But How Do I Cope With Eating Disorder Urges?

September 5, 2013 Jessica Hudgens

So, you've made the decision to recover from your eating disorder -- awesome! Now what? Everything is puppies and rainbows and unicorns and all you have to do is eat, right?

Well, yes, you have to eat (sorry, no way around that one!), but it's not really about what you're doing necessarily - but about what you're NOT doing. You're not restricting, you're not overexercising, you're not bingeing, you're not purging, you're not taking x, y, and z pills.

And you are going to want to do all of those things (and more) during the course of your eating disorder recovery.

If I just shattered your rose colored glasses, I'm sorry. The reality is, a lot of recovering from an eating disorder is learning new ways to cope. And I won't lie - sometimes, it sucks. Sometimes, you will absolutely want to use eating disorder behaviors. But if you want to recover, it's just not an option.

Which is where your trusty eating disorder recovery coping skills toolbox comes in. In my case, I have a plastic shoebox that serves at my go-to for tough situations. In the event that I am faced with an urge to act on eating disorder behaviors, I have a dozen coping skills at my fingertips.

What Are The Best Coping Skills For Me?

Finding which coping skills work best for you is really a trial-and-error process.

  • Are there things that you can get caught up in and forget about time passing?
  • Are there things that make you feel alive and energetic?
  • Are there things you used to enjoy doing before your eating disorder stole all your time?

[caption id="attachment_1782" align="alignleft" width="446"] Eating Disorder Coping Skills Toolbox -- complete with encouraging messages![/caption]

The trick is to find activities that are incompatible with eating disorder behaviors. To that point, going for a run might not be the best choice if exercise is an issue in your eating disorder. In contrast, I cannot binge, purge, exercise, or compensate for eating in any way if I'm playing with a yo-yo. Or coloring in an art journal. Or talking on the phone with a trusted friend.

I have a list of coping skills to help deal with urges to engage in eating disordered behavior. There are at least fifty items on said list. Does every option work for every urge? Certainly not. But you have to give them an honest shot and see what works for you. Start by making a list of things that you (not your eating disorder!) enjoy. Are any of these incompatible with eating disorder behaviors?

Here are some ideas to start you off: read a book, do a crossword puzzle, complete a sudoku puzzle, watch your favorite TV show on Hulu, sip a cup of herbal tea, play fetch with your dog (or cat?), watch TED talks on youtube, finger paint, collage. Can I guarantee that any of these is going to work for you? Definitely not. But you'll never know until you try.

Coping Skills: Not Just For Eating Disorders

Let me qualify all of what I've stated above with this: your coping skills need to be healthy behaviors. Lots of men and women with eating disorders struggle with other addictions as well: self-harm, alcohol, drugs. If you are giving up your eating disorder behaviors you can almost put money on the fact that you are going to want to act out on those behaviors. And you can even justify it; after all, you're not engaging in your eating disorder, right?

Well, no. It's great that I decided to resist the urge to go to the gym after dinner, but if I'm sitting on the couch with a bottle of wine, I'm really not any closer to healthy coping. So in the course of your recovery, you might need your coping skills to resist not only eating disorder urges, but other urges, too.

This is why having a large inventory of coping skills to choose from is so important. For me, reading an engaging (usually young adult) novel can keep my mind from eating disorder thoughts long enough to get through the urges. But if I'm struggling with self-harm urges, trying to read is a laughable idea. That's when I pull out the pastels and the paints and art journal. Or drive over to Starbucks and treat myself to a frappuccino or cup of tea.

It might take some time to figure out which coping skills work best for you. You might slip up while you're trying to figure them out -- in fact, I can almost guarantee you will. Recovery isn't perfect and no coping skill is going to work 100% of the time. The best you can do is hop back on your proverbial horse after you slip and try something new the next time.

What are coping skills that you have found useful in dealing with eating disorder urges?

APA Reference
Hudgens, J. (2013, September 5). But How Do I Cope With Eating Disorder Urges?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Jessica Hudgens

Ken Hwan
July, 23 2018 at 9:51 am

I really like your tip to avoid choosing a coping activity that is compatible with your eating disorder, such as exercising or dieting. My wife has been dealing with some minor eating habits that are affecting her day to day life, and because of that, she isn't acting like herself anymore. I will be sure to recommend to her that we find her some healthy activities that can go into a coping box like you said!

Elise Hocking
September, 7 2013 at 3:38 am

I have to do something that keeps my hands busy. In college it was coloring and then I learned to crochet from another girl when I was in inpatient treatment and THAT works wonders for me. And because I can make cool stuff for other people (or myself) by crocheting it keeps me motivated to keep using that coping skill even when I don't really want to, because it's "productive" (all coping skills are productive, they are keeping you healthy, but this one seems doubly productive to me).

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jessica Hudgens
September, 7 2013 at 3:55 am

Elise -
Thanks for your comment! I know quite a few people who found crocheting or knitting to be a great coping skill - both in treatment and outside. I like your perspective on it, too - that it's "productive" and making something so you don't want to quit in the middle. I feel that way about my artwork sometimes!

September, 6 2013 at 9:03 am

Hey co-author!!
I love that coping toolbox. You inspire me so much!
It is important to have an array of coping skills. Also, with time, some might not work so well anymore. Time to pick up new ones. #project!!!
Thank you for being there :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jessica Hudgens
September, 7 2013 at 2:30 am

Patricia --
So true that over time some coping skills may not be as effective -- it's a great reminder to try new and different things. You might find something you never knew you enjoyed!

September, 5 2013 at 12:36 pm

Oh, and thanks for the article, Jess!

September, 5 2013 at 12:36 pm

Reading or writing poetry
dancing to Waka Waka ;)
ripping up paper into little pieces
doing DIY projects
Paint nails
Call my sister

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jessica Hudgens
September, 7 2013 at 2:30 am

Mckenna -
I absolutely echo ripping paper into little pieces. :)
This is a great list of coping skills! Thanks for sharing!

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