How To Break Unhealthy Rituals.

When it comes to mental illness, specifically Anorexia Nervosa, there are various unhealthy rituals to look out for.

When it comes to mental illness, specifically Anorexia Nervosa, there are various unhealthy rituals to look out for.

Habits and rituals give us structure to our lives. They provide a safety blanket for us to hide under in order to keep ourselves safe when things get rough.

But what happens when mental illness causes use to develop unhealthy rituals and how do we begin to overcome them in recovery?

Eating disorders are primarily kept alive by anxiety and fear. Sometimes the only way to quiet the voices in our minds is to take part in comforting rituals such as those mentioned below. However, the rituals involved with eating disorders can very easily take over our lives. They’re draining, time-consuming and can dictate a number of things; what we do, where we go, timeframes and how we feel!

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

How do we allow such small things to impact us so hugely?


What Is An Unhealthy Ritual?

Please note this is largely in relation to an eating disorder and is also not a definitive list.

Weighing.  

From my experience with anorexia both dring suffering and quasi-recovery, I would weigh myself every morning compulsively. If I couldn’t weigh myself then I didn’t feel ‘safe‘. If I didn’t know what my weight was, how could I possibly know if I should be allowed to eat? And if I had lost weight then surely I needed to keep going?

I used the numbers on the scale to define how I would go about my day and how I should feel about myself.

Towards the end of 2018, I was weighing myself in the morning and then again at night after fasting. It stripped my confidence completely from under me if I had gained even a gram.  

Body checking.  

This is one I still struggle with. In the absence of a scale I find myself body checking in many different ways. Sometimes I catch myself and gently bring myself to the present, telling myself I don’t need to do this. Other times it happens subconsciously. I’ve been body checking for years! I use photos to body check, video, my fingers, clothing; If it can be done I will find a way!  

Cutting food into tiny pieces.  

In the early days of my anorexia during my teens I would rip food into tiny pieces. Now I deconstruct food where I can to eat them separate. That means eating each part of a sandwich or wrap using a fork and knife so that nothing is eaten together.

Measuring food.  

I wasn’t big on the measuring in my early anorexia experience, but this time something clicked within me. At one point I was weighing out cereal to exactly 30g or less, and even weighing things like fruit. I’ve since given this up completely and the only food I weigh is for my cat.  

Eating at the same time, in the same place every day.  

When I was younger strict mealtimes were a thing I was obsessed with. If food wasn’t out by 5.30pm in the evening I would have a meltdown. Now I’m much better with adapting to change because when you’re an adult life doesn’t always mean you can eat at the same time every day.

I try to stick to a routine as much as possible, and I know being out of routine can mean forgetting to eat / not having time to eat, and I struggle with that. I’m trying to remember to bring snacks with me everywhere I go. I’ve a reservoir of cereal bars, chocolate bars, and fruit in my backpack or handbag as often as I remember to do so. That and emergency sanitary towels and pain killers.  


Do I have a problem with unhealthy rituals?

If a ritual or habit creates any of the following scenarios you may have an issue;  

  • The habit is so important that you can’t function without it.
  • It’s hard to go for long periods without feeling an intense compulsion to perform that habit.
  • You seem to be thinking about your habit for much of the day.

How can we challenge rituals & bad habits?

Here’s the ‘T’!

Habits are neuro-pathways in our brains. They need challenged and changed in order to form new, more healthy habits. The only way to do this is by repeating said good habits over and over until our brains say;

‘Oh! This is what we are meant to be doing now’!

In the beginning, I used various ways to remind myself of my new healthier habit.

Fabulous.

I started using this in January 2019 and it honestly changed how I go about my mornings. It starts off gentle by adding in water and works it’s way up to eating breakfast and even exercising. Fabulous helped me establish a routine and habits because, as a perfectionist, I felt a sense of needing to keep the flow going. If I missed a day I felt like I was missing a link in the chain.

The app can be free or you can choose to pay for extras.

Screenshot Image

Yes/No.

This was a technique I was taught by a previous therapist. It’s meant to challenge us into switching up our small habits and stepping outside our comfort zones. These habits and rituals don’t have to start off bring about food, and it’s actually better if they don’t. Instead, I focused on things like parking on a different side of the driveway or sleeping on the other side of the bed.

  • Put your watch on a different arm.
  • Wear different earrings.
  • Sleep on the other side of the bed.
  • Park somewhere else for a change.
  • Wear odd socks instead of ones that match.

