Coping vs. Hobbies

For those in early to mid-recovery, I hope this post will be motivating for you to keep pursuing recovery, keep being in a body size that feels foreign, and keep eating challenging foods. That is, to keep doing the hard work of recovery. For those in mid-recovery to recovered, I hope this post will encourage you to try a hobby you’ve been curious about. If you don’t know where you’re at in recovery from your eating disorder, here are the ten phases of eating disorder recovery. (<–Would love to hear which phase you are in, in the comments section.)

I remember being in my disordered eating and never being able to relax enough to enjoy a hobby. I found it hard to find pleasure in much when I was in that place, as body dislike and body preoccupation were so invasive in my head. I remember when my sister would play the piano growing up I’d be annoyed with her and I could never quite figure out why it bothered me. Now I realize much of it was jealousy over how could someone be fully engrossed in something like playing music, since that is something the eating disorder made very difficult to do since much of the time I was stuck in my head. The hobbies and activities I engaged in at that time in my life had to be distracting (something that distracted me from the meh I was feeling). That was before I started pursuing recovery.

As I began recovery, the hobbies and activities I engaged in were needed to help me cope. To keep me afloat. Instead of choosing to go to an EDB, I choose to go to an activities (not food or exercise related) to help me cope with the discomfort. Then as I moved into fully recovered, I progressed to hobbies being able to add pleasure to my life, not having to do them solely to distract from or cope with a bad feeling. (Just want to highlight here that I totally still use activities to cope with life when life is hard and I’m not saying now everything is perfect and easy and I never have to cope with anything. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be living in reality.)

A motivation for recovery may be so you’re able to be more present. Finding a hobby you find pleasure in is going to be span from difficult to not-gonna-happen if you aren’t eating enough. If you aren’t eating enough (and eating what you are craving when you are craving it), you will remain distracted by a (healthy and protective) longing for food. So step one to finding a hobby is…consistent eating throughout the day of foods that bring fullness and satisfaction. Eating 3 meals and 3 snacks that align with what you are craving (you may need a non-diet dietitian to help you sort through this) is key. I think practicing going to something other than your eating disorder (aka coping) is healthy and needed, saying, “I’m going to go paint for 30 minutes while I have a snack because I have the urge to engage in an EDB right now and I’m going to focus on delaying the EDB so I can have space to decide what the wise decision for caring for myself is.” Giving yourself space to act out of your values, not your feelings.

If you constantly need a way to cope with life, there is likely a root pain/hurt/issue/trauma that needs to be processed with a therapist. We don’t want to be trading one coping mechanism for another our entire lives and not getting to the root of why coping is needed so often. This isn’t to say you’re doing something wrong if you’re constantly having to cope. Coping is good, because movement towards healing is good. Coping can help you get through really hard times and become more resilient. This is just to say if hobbies feel hard and impossible and like you’ll never be able to enjoy anything fully and be present, hold on! Keep moving through the steps of recovery.

If you are eating enough, over time your brain will start to lose interest in food (you will still be eating all foods regularly throughout the day…the food isn’t going to be taken away once you are recovered!), but it’s not as new and exciting anymore and you can interact with food in a way that doesn’t feel frenzied and stressful. Food becomes pleasant, peaceful, and at times, boring. This is called habituation and is your brain getting used to something. The point of habituation isn’t to burn out on foods so that you never want to eat a certain food again, it’s to be able to feel peaceful around food. Food is still pleasurable in this place, but sometimes food may feel boring. When you’re in this place of recovery, and looking for a hobby, I’d say don’t try to figure out what you’re passionate about, just try anything you’re curious about. For those in ED recovery, finding hobbies beyond food and exercise is important, since your identity in your ED is tied in an unhealthy way to those things.

Recent things I’ve been curious about, include:

Painting. This is the watercolor set I have and love how vibrant the colors are. (affiliate link)

Simply Piano. This app is so good. It’s a bit pricey at around $100, but it is great! I wanted to learn a couple popular songs on piano, mainly the ones I sing to the girls, Better Place and Sweet Baby James, and this app has been so helpful. I actually feel like I’m learning piano, rather than just memorizing a couple songs, which has been fun. It feels like video game meets piano lessons. I love it and look forward to it.

