Recovery Projects

Below is a list of exercises that can help with working through various stages of recovery. They are offered as suggestions, and can be adapted based on anyone’s individual needs.


  1. Make a list of what is really important to you. What do you value? What do you strive to accomplish with your life? Ask yourself if your eating disorder is getting you closer to your goals or moving you farther away from your goals.
  2. Make a list of five things that you have been able to accomplish already by making attempts to conquer your eating disorder. Or, if you haven’t been recovering long enough, make a list of five things you WILL be able to experience when you begin to win the battle over your eating disorder. Also, make a note about how each item made/will make you feel.
  3. Make a list of people you have drifted away from, fought with, or lost touch with because of your eating disorder. For extra credit: send an email, make a phone call, or send a card to everyone to say hi. Extra, extra credit: invite them to meet you for coffee/shopping/movies/etc. After all, giving up your eating disorder means you’ll have a lot more free time; might as well fill it up with something fun!
  4. Identify one recurring difficulty that you’re having with recovery, and think of at least one strategy or thought that can help you overcome it. Here’s an example: “Difficulty: it’s hard when your regular clothes don’t fit anymore. Way to cope: time to break out the credit card, call a few friends, and head to the mall to get some cute new stuff.”
  5. List three things that your eating disorder has helped you to ignore — for example, some problem or fear or person you don’t want to confront. Then, list at least one NEW way to combat the problem, or outline some steps to help you beat it. If you don’t know a solution, ask your friends/family members/online chat buddies for advice!
  6. Today, do something that is outside of your comfort zone; it can be big or small. For example, make a goal to eat a food that is on your “unsafe” list, or you can say hello to someone you don’t know. You can call someone you’re scared to call, or you can go out in public without make-up. Whatever. Good luck!
  7. Make a list of things that make your life fulfilling. This can include people, hobbies, environments — anything!
  8. Make an “ED voodoo doll.” Use your imagination. Draw a picture that represents your ED, or make it look like a person, or whatever you feel best symbolizes your ED. When you do something that involves winning out over your ED, like eating certain foods, feeling good about yourself, breaking a rule, etc., you get to take a whack at your symbolic ED. Throw darts at it, cover it up with stickers until it’s completely blocked out, tear it up — whatever you want! Have fun and take out your aggressions on it!
  9. Take a social risk. Say hi to a stranger on the street. Go to a coffee shop or store and compliment the cashier on some part of their outfit. Ask someone for directions. Call someone who’s mad at you. Or anything else that you would consider to be a “social risk” for yourself.
  10. Have an enjoyable eating experience. This could involve eating something indulgent (even if it’s just a bite), or eating in a fun environment. You could treat yourself to a bit of dessert you haven’t allowed yourself to have for a very long time. You could also eat your regular dinner, light some candles, have a glass of wine. Dim the lights, play some music and have a “romantic” dinner with yourself, a friend or a significant other! Or, invite a friend to a coffee shop and enjoy a flavored latte over some great conversation. The idea here is to take the focus off ED-related food thoughts, and to re-discover how it can feel to actually enjoy a meal.
  11. Start a “Gratitude Journal.” Write down anything you are grateful for, or anything that happened each day that was wonderful, or things that make life worth living. Whenever you’re down, pick up the journal and remember that there ARE things to be happy for.
  12. Have you conquered one of your ED rules? What was it? What did you do to overcome it? How did it feel when that rule wasn’t ruling you anymore? Or… What is the next rule you want to squash? What do you need in order to accomplish that goal?
  13. A question to ponder: at the end of your life, when you are looking back on the life you lived, and remembering everything you’ve done, what would be the one thing that you’d be most proud of? (It can be something you’ve done, or something you’d like to do — anything!)
  14. Think of a person (or more than one, if you’re ambitious) that has hurt you or affected your life in a negative way in the past. Write a letter to them (you don’t have to send it) about what they did that hurt you, how it affected you, how it made you feel about them, and what you want/expect from them now. Then, if you feel like it, write another letter that you would actually send to that person, and send it. Then, think of another person who has affected your life in a positive way. Write a letter to them, telling them how their actions affected your life. Bonus points if you send it to them! Then, write another letter to yourself. Write whatever you want. Do whatever you want to do with it when you’re finished. This is all about you. My suggestion when writing these letters is to NOT focus so much on grammar, construction, etc. Focus only on your thoughts and feelings, so you can get everything on paper. You can always edit later.
  15. Write down all those nagging little things and experiences that have held you back in life. You know, all that baggage and broken trust, etc (you can have friends do this too, and make a party of it). Start a fire in the backyard, at a park, in a metal bucket on the lawn — wherever. Tear up your “issues,” throw them in the fire, and watch them disintegrate and disappear into the sky. Imagine how it would feel to truly let go of those things and to not allow them to hold you back any more. If you want, celebrate the symbolic “death” of your troubles by roasting marshmallows over the fire and making s’mores…
  16. Make a list of “coping strategies” to have on hand for any time things get rough. Basically, just list anything you can do to comfort yourself (in a HEALTHY and constructive manner) that will help you make it through until things get easier. A few things from my list are: “For support: call a friend, check my email, find someone to hang out with for a while. For a distraction: Play the piano, play a video game, read a book, go for a walk, paint my toenails,” etc.