Once you challenge daily habits you can then start to take on food-related rituals.  


There are so many other ways that you can challenge food-related rituals. You don’t have to use the methods above, I just found that they were the most helpful to me.

If you have any other tips or tricks for banishing the ritualistic gremlins feel free to tweet me or leave them in the comments below!  

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79 comments

  1. I do maybe a bit too much body checking. I’ve always had low self esteem, but especially after having kids. Thanks for these reminders!

  2. I really love these tips, I think particularly applying the Yes/No technique might be quite helpful to use against my OCD so when things return to a bit of normality I might give it a try with a few of my daily habits! I love the sound of Fabulous too, never heard of it before but I think it’ll need to check it out! xx

  3. These are great tips. In my younger years I definitely was guilty of doing many of these behaviors often. I had no idea the damage I was going with those behaviors. Thank you for sharing ways to retrain the brain to be healthier!

  4. It’s so strange because reading this makes you think that we should all know what is right or wrong and not have any of these habits but we are so busy in everyday life that we forget to pay more attention. Thanks for amazing article.

  5. thank you so much for sharing this with us! i find this super helpful since i myself have a ton of rituals that i want out of my life

  6. I need to try Fabulous again! I downloaded it once and it looked like it was going to be so helpful, but my phone at the time was bloated and couldn’t handle the app. Thank you for the reminder!!
    I love the yes/no technique from your therapist… Establishing new habits can be so daunting…I imagine starting out super small and going from there is so much less scary and really gets the ball rolling.

  7. I still have it so we can weigh the cats but I hate having it here. I’ve been avoiding, and failing, stepping off and on it over the last few days and it’s not doing my mental health any good.
    I know I need to let go but at a time like this it feels like the only thing I have to hold on to.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s so hard to get back into normal eating after something like that. I know from attending the gym and body building years ago just how much your perception of your body can change, and not in a good way.

  9. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It is very difficult but I’m trying to keep up the momentum, even during this pandemic.
    Hope you’re staying safe and well! x

  10. i never had an eating disorder but this can be used in any circumstance. bad habits can be changed one step at a time

  11. I never had eating disorder but some other issue. Habits often go by unnoticed by ourselves — which is sort of the point. They are automatic behaviours directed by unconscious thoughts. When a particular behaviour is carried out repeatedly, the brain figures “This is done often enough, guess I’ll put it on auto and leave it in the background.” In doing so, there is one less thing to think about as you go through your day, your brain has reduced the cognitive load by making something a habit.

  12. This is a wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing! Thank you for sharing your experiences with an eating disorder, I can’t imagine what that must have been like to deal with. But I’m glad you’re on the other side, living a happy a fulfilling life! I have many bad habits, mostly stemming from the anxiety. I’ll definitely be doing using your suggestions here, especially the yes/no one.

  13. This is so interesting! I never even think about these! I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I do find myself having an unhealthy relationship with food time – to – time. I loved reading about how to get out of unhealthy habits.

  14. Bad habits can be changed with little steps. it takes around 2 weeks to form a new habit or to get rid of a bad one, so it’s important to always tell ourselves that we can do it, even if that means counting those 14 days.

  15. incrediby interesting article – this was very insightful for me as I didn’t know much about this. Thanks for sharing – I appreciate the increased awareness you gave me.

  16. I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder myself but I do have friends who have and do struggle. It was both informative but also heartbreaking to see all the different ways your mind can focus on your body and on food. Thanks for posting!

  17. I can’t believe that people are suffering with these unhealthy rituals. weighing yourself every single time can also be so stressful for your part. habits are really hard to break, but with the correct mindset, it is possible.

  18. Great post! Inever attention to this. but now i will aware for this. Thanks for sharing this post.

  19. It is always wonderful to read your posts. I am sure your blog is helping so many people. It is always so tough to break a bad habit, requires immense will power. Great tips.

  20. Thank you so much for sharing that app. I have been looking for an app like this for the past year to help me break some of my own bad habits. Which have been getting even worse during COVID-19. I think the Fabulous app will help, so thank you! Best, Lynda

  21. I had a friend that when she lost her mom she started developing habits that were “healthy” but taken to extremes. THe first thing we noticed was her eating habits became obsessive. Im thankful to have come across your post, I think it’ll be a helpful tool for people in the future.