Last night I asked Andrew to make me a Mint Julep while I was playing and it made for a peaceful evening. I’m going to share Andrew’s dad’s Mint Julep recipe next week because it is so great.

Reading. Just finished the Jessica Simpson memior and now reading Lineage of Grace and (A)typical Woman. Also, I just ordered a Jen Wilkins bible study I’m looking forward to. And then I use Audible if it’s a book I’m not really excited to read, but I want to just get through it for the information (aka every parenting book ever hah and books for work).

Refinishing. I just started refinishing our master bedroom dresser. I really want something that is natural wood, but we’re delaying any big purchases right now so I figured let’s refinish something! The floors in our house are grey wood tile and I don’t like the grey dresser with them, so I’m excited for the natural wood to shine!

Slowly, but surely coming along. Planning on doing the entire thing as I get the time.

I’d love to know what phase of recovery you are in and what are some ways you cope currently or what are some hobbies/interests you’ve gained as or since recovering from your disordered eating?

For those who have recovered, did you notice a shift in your hobbies from needing them to cope and distract from EDBs to being able to participate in them to add pleasure to your life?


  1. This was a GREAT article, thank you! Really interesting to see the different phases of recovery. I’m currently about to enter treatment for an AN relapse, so I’m navigating between 1 & 4, depending on how much of my vision is clouded by eating disorder thoughts & denial. But I’m glad to realize that I think I reached phase 9 at some point last year after 8 months in hospital/day treatment!! It really pays off, so there’s hope I guess. Have a nice day x

  2. Touched by your honesty, Lu! This community is cheering you on! ❤️

  3. Really interesting to see the phases of recovery and see how far the Lord has brought me. Ten years ago I was in phase 1 and 2. Today I am mostly in stage 9 with stints in stage 8. I think Lu makes a good point in the above comment that it’s not always a linear journey. There can be detours back to previous stages but the overall arc of one’s life is in a direction that leads to more freedom.

    Something I have been loving for a hobby lately is doing paint along tutorials with I like what watercolor teaches me about not having to have everything be perfect and that perceived “flaws” in my work actually give it complexity and interest! The instructor teaches in a way that’s consistent with that as well.

    • Thank you for sharing the Let’s Make Art resource! I have been wanting to watercolor and try hand lettering, so this is perfect for me. :)

  4. I always look forward to your weekly post! I’ve just picked up hand lettering, and I’m hoping to start watercolors soon. I’ve been trying out SkillShare- I learned about it on another blog, but you can take classes in all kinds of areas. It’s free for a few months, so I’m enjoying fun doodling classes, lettering, etc.

  5. This post is encouraging to me, as I’m realizing that I’m further along in recovery than I thought I was. I think I’m around 7 or 8. I’m hoping that I don’t digress once life goes back to “normal” and the everyday pace quickens. I’ll try to focus on hobbies outside of food and exercise to help, though.

  6. Thanks for this post! I’d say I’m at an 8 on the recovery scale, thanks to this blog and discovering my love for triathlon. I started training for my first tri at the end of 2018 as a way to learn how to exercise for the joy of it (which I find in the competition, being outdoors, trying something new, getting stronger, etc.) and not for the sake of my appearance. I try to avoid engaging in this hobby when I’m feeling particularly insecure about my body because I don’t want exercise to become a coping method again, but overall I’ve found it to be a super helpful way to channel my energy away from my appearance and towards things that matter way more!

    Also, I’ve found that nutrition advice for athletes tends to be way more balanced and mentally/emotionally healthy than the nutrition advice the average RD throws at you via social media. I’ve encountered way less fad diet/caloric restriction/macro-tracking nonsense since tuning into sports nutrition podcasts, blogs, etc. It makes sense, since sports nutritionists are held more accountable to the scientific research than a lot of dieticians out there today.

  7. I think I’m maybe a phase 7 or 8. I know I think about food a lot less and eat things I enjoy when I want them, and most of the time movement is for enjoyment and liking how I feel while engaging in that movement, rather than trying to change my body size. However sometimes I feel like I can be easily triggered by what others around me are doing. For example, if a friend says she’s cutting out carbs or something or wants to tone up or lose weight, I think “I should be doing that too.” The thought is there, but the behavior doesn’t typically follow, so that’s progress for me anyway. Sometimes I am bothered by my weight and body size, and sometimes not.

