The Secret to Breaking Free from the Diet Mentality (Occupational Therapy’s Role in Eating Disorder Recovery)

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

I Fcdqbbc X3 1 1 | The Secret To Breaking Free From The Diet Mentality (Occupational Therapy'S Role In Eating Disorder Recovery)


FUN and recovery?! Is there such a thing? You betcha…read on to learn about the best kept secret for your support system and team…

Yesterday we talked about this:

Eating disorder recovery (and “getting over disordered eating”) is no easy task.

It takes A LOT of hard work. Day in-day out grind effort, like:

  • Following a meal plan
  • Trying to change your binging or restricting habits
  • Replacing treadmill extravaganzas and mandated Stairmaster routines with more yoga and mindful movement
  • Calming your mind to try to meditate
  • Speaking positive self-affirmations (even though they are SO gosh darned hard to believe!)
  • Throwing in the fashion and fitness magazines for daily devotionals and motivational
  • Pouring energy and mental brain power into your efforts every day
  • Doing “hard things”

Often times, the support (of others) and a “team” can make all the difference.

Traditionally, a therapist or counselor, nutritionist, and often times, a doctor, make up the “recovery team.”

In addition, sometimes people like recovery “coaches”, life coaches, recreation therapists, movement therapists, personal trainers, massage therapists, mentors and spiritual advisors can be beneficial as well.

A teammate you may not have considered though?

An occupational therapist.

“What?! But I am not looking for a job or someone to help me with my work!” you say.

No. No. No.

That’s NOT what occupational therapy is all about.

Instead, occupational therapy is ALL about helping people with the job of living life (to the fullest).



Read on to find out more about WHAT exactly occupational therapy is (Hint: It’s the BEST kept secret for your recovery team) and how you can benefit from a support person to help you bring new life and hope to your recovery journey.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that focuses on equipping people to participate in “meaningful and purposeful activities of daily living”, every day ‘occupations’.

An individual’s personal “occupation” is any activity that occupies his or her time.

Often times, when a person struggles with an eating disorder (or any other addiction or life trial for that matter), their prior healthy roles and occupations fade, as their primary occupation becomes the eating disorder (and the many rituals and behaviors required to maintain it).

Previous occupations gradually become less important (such as socializing with friends, participating in favorite leisure activities, volunteering, sharing time with family, engaging in work or school, and self-care), as the eating disorder’s occupations become more important (i.e. restriction, binging, purging, obsessing about food, over-exercise, time spent researching diet advice, unhealthy social media usage, isolation, poor self care).

Eventually this leads to a severe lack of balance, and the primary focus of one’s day becomes the eating disorder.


As an Occupational Therapist (OT), I help individuals with eating disorders to reestablish healthy occupations and incorporate life balance into their lives.

This is accomplished through a unique approach that combines talk therapy with do therapynot just sitting around on a coach, talking about your problems or what you want to do, or wish was different, but partnering with you to bring a “hands on” approach to recovery.

Occupational therapy dates back to the early 1900s, when it first got its start in mental health. Originally, the profession played a role as part of the “moral treatment movement” in state institutions for mental illness that were widespread in the US. Occupational therapists helped patients to recover and heal from psychiatric conditions through purposeful activities and guidance in establishing healthy self-care an life routines.

Today, occupational therapists work in a variety of settings (from rehabilitation hospitals, to pediatric clinics, skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric units, acute-care hospitals, outpatient orthopedic clinics, group therapy sessions, non-profit organizations, home-health and private, 1:1 therapy).

How exactly can an Occupational Therapist help in eating disorder recovery?

