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"Traffic Light Model."

8 August 2020

How Do I Know How I am Doing in My Eating Disorder Recovery? The Traffic Light; an Eating Disorder Recovery Tool.

I have been perplexed at how little there is out there in terms of useful ED recovery content or support. Especially in South Africa. I honestly thing the reason for this is because it’s SO dam hard to recover, and often takes years, even decades, to get your body, mind and spirit to a place of consistent peace.

It is this reason I’d like to share a bit about the process of recovery from eating disorders, just so that those who are facing this journey can get a little bit of insight and hope. This is definitely NOT the last post I will be sharing on this topic, because there is no way I could possibly fit all the information or experience I have into one condensed article like this. I am therefore going to use this blog platform to focus on the process of recovery and some tools that you could use along your journey, as this seems to be something people always ask me. “What can I do for my recovery?”

Firstly, let me say this. KEEP GOING. No matter how hard it seems in this moment, I PROMISE you, with each tiny step, you come to realise yourself more and more, and your sense of peace, belonging, effortless ease and serenity grows.

A tool I have used as a gauge for ED recovery is the concept of a robot (South African term for ‘traffic light’).

Red, Yellow, Green.

My recovery is always in one of these three states. If you’re not sure where you’re at, one of these paragraphs might relate most to your current state.


Relationships: My personal relationships are balanced. I am not too dependant on anyone, nor do I isolate. I get vulnerable, I help others. I respond to people rather than react. I am calm and do not project my thoughts into the minds of others.

Me: I am an observer of myself, my responses, my emotions, my relationships. I meditate and make time to nurture my mental, physical and spiritual self. I connect with God / Higher Power. I do not judge where I’m at. I am present.

Food: I am eating intuitively, without fear and without shame. Meals are regular and balanced. I do not have to follow any plan, schedule, weight system, food types or places that I eat. I do not compare my food portions or types to those around me. I do not freak out when my meal isn’t what I had planned. I don’t count calories.

Exercise: I exercise the way my body feels like it, feeling freedom when going for a run or doing yoga or sitting on the couch and relaxing. I am not rigid.

My Body: I don’t have any strange body thoughts or feelings I am comfortable in my clothes and don’t look at my reflection much. I feel relaxed, energized, strong and capable.

What I need to do in this space: Keep maintaining recovery by helping others, by keeping balanced and by connecting spiritually as well as getting basic needs met. Take it day by day, one step at a time, and practise gratitude for where I’m at, how far I’ve come and all the growth that lays ahead of me.


Relationships: I have begun feeling scared. I am less inclined to speak openly and honestly with others and I keep my fears locked inside my head. I keep my shit together, and no one would be able to tell how I am really doing internally.

Me: I don’t prioritize meeting my basic needs, such as sleep, drinking water, getting creative, keeping active. I have a strange, unexplainable internal pressure I place on myself, and anything outside of my perceived “perfect day” throws me into a place of dis-ease and anxiety. I try to do everything at once, over commit myself to tasks and events. I am not helping anyone else. I am not present.

Food: I have begun counting calories, or I have gone out of balance. Not knowing how to connect with my hunger levels. I am engaging in emotional eating or fear-based restriction, binging or purging every now and then. I feel like controlling my food, body or exercise might help to make me feel more secure with what’s going on around me.

Exercise: I have started feeling fearful if I do not complete the exercise I had planned for the day. I base my day around my ability to exercise and freak out if I can’t do it as planned.

My Body: I am uncomfortable in my own body and start to become hyper aware of little changes, such as my thighs feeling slightly “flabbier” or my skin looking more pale than usual. I get a sense of pleasure on days that I feel “thinner”.

What I should do here: Get open and honest with someone who can support me (therapist, close friend, sponsor etc.). Get back to basics – anything that isn’t absolutely necessary, I need to let go of (for the time being), so that I can recollect, reconnect and realign. I need to release the internal pressure. I need to realise that where I am at is NORMAL and that I don’t have to fear feeling a little bit out of balance.


Relationships: I am dishonest with loved ones and / or my professional support system. I react to situations impulsively or dramatically. I take everything personally and feel victimized. I base my worth on what others say or think of me. I do things others want me to, rather than being true to myself.

Me: I am in a negative spiral and am feeling powerless to do anything about it. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know how to stop it. I am not doing anything to help others. I am not making time for rest, stillness, meditation or reflection. My relationship with God / Higher Power has become completely neglected.

Food: I am consciously restricting food, binging and/ or purging through vomiting, laxatives or excessive exercise (or justifying eating “normally” by exercising “off” daily consumed calories. My physical state and the food I eat has now become the focal point of my daily actions. I am unable to tend to important elements of my life such as maintaining healthy relationships, completing job tasks, sleeping, eating, journaling or helping others.

Exercise: I am over exercising in correlation with a restrictive diet or binging or purging, or I have stopped exercising completely and the idea of moving my body at all is daunting.

My Body: I can’t stand my physical body and am obsessed with controlling it. Nothing ever seems good enough. No matter how much I weigh, I am deeply unhappy and dissatisfied. I can’t be present, the simple idea of this terrifies me.

What I should do in this situation: Remember that my recovery is my choice. I need to make the decision to start getting better again and stick to that NO matter what. I need to stop overthinking, and just breathe. I need to remind myself that recovery IS possible, and that it doesn’t have to get worse before it can get better. I am worthy of giving myself a fighting chance. I need to remember that this disease is complex and diverse on a mental, spiritual, physical and emotional level, and therefore I NEED to attend to ALL four of these pillars in order to regain sanity.

I need to remember that when I am binging, purging or starving, my mental cognition, my energy levels and my psychological state are NOT in balance. I need to let go of judgement, forgive myself for being in this space, and reach out to people who can help me get out of this space. It is NOT shameful to ask for help. You are NOT a bad person for being in this space. You did NOT ask for this insanity. You CAN recover if you start from where you’re at and keep going, no matter what.

There are numerous support platforms out there – which I will be sharing more about in one of my next blog posts.

Remember that traffic lights change. It may seem like the red light is staying on forever, but trust that the green light will come. And yes, the yellow might come again, and so might the red. But then the green will come again. Soon enough, the green light will be the light that dominates your daily life, and the thought of yellow and red will be so far from your mind that you may find you even forget they ever existed.

If you find you, or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder and may need help, please feel free to contact me to book a session.

With love and light, Kirsten.

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