Eating Disorder Coping Skills

 EDIT™ Worksheets | Express Your Self
Coping #1 | The 5-Rs


Eating disorder behaviors can often be impulsive – your clients may sometimes feel like “ED just takes over.” As your clients progress in recovery, they realize that there is a moment of choice – although at first it may be very brief. This is the window of opportunity for your clients to use alternatives to their eating disorder behaviors as a means of coping. In that moment of choice, your clients may not be able to think of their healthy coping skills – that’s because ED (Eating Disorder) is the predominant voice in their mind. In that moment of choice, your clients may be able to access IT (Intuitive Therapist) for a brief moment – long enough to think, “Hmmmm, what could I do right now instead of giving into ED?”

This is where the 5-Rs Worksheet can be essential! If your client has completed this worksheet in session with you, or as a homework assignment, then they have the completed worksheet to refer to in their moment of need. When ED is active in their mind, they may have a difficult time remembering IT’s suggestions for healthy ways of coping. But if they pull out this completed worksheet, then they have plenty if ideas to use as alternatives to ED.

Let’s look at each of the 5-Rs, so you can guide your client to complete this worksheet. The 5-Rs represent five different areas which the client can consider accessing based on their specific needs in the moment. Each of the 5-Rs begin with the letter R (to make these easier for your clients to remember) – Recreation, Relaxation, Responsibility, Reward, Recovery.

  • Recreation: these are activities that you consider “fun,” which uplift you when you do them. Some of these activities you might be able to do at home, while others might require going someplace. You might enjoy these activities with others, or you may be able to participate in some on your own. It’s helpful to have a variety of options to choose from in the category. For example: playing with a pet, watching a funny TV show, going hiking with a friend, pleasure reading, doing a craft project.

  • Relaxation: these are activities that you consider “calming,” which soothe you when you do them. Most of these activities you would do on your own, although there are some you could experience with others. Select a variety of activities with a balance of choices you can do at home and away from home. Some of the activities you included in the Recreation category might also be included here. For example: pleasure reading, breathing techniques, guided meditations, getting a massage.

  • Responsibility: these are activities that might be on your “household to-do list,” which will keep you distracted and give you a sense of accomplishment when you complete them. These activities typically help to diffuse anxiety and expend restless energy. It’s especially helpful if these activities engage your mind sufficiently that you “can’t think about ED.” For example: vacuuming the carpet, organizing the garage, weeding the garden, balancing your checkbook.

  • Reward: these are activities which are “special treats,” which can be much more fulfilling that ED behaviors. Many of the activities on this list may require advance planning, so these might be things you’d set up for yourself at the end of a busy week, or at the end of a specific event you know might be challenging your you. For example: getting a massage, a getaway to a spa, purchasing a gift for yourself, making special plans with friends.

  • Recovery: these are activities that are “therapeutic,” which are directly related to the issues you are currently facing, which may be triggering some ED thoughts. While the first four R’s are ways to cope via distress tolerance and emotion regulation (DBT Skills), this R can help you cope through healing whatever might have been triggering you – at least taking some steps towards healing. For example: reading a recovery book, calling a friend to discuss the issue, going online to a support forum, writing in your journal.