  17. Make a list of all the recovery resources that are available to you. Also, write down any recovery issues you have that are not being addressed as well as they should be (such as dealing with past abuse, knowing what/when to eat, social support, therapy, etc). The “available support” list should include things like specific friends/family members’ names, therapists, doctors, etc. Write down all their contact information as well, and keep it in an easily-accessible place. Look at your list of issues that still need to be addressed. Then, do a little research to find resources in your area. If insurance is a problem, check into state aid programs, sliding fee services (your local Planned Parenthood can usually give referrals to free or super-cheap ED services, for example), University research studies that offer free treatment in exchange for study participation, etc. If social support is an issue, make a list of steps you can take to increase your social circle. And so on. If you have a problem you don’t know how to address, don’t be afraid to post it here. Someone else may have gone through the same thing, and may have helpful advice for you.
  18. Make a “Recovery box” (or folder, or journal). Find a box (a big shoebox can work) and cut out magazine pictures and make a collage all over it, or paint it, or wrap it with pretty paper, etc. Inside the box, keep anything that relates to your recovery. You can put anything from informative articles, letters from friends from recovery message boards, old food journals, to random items that just make you smile. Whatever you put in your box is up to you. The idea here is just to have a collection of physical things that you can go to when you need a little boost.
  19. Make a list of 25 words that describe your ED experience. Make another list of 25 words that describe what your life is/will be like when you have conquered your ED.
  20. It always helped me, during those times of uncertainty, to tell myself that I could always go back if I wanted to, but I was committing myself to X number of months of recovery. You could always starve again. Any day, any time. HOWEVER, if you choose to back out on recovery now, you may not find yourself there again any time soon. And recovery takes a minimum (approximately) year commitment before you really get to experience just how wonderful it can be. How ’bout tell yourself to hang in there just a little bit longer. Take it step by step, day by day, and don’t let the long-term goal seem like such a big, scary thing.
  21. (For those who have been in recovery for at least a few weeks). Look back at how far you’ve come in just the past few weeks. Think of things you did, and things you felt, (insert period of time) ago, and compare it to today. A month from now, look back on today, and see how much further you got. If you see that you slipped backwards on anything, identify anything that may be hampering your efforts.
  22. Find something to take care of. When I started recovery, I also started a job teaching 2- and 3-year old toddlers. I found that when I spent all day caring for the needs of kids, I was more likely to continue the “caring” on myself when I got home. So, get a plant, get a pet, or volunteer for a good cause. Heck, get a pet rock and “pretend” to care for it- anything that puts you in the “caring” mood.
  23. Imagine that you are one of your parents/friends/guardians. You are faced with the difficult situation of watching a loved one (in this case, yourself in real life) struggle with an eating disorder. You want to let her know how important she is, and how it hurts you to see her hurting herself. Write a letter to her (you), telling her all the reasons why she deserves to be happy, and why she doesn’t deserve to be in so much pain.
  24. This one is good for discussion and sharing purposes: Imagine your ED as a kind of “wall.” Describe your wall, and your reaction to it. How high is it? What is it made of?
  25. We’ve all experienced those really dark times in life- where everything seems to go wrong, and nothing you do seems to help. Think of a hard time that has now passed. What sort of good things happened as a result of that difficult time, that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise? Have there been any major roadblocks that blocked your intended path that actually steered you in a better direction? If you’re going through a difficult time now (if you’re in recovery, this definitely applies to you), what positive changes do you think will happen in your life as a result of these difficulties?
  26. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why? If you had to pick a color to represent your personality, what color would it be and why?
  27. Commit a random act of kindness- anything helpful and unexpected. Then, tell that person to pass it on, and commit a random act of kindness themselves.
  28. Talk to someone you would normally NEVER talk to. If you’ve always avoided that weird dude at school that always sits in the corner by himself, go say hi. If the sorority girls have always intimidated you, introduce yourself. You just might learn that they’re people, too. And you might have a lot more in common than you think.
  29. Something to ponder: If you could trade on of your problems for one of someone else’s problems, which would would you take? Or would you keep your own?
  30. Write down your definition of a “perfect” person. What would that person look like? What kind of personality would they have? What talents, interests, type of friends, etc. would they have? Now, describe a perfect friend! Would your definition change? How about a perfect parent? Child? Teacher? Comedian? Scientist?
  31. Do something today to treat your body as something to love and take care of. Here are some ideas: get a massage; do something active that makes you feel strong, graceful, beautiful, etc. For all you over-exercisers, this may be easier said than done, but do some sort of physical activity that focuses on the enjoyment of the activity, rather than calories burned, etc. If you’re REALLY brave, put on a hot outfit, take a walk downtown, and Strut, baby, strut!
