Eating disorders are not just a challenge, they're a serious health concern that can have a profound impact on your physical and emotional well-being. They can affect your heart rate, lead to fainting spells, disrupt your growth, and so much more. That's why having a well-thought-out safety plan is crucial.
Think of a safety plan as your go-to guide for when you're feeling triggered or overwhelmed by emotions tied to your eating disorder. Your safety plan gives you a set of practical steps to follow so you can make healthier choices on the spot, regain control, and minimize harm. It's all about being prepared and knowing what to do when things get rough.
Why Is a Safety Plan So Important?
Imagine you're navigating through a maze. Wouldn't it be helpful to have a map?
An eating disorders safety plan serves as that map when you're dealing with disordered eating thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Created when you're in a calm and rational state, this plan encourages you to deeply reflect on your own patterns, triggers, and effective coping mechanisms.
The beauty of a safety plan is that it's always there for you, ready to be activated when you're facing urges or troubling thoughts about eating and body image. Instead of making impulsive and potentially harmful decisions, you can refer to your plan.
Moreover, your safety plan is a valuable resource for your loved ones and supporters. It educates them on the signs that you might need extra help and guides them on how to offer you the support you need, in the way you prefer to receive it.
Key Components to Include in a Safety Plan
The following are key components to include in a safety plan.
First, identify unique triggers or stressors.
Reflecting on the factors that trigger your disordered eating behaviors is crucial for effective management. Whether these triggers stem from stress, social interactions, comments about your appearance, or specific online content, awareness allows you to anticipate situations that may necessitate enhanced self-care or the implementation of coping strategies. This proactive approach enables better control and management of your disordered eating.
Second, notice warning signs.
Catching those small shifts in your thoughts, feelings, or even how your body feels can be a game-changer in stopping disordered eating patterns before they get worse. Keep in mind, though, everyone's warning signs are different.
Things to look for can include negative thought patterns, feelings of worry or shame, avoiding social situations involving food, constantly feeling hungry or cold, or other observable cues.
Third, list specific coping strategies.
It can help to make a list of positive ways to cope that have worked before or could help when you feel bad thoughts, emotions, or urges related to disordered eating.
When warning signs come up, look at your list of ideas for self-care, self-acceptance, mindfulness, distraction, or other healthy habits. Using these go-to strategies can help you respond thoughtfully instead of reacting harmfully in the moment. Having plans ready to use when you need them is being proactive. It means you have tools to stay strong when triggers make you want to go back to harmful behaviors.
Fourth, create physically and emotionally safer spaces.
You can think about how to remove or limit contact with things in your home or online that may trigger bad eating habits. Or plan ways to spend more time in positive places, groups, or with friends who encourage healthy views about food, bodies, and self-image. Setting healthy limits ahead of time makes your spaces feel safer. For example, you could:
- Take out foods or objects that enable disordered eating
- Unfollow or block social media accounts that make you feel bad
- Spend more time outside or doing hobbies you enjoy
- Join an online group or club with a healthy focus
- Surround yourself with positive people who care about your wellbeing
Making these changes can reduce contact with triggers and build up your supports. Having guidelines in place makes it easier to manage spaces that improve your health and happiness.
Fifth, map out supports.
Make a list of people you trust who you could reach out to for support during tough times. This could include family, friends, teachers, counselors, coaches, youth leaders or others who care about you. Note how each person prefers to be contacted - by text, call, email, or in person.
Also write down ways each support person could help if you contacted them. For example, some may be good listeners, while others may be able to distract you with activities or give you rides. Having specific people ready to contact makes you feel less alone. And knowing how to reach them and what kind of help they can provide means you can use your network if some aren't available. Building this contact list ahead of time gives you a plan to follow so you don't have to struggle through hard moments by yourself.
Sixth, monitor progress with the plan over time.
Look back at your safety plan when you're struggling with disordered eating. This lets you see which parts are helpful versus need to change. You may find some coping skills work better than others. Or that you need to add new strategies as you learn more. Your needs may also change if your life situation shifts. So review the plan sometimes to update it. Telling loved ones about the plan can help keep you accountable too. Having people who know your goals makes it easier to follow through. Don't be afraid to adjust the plan to make it work better for where you're at. Changing and improving your safety net over time helps it support you.
Here are some practical tips to think about to create the best safety plan.
First, post written safety plans somewhere highly visible and easily accessed when urges or distressing thoughts arise. For example, save it on your phone or keep a copy in a journal.
Second, involve trusted loved ones in creating your plan, but remember, it should be tailored to your unique needs.
Third, write down how disordered eating affects your life to reinforce your commitment to healthier coping strategies. Sample warning signs could include avoiding certain foods, feeling constantly dizzy, or experiencing extreme mood swings.
Fourth, learn and use coping strategies like deep breathing exercises, painting, or spending time in nature.
And seek out emotionally safe spaces like community centers or places of worship that foster a sense of belonging and self-acceptance.
Creating a personalized safety plan is crucial for anyone struggling with disordered eating, as it maps out practical coping strategies and support contacts to utilize in moments of distress.
By having a comprehensive safety plan, you're equipping yourself with the tools and resources needed to navigate the complexities of disordered eating. It's more than just a plan; it's a commitment to your well-being.
Want to Learn More About Eating Disorders and Safety Plans?
Eating Disorders: About More Than Food. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders
Kids Help Phone. My Safety Plan to Cope With Disordered Eating. https://kidshelpphone.ca/get-info/my-safety-plan-to-cope-with-disordered-eating
National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
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