Harm Reduction in Eating Disorders

Much of the information included in this resource page comes from the webinar, “Self-Care During the Storm: Eating Disorder Harm Reduction Practices” created and presented by Gloria Lucas of Nalgona Positivity Pride. Nalgona Positivity Pride is an incredible, grassroots organization that provides intersectional eating disorder resources and education for the purpose of expanding eating disorder treatment models and providing comprehensive support. Go to nalgonapositivitypride.com for more information and access to Gloria’s incredible resources.

Harm reduction is any policies, programs, and practices that may help reduce the negative health, social, and economic consequences of health behaviors (in this case, eating disorders). Harm Reduction understands that it is incredibly difficult and sometimes unrealistic to abstain from eating disorder behaviors completely or quickly. Any reduction in symptoms is recognized as growth. If you’re feeling stuck in your eating disorder, harm reduction can be a way to make forward progress. If you’re unable to access treatment, harm reduction can give you actionable item steps towards recovery.

Harm Reduction is nonjudgmental and person-centered support which begins with meeting people where they are and building up from there. These harm reduction practices can help reduce physical, mental and emotional harm, help with self-advocacy development, and provide hope!

Eating Disorder Harm Reduction Ideas and Recommendations: 


Delay engaging in eating disorder behaviors. 

  • Example: If urge to use eating disorder behavior arises, set a timer and practice sitting with the thoughts and feelings before engaging in ED behavior.

Say, “No” to the eating disorder. Try using the opposite action skill. 

  • Example: If your eating disorder tells you to not eat before a certain time, break the rule! Eat 5 minutes before the ED-approved time. 

Reduce the Frequency of ED behaviors. 

  • Example: If you engage in a behavior 3 times a day, try reducing it to 1 time a day. 

Reach out to people for support.

  • If you are unable to attend a local/live meeting, reach out online for support. 
    • The Joy Project has an online peer support community on Facebook!

If possible, practice eating regularly throughout the day

  • Eating food throughout the day can drastically help with curbing eating disorder urges that come due to lack of adequate nutrition. 
  • We recommend eating every 3 hours.

Purging can affect your body’s electrolytes. 

  •  If you can, eat potassium-rich foods (bananas, potatoes, broccoli, beans, etc.). 

Having pre-packaged or individualized snack foods can be useful if preparing or handling food is difficult. 

If grocery shopping is a challenge, there are resources available: 

  • Ask a friend, family member, healthcare provider for support.
  • Utilize curbside pick-up, shop online, use a grocery delivery service 
  • If you can afford it, meal delivery services are available everywhere and will send you easy-to-make or already made meals and snacks

Be honest with people in your life you trust.

  • Have people to hold you accountable during meal times/snack times
  • Zoom, Facetime, Google Meet and have a meal with someone! 
  • The Joy Project offers a free, weekly support group on Monday nights via Zoom. You can eat your dinner then! 
  • Nalgona Positivity Pride provides free online peer support on every last Wednesday of the month 

If you struggle to take in fluids, try getting them in other forms. 

  • Example: popsicles, watery fruits and vegetables, ice cubes

Incorporate Gatorade, Pedialyte, chocolate milk, ramen, pho in your day. 

  • People with eating disorders often struggle with adequate hydration. These liquids can also help to replenish electrolytes. 

Juices and smoothies are beneficial for dehydration and can be a helpful way to get nutrients into the body.

Dental/Oral Care:

Consuming water before vomiting can be protective and help with dental erosion.

Avoid teeth brushing after vomiting.

  • Instead, rinse mouth with water or fluoride solution 
  • Utilize baking soda to neutralize acid in the mouth and stomach

Brush teeth with fluoride toothpaste to protect and strengthen enamel. 

Floss to help gum health. 

Chewing mint gum can help with breath issues, may improve teeth enamel, and calm acid reflux.

Make regular dentist appointments. 

Stomach and Digestion Issues: 

Ginger is an incredibly useful agent for calming stomach issues and aiding in digestion.

  • You can have it whole, candied, take supplements, drink tea, etc. 

Drink Herbal Tea.

  • Mint and ginger are helpful for nausea and can relieve discomfort. 

Triphala supplements: 

  • are affordable and can be helpful to alleviate stomach issues and pain from cavities 

Utilize heating pads and hot compresses to reduce inflammation and discomfort.

Miralax can be helpful for constipation. 

Gas-Ex is helpful for stomach pain and bloating.

Ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory as well. 

Antacids are fairly cheap and extremely useful for acid issues. 

Hydration is also very helpful to aid digestion.  

Body Care: 

If you self induce vomiting with your hands, try these care tips: 

  • using Aquafor, shea butter, coconut oil, and/or intensive hydrating lotions will keep hands from cracking and can prevent scarring on the knuckles

If clothes no longer fit and/or are causing distress, reach out for support to donate/give them away.

  • The Garment Project is an organization that will take your measurements through an image process service and send you tagless clothing that fits your style and interests. Here’s a link to their site
  • Check out our blog article for more clothing tips!

Allow yourself to get rest and sleep. 

  • Melatonin supplements can help if sleeping is difficult. 
  • Eating a meal or snack before bed can help get to sleep faster. 
  • Sleep hygiene! Set up a night routine for yourself. You can try putting your phone away 30 minutes before bed, brushing your teeth each night before bed, drinking a cup of tea, etc. 

Do not exercise while injured to allow healing.

  • If ceasing exercise completely isn’t available, switch to low-impact activities (walking, biking, yoga, stretching)
Medical Settings: 

Be honest with your medical providers: 

  • Ask for ways to reduce harm 
  • Ask them to meet you where you’re at

Get your labs and vitals checked. 

If the fear of being weighed is keeping you from seeing a medical professional, reach out to your provider. 

  • Being weighed is often something you can opt out of! 

If being weighed is necessary, turn around when stepping on the scale so the number is at your back. 

  • Often, weight is also written down in your post-summary chart. Try and remind them that you do not want to see your weight. 

Know the boundaries you want your medical provider to respect. 

  • We recognize that medical providers who do not have eating disorder training can be invalidating and in some cases, harmful to people struggling with eating disorders. 
    • You have the right to tell them what is helpful and hurtful to you. 

You deserve support at every stage of your eating disorder. You are never “too sick” or “not sick enough” to deserve respect, access to resources, and external support. Any reduction in symptoms is considered progress towards recovery.