  32. List five reasons why you “matter” in this world.
  33. Find a mantra — a short phrase that you can repeat to yourself when you’re struggling, to remind yourself that this is a long journey and you’re going to make it, step by step, and the hard times won’t last forever. Some examples of mantras are: “I can do this,” “I want to know what it is to really LIVE,”or “I AM worth it!”
  34. One of the most helpful things during my recovery was educating myself on what to expect from the recovery process, as well as actually learning about human physiology, and how nutrients are actually used in the body. So, head to your local library, do an internet search, find a book, or whatever. Find a professional, medical, or psychological publication and search for information on this subject.
  35. List five things you would buy at the supermarket to represent five blessings or curses in your life. Explain each.
  36. (Contributed by a friend) “You are riding on a train and you are alone and the trip is long. You have a peaceful feeling when an old woman sits down opposite you. At first you are drawn to look at her hands, but then the two of you make eye contact and you notice she has young eyes. Although you don’t recognize her or know who she is she feels familiar to you. The quiet rocking motion of the train is soothing and after a while she begins the conversation with a question. Write about what the two of you discuss on the train.
  37. Make a collage. Look through magazines and cut out anything that jumps out at you. Don’t even bother to think of a theme or a purpose for what you’re cutting out yet. Just keep collecting things. When you’re satisfied with the things you’ve compiled, begin putting them together on paper. You can use any medium to add color, draw stuff, or add texture, or whatever. Look at what you made when you’re finished. Ask yourself what mood the collage conveys. What colors did you choose? Are the pictures hard or soft? Warm or cold? Bright or dull?
  38. 39. A quick self-quiz What would I do differently if I knew I could not fail? What do I want more of in my life? Where is all my energy focused right now? What am I most passionate about? What’s more important to me than anything else? Who or what is in charge of my life right now? Which answer, or answers, to the questions above, would I like to change? What would those ideal answers be?
  39. If you’re struggling with whether or not you want to give up your ED, find pictures of yourself when you were younger. Find pictures from the time when your biggest trouble was the fact that your brother slobbered on your favorite toy. The power of pictures of me at a happier time, before the thought of weight and size even crossed my mind, amazes me. I think one of the best ways to remind yourself that you’re not doing as well as you think you are is to look back to when you were not yet sick. A friend of mine once gave me a folder and the title said “Things Joy is famous for”. The folder was filled with sheets of paper that had pictures of me hanging out with friends- before I got really sick. Each page had something different written on it, to go with the picture, like “Having a drink at 9 am,” “funny faces,” “drunk cheer stunting,” etc. Honestly, words cannot describe how shocking it was to be able to look at those pictures and instantly see how much of my life I had lost. It made me ache for happier times. It helped me a lot. So go dig out some pictures!!!!
  40. Create a Life Map Get out a sheet of paper, and draw a big line, or a spiral, or whatever works best for you. On that line/spiral/circle, create a timeline of the major events in your life, starting a birth and ending now. Then, continue on with your timeline, writing events that you WANT to happen in the future. If you’re not sure, put it aside for a bit and come back to it. Or, you might want to try starting from your death, and working your way backwards. Whatever is easiest for you. This life map is a great tool for whenever you find yourself tempted to run back to your eating disorder. You can look at the map and all the life events listed on it and ask yourself if the behavior that you want to do next is going to move you closer to those things or away from them.
  41. Who am I? How do I know who I am? What does it mean to be content? Do I listen more or talk more? Why? What does it mean to nurture myself? Am I comfortable with my feelings? What makes me cry or laugh? When am I comfortable expressing my feelings? How much of my time is spent with other people and how much am I alone? Why do bad things happen? Who is responsible when something bad happens to me? How do I handle stress? Do I welcome challenges? What is my unique gift to the world?
  42. (Contributed by a friend) Here’s an activity from my first treatment center that was a great activity as long as you’re ready for it. Choose a person (or people) that have had a great influence on your life, both negatively and positively. Make a list of resentments and the feelings associated with them, and also regrets that you have and the feelings associated with them. In treatment we had to read them to that person. I may not go that far, but it’s a very cleansing exercise… it kinda gets rid of some of the shame that causes us to hold on to abuse and self-destruction. It works on vulnerability and accepting our humanity.
  43. Describe your fantasy of what you would like your life to be like. What would you do for fun? For work? What would you wear? Who would be with you? What would your house/apartment look like? What color would you paint the walls? Would your pet wear a diamond-studded collar? Would you drive a car that runs on vegetable oil? Would you go out for dinner four times a week at your favorite restaurant? Once you’ve described your ideal life, brainstorm about all the ways you can get some of the details of that life into your current life. If you dream about walking around all day in your slippers, try investing in some super-duper-comfy shoes and cashmere socks for work. If you dream of flying to Italy and sampling divine coffees, make a habit of going to a coffee shop for a treat every week. Get the idea?



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