Using Coping Skills In Eating Disorder Recovery

April 18, 2013 Jessica Hudgens

One thing I didn’t address in my last post about what you can learn from eating disorder relapse was coping skills. Honestly, I started to, but coping skills really deserve a post all their own. When I was crafting my eating disorder recovery plan last summer, I had literally a two-page list of coping skills to use when I felt like I wanted to use eating disorder or self-harm urges. Awesome, right?

Well, sort of. Having a two or three or ten page list of coping skills isn’t going to do anything for your eating disorder recovery unless you’re actually using them.

One thing I’m having to evaluate while I’m in eating disorder treatment, this time, is my coping skills – which ones work, which ones don’t, what’s easily accessible, and what is going to require a little more work.

Another thing that I’m having to admit to myself is the fact that when I do use coping skills (which is all of 50% of the time), sometimes, I’m just doing so because I want to be able to say, “But I used my coping skills! And they didn’t work!” after I engage in a behavior. That is, I’m “using” my coping skills, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “I’d rather be running/restricting/purging/cutting/whatever.”

Eating Disorder Coping Skills

Two Most Important Things You Need to Know

So here, in a nutshell, is what I have learned about coping skills used in eating disorder recovery: You have to find ones that work and you have to use them with the intent of not engaging in behaviors.

Let me give you a sampling of some of the coping skills I came up with last summer:

  • write a letter to a friend that needs encouragement
  • make a paper snowflake
  • play with silly putty
  • listen to classical music
  • throw ice
  • rip up a phone book

Some of these are, for me, more effective than others. If I’m in a place of wanting desperately to cut or spend hours at the gym, the chances of my being in a place that I could write any sort of coherent, much less encouraging, letter is laughable. Similarly, if I’m struggling with self-harm urges, is using scissors to create a paper snowflake really helpful – or just more temptation?

One thing that really works for me when I am anxious is a physical release. It’s why running and cutting have always been such effective (though, admittedly, harmful) coping skills for me. When I am anxious or upset, I need to somehow release that emotion from my body. For that reason, ripping up a phone book or throwing ice is a great coping skill for me. I get the feeling of destroying something without actually destroying anything of real importance (like, you know, myself).

And the great thing about these two coping skills is that they are available to me at almost any time of day, regardless of where I am. Sure, my boss (who is also my dad) might look at me like I’m slightly loony if I start throwing ice at the shop walls, but I could do it. And it’s certainly better than using eating disorder behaviors.

Which brings me to my second point: You have to use your coping skills with the intent of them working and your not engaging in behaviors. If you go into it thinking, “Well, I’d rather be [whatever],” then you’ve failed before you’ve begun. With that attitude, you’re setting yourself up to believe that your coping skill is not as good as whatever behavior you want to be engaging in. In that case, skip the coping skill and go straight to the behavior. Really – save yourself the effort.

In recovery, attitude is everything. Once you’ve got an idea of which coping skills work for you, you have to genuinely want them and believe in them to work. When it comes to coping skills, this is the time to be overly optimistic, even if it is not at all in your nature.

Your coping skills WILL work if you give them a chance. Find the ones that work for you (and this is definitely a trial-and-error endeavor) and then get excited – with a list of effective coping skills, you are one step closer to fully recovering from your eating disorder.

What are some coping skills that you have found effective in avoiding eating disorder behaviors?

APA Reference
Hudgens, J. (2013, April 18). Using Coping Skills In Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Jessica Hudgens

July, 16 2014 at 8:36 pm

I really needed to read this article. I have been in complete denial about my coping mechanisms, to the point where I have convinced myself that *none* of them work for me. That's how I found this page. I google searched something like, "why don't any coping mechanisms work for me?" I'm so glad I did. As soon as I read the bit about using half-a**ed "coping" as an excuse to claim to others that you "tried", wow, that hit deep. I never realized that's what I've been doing until now. I've been totally lying to myself for 5 years and for some reason it just clicked with me now that I'm being really, really dishonest with myself and others about my recovery. Thank you. I don't know what coping skills work for me, yet, but I now know that there ARE skills out there that WILL work as long as I want them to. My ED has been my "coping" (or should I say doping?) mechanism for far too many years. Thank you so, so much for writing this.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jessica Hudgens
August, 5 2014 at 2:39 am

"Doping" mechanisms - what a perfect description! I'm glad this article was helpful to you in realizing where you might be getting caught up on your recovery. I spent entirely too many years thinking I was using coping skills - but now that I actually *use* them with the intention of getting through, recovery has been so much smoother!
Thanks for your comment!

April, 18 2013 at 3:05 am

Journaling has definitely helped me. The whole 'dear diary' approach sounds stupid, I know, and I don't even use those words when I start my entry, but venting things down that I don't want to post publicly on my blog helps me so much. Sometimes I start crying tears of frustration for what comes up in my mind, but I release it through my pen and it usually does more good than harm. Even last night I did this instead of cutting, and even though a voice told me to go ahead and cut myself afterward, I didn't. The urge wasn't as insistent as it had been beforehand.
And I totally agree with the reality you've laid out that you can have thousands of coping skills, but the first step before that even matters is having the motivation to use them if you need to.

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