Some of the roles an Occupational Therapist can fulfill, as part of eating disorder treatment and the recovery process, include helping clients:

  • Convert verbal insights (learned in psychotherapy and nutrition therapy), into new healthy behaviors, establishing and practicing new habits during sessions (Such as: A cooking session to prepare a new food you’ve said you wanted to try; A or meal support session to encourage balanced meals or ease tension in ordering at a restaurant; Grocery shopping for nourishing foods to support your meal plan; Interactive mock practice with “using your voice” and speaking up for yourself, and more; Smashing the scale; Ridding of “sick” clothes; Creating an inspirational collage; Art therapy; etc.)
  • Explore and discover a variety of activities, hobbies and interests they enjoy—some old and some new (The world is your oyster, from photography and acro-yoga, to crocheting, writing, and more!)
  • Incorporate balance, purpose and time management into their daily lives (Such as: creating a schedule, guidance in using a planner, keeping clients accountable to making space for ‘you time’)
  • Recover from perfectionism, people-pleasing and the inner critic. Self-development and confidence-building activities, coupled with supportive coaching and counseling, encourages clients to overcome rigidity and insecurities.
  • Smoothly transition back to the ‘real world’ after in-patient treatment, hospitalization or a higher level of care (Specific support for taking the insights you learned in treatment back to your life at home)
  • Put FUN into the recovery process through the active engagement in life. (Life is NOT a spectator sport. Occupational Therapy challenges clients to live it).
  • Create their own personal goals for their customized treatment plan (not a one-size-fits-all treatment approach)
  • Learn and practice healthy living activities and self-care
  • Create strategies for positively managing stress, anxiety and other unfavorable feelings or situations


Sounds cool. But what kind of things will a person do in a session with an occupational therapist?


Occupational Therapy individual and group therapy sessions often integrate real-life activities as part of therapy. While some sessions may involve simply talking and coaching you through your recovery process, other sessions will include a hands-on activity, incorporating your specific goals and working through any struggles holding you back on your journey to health and freedom.

Some purposeful activities may include:

  • Goal setting
  • Vision-casting and creating
  • Passion planning
  • Leisure and hobby exploration
  • Self-care practice and education
  • Community/social opportunities
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Mindful and intuitive eating education
  • Planning and preparing snacks/meals
  • Meal pacing
  • Grocery shopping
  • Cooking
  • Clothes shopping
  • Body image therapy
  • Learning to love the skin you’re in
  • Champion-mindset building and training (replacing negative thoughts with positive ones)
  • Educational and career preparation
  • Social/public speaking skills
  • Establishing and practicing boundaries (like learning to say “no”)
  • Confidence building
  • Planting and caring for plants and vegetables
  • Money management and budgeting
  • Time management skills & creating a schedule
  • Stress management
  • Coping skills for transitions and change
  • Devising effective problem solving strategies
  • Decision-making strategies
  • Motivational interviewing (helping YOU come to your answer inside you)
  • Exploring and engaging in “life” outside the eating disorder’s old routines
  • Exercise exploration, mindful movement
  • Fitness re-integration
  • Incorporation and referral to complimenting modalities (acupuncture, yoga, NIA, massage, etc.)


Occupational Therapy uses activities (such as these) to assist clients in defining a “new” healthy way of living life, empowering individuals to find freedom from old negative habits and create roles in their lives that are important to them.

Full recovery IS possible, and all individuals deserve to live meaningful, fulfilling lives—not just have a “managed recovery” or “get by.”

Occupational therapy supports all persons in this endeavor.

(You’ve got this!)

A little occupational therapy activity for you…

Pause for a moment in your day and answer these 3 questions:

  1. Think about ONE thing  you WANT in your life right now (i.e. a particular skill, more clients in your business, a certain goal, a career change, more meaningful relationships, a life partner, accomplishment of a daunting project or task, physical improvement, strength, body fat loss, etc.)
  2. WHY do you want this? (What will “getting this” do for you?)
  3. WHAT is holding you back currently and/or WHAT are some obstacles standing in your way?
  4. What is ONE STEP you can take today towards getting that ONE THING you want today?
  5. Just do it. Focus on the ONE ACTION STEP today. Tomorrow repeat.

Sound simple?

Always does.

Then what is the missing link in us thinking about our goals and actually achieving them?

(Answer: US! We often stand in our own way).

The beauty of working with an occupational therapist is that targeted sessions are completely devoted to you and supporting you in your endeavors, goals and continual improvement towards what it is YOU want.

Interested in seeing how occupational therapy could support you? Connect with me through my contact form here. 


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