there been a silver lining? The truth is that life is constantly changing, and in both large and small ways, you are always adapting. Reflecting on your past can reveal just how prepared and competent you are in handling change.
Coping With Difficult Transitions
What makes change so challenging is how it tests our feelings of control. Stability and consistency are comforting. During a transition, what was once consistent may become more unpredictable, which can be triggering. Finding healthy coping mechanisms and bolstering your eating disorder care are two ways to make difficult transitions easier.
Find Your Constant
Consistency is important in eating disorder recovery. Instead of focusing outward on what’s outside of your control, turn your attention inward and create consistency in your new situation by engaging in positive and restorative coping mechanisms instead of defaulting to disordered eating. Some examples are:
Listening to music
Spending time in nature
This activity can be used to keep you grounded when experiencing overwhelming emotions.
Bolster Eating Disorder Treatment
Even if you don’t start engaging in disordered eating behaviors, particularly difficult life changes may necessitate bolstering your eating disorder treatment. You might consider returning to counseling, increasing outpatient sessions or joining support groups. Knowing yourself well enough to know that you might not be able to handle this alone is a strength. There is no shame in returning to treatment or seeking out more robust therapy.
- Berge, J. M., et al. (2012). Family life cycle transitions and the onset of eating disorders: a retrospective grounded theory approach. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 21:9-10.