  8. This was an excellent article, thank you. I never really thought about this, but it’s what I needed to read and I immediately thought about the hobbies that I see people engaging in during quarantine and it makes me sort of jealous because I haven’t come far enough yet to get into something outside of food, nutrition, and exercise. I really like to bake so do that occasionally, but it is still coming from a mindset of “how can I make this healthier?”. I will now be thinking more about other hobbies that can help me step even further away from food and nutrition, just something to get me out of the kitchen more.

  9. If I’m honest with myself I’m probably around stage 4. I know I have a problem I need to attend to and I can recognize that but I’m scared. I am ready and wanting to work towards healing though so I did begin the process of finding a treatment team. I know it’s going to be hard work but I’m looking forward to fighting for freedom little by little. 

  10. Kylie, I saw on your stories today that you linked a steam mop that looks really fun and useful. I couldn’t find the link though. Could you tell me the name of the one you recommend? 

  11. I think after four years of recovery, I’m at an 8/9. The hobby that really helped me was drawing––I’ve done a figure drawing class every summer since I started recovery and seeing different body shapes and sizes was actually very soothing. Also, I’ve recently gotten into gardening to help cope with the anxiety of sheltering in place. I get so much joy from going out on my balcony early in the morning with my coffee and my cat and seeing how my plants have flourished.

  12. 9-10 I’d say. Also which Jen Wilkin study? The Sermon on the amount one is 👌. I actually signed up for a virtual watercolor class happening this week. I haven’t painted since I was a kid and honestly for a long time it was t something I considered because just doing something for fun that I might not be good at didn’t even occur to me. So I’m excited!

  13. This totally speaks to me right now. I’m probably a 5-6 on the recovery scale and have a 9-month-old. I’ve been talking about starting my own baking blog/business for years and am just struggling to accomplish much besides day-to-day life. I know the reason for this is the eating disorder. I have zero brain space left to do even the things I am passionate about. When I’m eating my meals or snack and it feels like too much food, I try to remind myself that by doing this it will allow me to also have the energy to work on the exciting things in life. Especially now, during this crazy time, the ED voice is pretty loud and is so afraid that not only will I still not do the things I talk about wanting to do, but I will also be in a body that I can’t stand. It’s just all so exhausting!

  14. This is a wonderful post, Kylie!! I’m a member of Simi Botic’s Beautifully Imperfect group, & we just spoke about hobbies + coping on yesterday’s call. I’m going to share this with the group!

  15. I have immersed myself in intuitive eating for going on two years now, and I have noticed becoming Bored with reading about food etc. I still love finding recipes and cooking but have noticed that it doesn’t take up all of my headspace now. I have started reading other blogs and have taken up creative hobbies again. Also my daughter is 10 so a pleasant surprise has been reconnecting to play movement. With social distancing we have more time to play together and have taken up badminton roller skating and bike riding. It is so cool to remember how fun movement was as a kid. I never realized I had a problem with eating because I could never stay on a diet so I just didn’t but I had soooo many disordered eating thoughts. I am so angry at food companies for posting serving sizes on their meals. I grew up thinking there was something wrong with me because a lean cuisine meal by itself did not fill me up. So I definitely used over exercising to compensate and never realized that was problematic. It’s a weird culture we live in. It’s also a somewhat unsettling feeling to become bored with reading about food. Learning to notice and consider other hobbies has been a learning curve. 

  16. This was timely and I love your thoughts. I have been “in recovery” for more than years and I want so badly to be at phase 10. I can’t seem to get past 8 and I spend so much time thinking about it that it’s exhausting. My OCD brain spends so much energy on recovering. I’m 42 so sometimes I feel that blogs are centered more to younger people but I know that it applies to everyone. I’ve started gaining weight lately and I try so hard to be ok with it but it is triggering to buy new clothes/outgrow things. All that to say- thank you and fellow commenters! Keep being your awesome self.

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  18. I would say I’m in the eighth phase of eating disorder recovery and have been for a while. This year I have also read a lot more, got into cooking more, and I’m enjoying evening walks around my community. Thanks for the post, Kylie!

  19. I am a 9, but will very rarely revert to 8. Your blog has helped me sooooo much over the years! Thank you so much!

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