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7 Ways to Stay Motivated During Eating Disorder Recovery

Updated: Apr 30

Eating Disorder Psychologist

Working as an eating disorder psychologist, a common pattern I see with clients is to have 'good days' and then 'not so good days' with frequent dips on motivation for recovery. It can be easy to become overwhelmed with the constant challenges and may at times seem easier to just give up as your eating disorder becomes all consuming. It is very normal for motivation to come and go, however you do have more control over your motivation than you may realise.

Here are 7 ways to ensure that you build the right motivation which only gets stronger over time. Follow these steps to increase motivation during your recovery journey:

1. Take responsibility

The very first thing to know is that the only person who can get you ‘back on track’ and ‘refocused’ is YOU. You must take full responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This does NOT mean blaming yourself, but understanding that you are the one in control and you are the decision maker of your life. You have all the power!

2. Clear on your WHY

When you first decide to make a change in your life, most people usually start with WHAT you want to change. Then they think about HOW they are going to do it (what approach or treatment). However it is essential to also think about WHY you want to change. This is your purpose, your core reason for making the change. As Simon Sinek says, “start with why”. When motivation dips if your why is SO strong, this will help you to refocus and get back on track. Try focusing on your WHY first, before even thinking about the HOW and WHAT to your recovery. This may help you stay motivated even when recovery gets tough.

3. Set slight edge goals

What recovery goals are you setting yourself? Recovery goals that are too big can easily lead to overwhelm, procrastination and avoidance. Any large goals must be broken down into smaller goals which are focused on 'nudging' you a few steps closer to where you want to be. These are called 'slight edge goals'

, which have the purpose of nudging you closer and closer to the big picture goal. If you ask yourself; “what 3 things could I do today that will nudge me closer to where I want to be?” Then do this consistently.

4. Focus on what you want

What is your main motivator? Is it something you don’t want? For example, I don’t want to put on weight, I don’t want to be like this anymore or I don’t want to feel anxious. You feed what you focus on. The brain cannot process a negative, so by continuously focusing on what you don’t want, you are actually bringing more of this into your life. More weight, more of the same, more anxiety. Start to focus on what you want instead in these moments. For example, I want to get fit and healthy, I want to change, I want to feel calm and relaxed.

5. Use the right type of motivation

There are two kinds of motivation; ‘towards’ (something you want e.g. I want to feel sexy and confident) and ‘away-from’ (something you don’t want e.g. I don’t want to put on weight).

Away from motivation can be good to get you started, but this is not sustainable. It has no direction except ‘GET AS FAR AWAY FROM THIS AS POSSIBLE”. Your motivation will run out once you get far enough away. It is also stressful! Trying to avoid something activates the flight or fight response which leaves you in a state of constant anxiety and stress. Again, this leaves you exhausted and drained.

If this is all you have, you will keep having to think of unpleasant stuff, which by focusing on, can actually move you closer towards it rather than further away. Start thinking about what you want instead. This means you have direction which can build over time. Focus on how you want to think, feel and act instead and remember that what you pay attention to grows.

6. Learn to handle the fear

Often we lose motivation when we start to fear change. For example, wanting to let go of food restriction is often met with a fear of weigh gain. This can hold you back and keep you stuck in the pain you originally wanted to get away from. Here are some questions to stamp out that fear:

What will happen if I don’t change?

What won’t happen?

If I had to be this way forever how would I feel?

What’s really at stake if nothing changes?

7. Celebrate the little wins

 No matter how big or small celebrate every little win along the way. Your brain cannot tell the difference between getting to the top of the mountain i.e. reaching your big picture goal and getting 3 steps up the mountain. The response in your mind and body is exactly the same.

When you imagine achieving your goals you should get a visceral reaction - where you feel the excitement in your body. That’s the intensity of emotion that you need to overcome those inevitable challenges you’ll face along the way.


Eating Disorder Therapist, eating disorder psychologist

So think big, focus on what you WANT (not what you don't want), and get after it!  If you’ve been struggling to find a balance with food and your body  If you’ve been on the wagon off the binge, restrict wagon  If you find yourself frustrated, confused, or simply going round in circles… Then you have a choice. Do what you have always done, get what you have always got! Or do something different! Fuel your thoughts and your activities with what you DO want instead of escaping what you DON'T want.


Need some help?! 

Book in a free consultation with Hannah and find out how she may be able to help you,

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