  22. I never linked how you eat could be an unhealthy habit! I dealt with a lot of issues with eating after I Did a bodybuilding competition. Once I started actually eating normal again I couldn’t stop body shaming when my body was just getting back to normal!

  23. I am a culprit of unhealthy rituals from what I have read. These are things I do most of the time without realising they are unhealthy. I need to follow your tips and make a change for the better. Thank you Nyxies.

  24. What a great read, love the layout of your post. After having two kids, my body has changed, have to work a little harder but make sure they are within reason.

  25. I don’t have an eating disorder but it seems that eating disorders are a lot more complex than I originally thought. It is true what you say about habits, they are hard wired into our brains and we definitely need to create new pathways to good habits.

  26. Brilliant post. Any bad habit is hard to break but one’s that are attached to something like Anorexia I’d imagine to be much harder because they are so deeply ingrained and about survival.

  27. Thank you so much for reading Britt. I struggle with counting calories, especially when it’s on packaging. Numbers are a massive trigger for me but so hard to get away from in today’s society.

  28. I’ve now stopped weighing completely because it was becoming too much. I’m going off 2 pairs of jeans that have remained consistent through recovery.
    Thank you for reading. x

  29. Thank you for reading. I used to be so rigid about my meal times but I’ve had to let that go over time. Especially now when time seems to have little meaning.

  30. Thanks for reading Jenny. I’m still trying to break my unhealthy habits but, as you say, the hinder us in ways we can only see when we let them go.
    I hope you’re keeping well. x

  31. Thank you so much for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed it and it helped you to come to terms with a few things in your own life. x

  32. We all have a vice at some point in our life, and breaking bad habits isn’t easy. I totally agree with having a meal routine; it makes the world of difference.

  33. Thanks for this. I realized a lot of this after reading this topic. Need to change my eating habits before its too late.

  34. This sounds with hard to follow especially unhealthy rituals are also old-habits. But for the sake of good health and longer life, then it must be break.

  35. This is a really valuable post. I developed many unhealthy habits over the years from obsessively counting and tracking calories to measuring myself daily. I found that the calorie counting was easily overlooked with the shift in society to count calories as a positive weight loss technique (look at sites like MyFitnessPal).

  36. Unhealthy rituals are often overlooked as the culprit. Ive made some minor lifestyle adjustments in the past few months and the results have been so satisfying.

  37. Great tips you’ve got there! Sometimes, it so hard to break bad habits or rituals. It needed a lot of discipline. So yeah, I’m quite guilty.

  38. These are great tips to break unhealthy habits of all sorts. Just getting used to accept change with the yes/know. The though of trying any of those things makes me cringe, yet I suppose you learn to get used to it and therefore less resistant to change.

  39. Measuring, myself and my food, has always been a pain point for me. I mostly stopped but sometimes still find myslef stepping on the scale daily and I know it is a horrible habit and makes me feel terribnle.

  40. I do a lot of these things even without having a disorder. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be for someone whose struggle is so much worse than mine. I am glad there are places to find good support now and hope that people are able to get to that help.

  41. I do have them healthy rituals like using the scale a lot even though I know I am on my period. And I tend to get more pounds during my it.But it’s something that I can’t avoid and I need to avoid especially at this time of quarantine.

  42. This is helpful for everyone, it’s always good to take stock in rituals that may not be best for us. I loved all this information and I appreciate you compiling it.

  43. i love the layout of this post!!! it’s so hard to break out of rituals sometimes!!!

  44. This is helpful for those going through this for sure. I do get cranky if meals aren’t at a proper time though. I get hangry. So I try to always eat around 5 PM, but I can wait until 6 PM without getting moody.

  45. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder, and I have an on-again, off-again relationship with my scale. But I do body check and didn’t even realize it was an unhealthy habit. Thank you for making me aware! I love the ideas on breaking unhealthy rituals in here — I will try some!

  46. My husband can be very structured with meal time. He gets cranky if he has to wait too late to eat lol. I definitely dont check really how much I’m eating and things like that but with the kids I do try to keep a snack schedule so they don’t eat us out of house and home.

  47. Although I don’t have an eating disorder, I can definitely relate to what you’re saying about unhealthy habits and rituals. It’s something we spoke about in my recent group CBT last year. I’ve definitely had my share of unhealthy habits to help with my anxiety which, in hindsight, were hindering me instead! Great post x

  48. Wow…. i have just realized a lot about myself in this post that I dont think I have ever really realized before.

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