Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia are challenging to treat. It’s important to understand that recovery takes time and sustained effort. Also, know that it’s possible for anyone to develop an eating disorder—you are not alone in facing the recovery process ahead of you. Fortunately, it’s also possible for anyone with careful intervention.
This article will explain some of the noteworthy things about recovery, such as: when recovery from an eating disorder first begins, and what can be done to help prevent relapsing.
As soon as you recognize that you or a loved one are suffering from disordered eating, it’s vital to get support from a medical doctor or psychologist. Feeding and eating disorders are potentially life-threatening without the right support.
Readers in the US may wish to access crisis support (chat, call, or text) or find treatment providers by visiting the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website.
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The first step in the recovery journey is to acknowledge that you have an unbalanced or rigid relationship with food.
By admitting that you have a problem, you take the first step towards accessing help, healing, and cultivating self-esteem based on things other than your weight or physical appearance.
This can be extremely difficult at first, especially if you’ve been holding onto the belief that weight loss will lead to emotional fulfillment or success.
Part of recovery will be about learning to cope with difficult emotions, healing past trauma, and rediscovering who you are beyond your body image, weight, or eating habits.
At the start of healing from an eating disorder, you'll likely feel uncertain about your progress, and you may feel that parts of your treatment are not in your best interest. The initial management plan suggested by doctors may seem incredibly challenging, but don’t lose hope.
Whenever possible, it’s helpful to confide in trusted friends and family, and make them allies in your recovery plan. An article by psychiatrist Jane Morris on the topic of anorexia nervosa, states “Family work is the only well-researched intervention that has a beneficial impact.”¹ Note that this statement does not mean that other effective interventions don’t exist, but rather, they should undergo more rigorous clinical research.
Everyone has a unique health profile and recovery process, but here’s what a typical recovery from disordered eating might look like:
This is the stage in which you believe you don't have a problem. However, your close friends and family members may notice symptoms like the purge/binge cycle, restrictive eating, and/or preoccupation with your appearance, shape, or weight.
At this stage, you may deny that you need help and will not be willing to discuss this topic.
When you reach the contemplation stage, you'll realize that you have a problem and become willing to get help. You may be afraid to change your habits, but you won’t have to do it all on your own. Instead, start by talking with your family doctor or contacting a helpline.
Once you've accepted that you’re struggling with an eating disorder, you'll move to the preparation stage. Though you'll be willing to change, there will still be much to learn about your recovery options.
This is where your treatment team will come in. The right care team will help you develop coping skills, including specific ways of dealing with your eating disorder-related thoughts and emotions.
Your recovery team might include a physician, nutritionist, therapist, school counselor, friends, family members, and possibly a peer support group. During this preparation stage, it’s important to select people who feel especially safe and trustworthy to you.
You’ll become ready to take action and deal directly with your eating disorder in this stage. You may be feeling more open to new behaviors and ideas, and be ready to modify your mindset towards food.
During this stage, it’s imperative to follow all the recommendations from your healthcare professionals, and reduce or remove potential triggers from your environment as best you can.
Depending on your proposed care plan, taking action might involve attending a solo counseling session, group therapy, or family therapy. In addition, you may need the support of a nutritionist.
For some individuals recovering from an eating disorder, in-patient care may be the best option (in which you’ll have 24/7 support until your health becomes stable enough for you to continue your recovery at home).
The maintenance stage of your recovery begins approximately six months into sustaining the self-care habits established during the Action stage.²
It’s crucial to continue practicing the new behaviors and coping skills you’ve learned and stay active in your recovery process.
Discuss relapse prevention with your doctor, and remain open to asking for help if you feel like you are beginning to struggle.
Recovery from an eating disorder requires outside help.
In addition to getting professional medical support, sustain your long-term term recovery by:
Avoiding the urge to go it alone
Determination can help keep you dedicated on the road to recovery, but anyone can relapse. Therefore, specialized medical help and monitoring are essential—don’t try to overcome an eating disorder on your own.
Limiting or skipping social media
Some misleading sites and influencers actively promote disordered eating. So, it may be wise to pass up scrolling social feeds to avoid these types of triggers.
You may not always feel like you’re making huge progress in your recovery, but even tiny incremental changes are important and worth celebrating.
Strengthening your support network
Consider taking part in a peer support group so you can see how others have recovered from an eating disorder and talk with people who understand first-hand what you’ve been through.
Working on self-acceptance
Try to avoid comparing yourself to others and make a mental catalog of all your positive (non-physical) traits. For example, are you an excellent listener? Kind? Generous? Use these qualities and try to use them in place of negative self-talk.
If you have an eating disorder, it’s essential to accept that you have a problem so you can access the right help. First, connect with a professional and confide in trustworthy family and friends. From there, it’s important to follow the treatment program laid out by a qualified eating disorder expert. Having a written plan, including a relapse prevention plan can be especially helpful.
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