Tips for navigating stress in eating disorder recovery

The World Health Organization defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.” Stress is a normal part of everyday life and can be caused by various things. Everyone experiences some amount of stress, but what makes the difference is how we respond to it. Responding to stress in ways that impact our food choices and movement habits can cause disordered eating patterns and, eventually, eating disorders.

April is National Stress Awareness Month. Its focus is to bring awareness to how stress can negatively impact our lives. Regardless of age, stress may lead to increased loneliness and isolation and negatively impact your academic or work performance. It can hinder our ability to stay present, prepare for the future, and manage priorities and responsibilities. Additionally, eating disorders can develop as a way to cope with stress when we don’t have alternative means of managing challenges. Eating disorders often provide a false sense of control when the rest of life feels out of control. This way of coping might make you feel better in the short term, but in the long term it actually increases stress and has detrimental effects for various reasons.

This blog post will discuss how these areas of stress may contribute to the development of an eating disorder and how to manage that stressor.

Academic Or Work Performance 

Academic and work performance can include attendance, ability to stay on task, complete assignments or work obligations, progression in degree or career path, and feedback from superiors. Those feeling behind on the path of academic or work performance may be tempted to adjust their daily routine. Keeping a daily routine has been shown to help use time effectively and reduce stress. It can be helpful to write your daily routine into your calendar or set timers on your phone to make sure you make time and help limit stress. 

Thinking About the Future

Preparing for the future may involve thinking about what you need to accomplish later in the day, tomorrow, next week, next month, or five years from now. When you think about preparing for the future, it may include thoughts about finances, where you will live, who you will spend your time with, and even what you will look like. Staying present and utilizing mindfulness has been shown to help when our mind wants to wander into the future. While forward-thinking can be a helpful motivator for future goals or even recovering from an eating disorder, focusing on the present can be helpful if the unknowns are causing you to feel paralyzed with worry. 

Feeling Lonely

Loneliness is a common emotion when you’re stressed. Stress can often make us feel like everyone else is doing “better” than us and that we are the only ones struggling. Feeling lonely may cause us to change your eating or movement habits to change how we’re feeling. Loneliness often leads to isolation due to avoidance of spending time with others. This can contribute to a disordered relationship with food, movement, and body image, as these behaviors thrive in isolation. Feeling socially connected is a part of recovery from an eating disorder, and often, joining a recovery program with group therapy is the first step. Group therapy offers support from others who understand your struggle. At BALANCE, we offer various programs and support groups where a supportive, cohesive group can come together.

Struggling With Body Image 

Our relationship with body image can be detrimental if we attach our self-worth to our appearance. It can be helpful to consider how much time you spend on social media and how that contributes to your feelings about your body. It can also be helpful to shift your focus to what your body can do instead of what it looks like. Remember, you are more than a body.

Juggling Priorities and Responsibilities

Juggling Prioritiesinvolves deciding where you need to focus your time and energy. Prioritization can be an effective way to manage task-related stress. It can be helpful to determine what needs your attention and focus on that particular aspect of your life. If you or a loved one are experiencing a life event, you may need to prioritize your social life. If you have an upcoming exam or deadline at work, you may need to prioritize school or your job. If you are experiencing an increase in emotions like loneliness, it may be time to prioritize support by spending time with others, attending therapy, or joining a support group.

Finding a way to cope with life’s stresses sometimes takes trial and error. Giving yourself grace can be helpful while trying to find the coping strategy that works best for you. If your current way of coping with stress has changed your relationship with food, movement, or body, we encourage you to reach out to a BALANCE team member for additional support. Click here to schedule a free consultation call to learn more about our eating disorder treatment programs and services.


National Stress Awareness Month. National Institutes of Health. gnized%20as%20National,the%20negative%20impact%20of%20stress. Accessed April 4, 2024. 

Stress. World Health Organization. Accessed April 7, 2024. 

Teenage Stress and Eating Disorders. Toledo Center for Eating Disorders. Accessed April 7, 2024.

This post was written by BALANCE Blog Contributor, Dawn Lundin (she/her).

Dawn Lundin, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and owner of Restore Ease Dietetics which is a virtual nutrition private practice that focuses on mental health + sports nutrition. She primarily with adolescents and young adults with eating disorders. She believes in meeting clients where they are at which provides a unique client-focused approach to recovery. She lives in Marquette, Michigan with her husband and three sons. As a family, they love to travel and spend time outdoors. She also enjoys mountain biking, running, cross-country skiing, being on or in the water, and knitting.

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