Managing Emotions in Eating Disorder Recovery: Essential Tips and Tools

Emotions play a crucial role in our daily lives, even negative emotions like fear, anger, sadness, and loneliness. That’s a lot of negatives for anyone to deal with. For many people, managing emotions is a difficult task, and it’s not always done in a healthy way. In fact, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder sometimes occur due to an inability to cope with overwhelmingly negative emotions. 

Unfortunately, suffering from an eating disorder brings about additional negative emotions like uncertainty, shame, self-loathing, and guilt1. Managing one’s emotions during eating disorder treatment and recovery is crucial to success. It may not be easy, but with the right tools, it can be done.

What Is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation is a term that describes a person’s ability to manage and react effectively to emotional experiences. Many times throughout the day, people unconsciously use emotional regulation skills to handle challenging situations. By using the strategies and coping skills learned as children and developed as adults, people can navigate the different challenges and emotional triggers they face each day.

 Emotional dysregulation refers to the loss of control over one’s emotional responses and reactions. Those experiencing emotional dysregulation feel heightened emotions and unstable mood changes, often using unhealthy emotional regulation strategies2. Factors contributing to emotional dysregulation include poor emotional development, negative emotional environments, and negative emotional bonds and relationships.

 Emotional dysregulation is associated with many psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders. People suffering from eating disorders use disordered eating behaviors, like restricting, bingeing, purging, and over-exercising, to manage their emotions. Directing the focus onto the body helps one disconnect from painful emotions or become numb. Often, engaging in these behaviors helps people with eating disorders get through tough times when they know of no other way to cope1.

What Are Common Emotional Development Issues Associated with Eating Disorders?

Emotional development is often compromised in individuals suffering from eating disorders. They struggle with understanding and using emotions and have trouble expressing their emotions. This situation leads to intense mood changes, a lack of control over emotional reactions, and an inability to handle triggering situations.

 Poor emotional development results from the environment in which an individual grew up, as well as the experiences they encountered throughout life. If you were not taught healthy emotional regulation skills as a child, you fill in the gaps with unhealthy coping skills to manage negative feelings.

How Do Emotional Development and Dysregulation Affect the Severity of Eating Disorders?

The level of emotional development in eating disorders is closely related to the severity of the disorder. Individuals with limited emotional regulation skills are more likely to engage in eating disorder behaviors to cope with negative emotions. This habit negatively affects their social and emotional skills even further and prolongs the eating disorder.

 Difficulty processing and managing emotions and intense mood changes negatively impact one’s readiness to seek help and engage in eating disorder treatment. The longer an eating disorder goes untreated, the worse the outcomes and chances of recovery.

Emotions are meant to be felt. As individuals continue to cut themselves off from their emotions, they perpetuate their problems and worsen the severity of their eating disorder by reinforcing unhealthy coping strategies.1

What Are Some Strategies to Help Manage Emotions in Eating Disorder Recovery?

Getting help is vital to improving the management of emotions, and it’s not easy to learn on your own. Finding a healthcare professional, such as a licensed therapist, who provides treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is crucial. These therapies help individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and learn new emotional regulation strategies. 

Finding a therapist takes time, but the following are some techniques you can practice to help reduce the anxiety related to your eating disorder or worries about treatment and recovery:

  • Practice deep breathing
  • Try meditation and gentle yoga
  • Write in a journal
  • Get quality sleep
  • Spend time outdoors in nature
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Give and receive hugs
  • Talk with a trusted friend3

Eating disorder treatment should consider an individual’s emotional development. At Toledo Center, our professional team can provide individualized treatments and therapies to help you recover from your eating disorder. Call 419-885-8800 or fill out the contact form to determine which eating disorder programs at Toledo Center are right for you.


  1. Henderson, Z. B., Fox, R. E., Trayner, P., & Wittkowski, A. (2019). Emotional development in eating disorders: A qualitative metasynthesis. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 26(4), 440-457.
  2. Eating Disorder Hope. (2023, September 19). Eating disorders and emotions: How emotion regulation impacts eating behaviors.
  3. Zabiegalski, R. (2022, January 18). 15 things you can do to reduce anxiety. Health Digest.

Subscribe to Our Monthly Newsletter

Get exclusive resources, find inspiration, and grow alongside us. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter now!