Practical steps to recovering from eating disorders
The exact treatment required for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia will depend on the individual concerned. It is therefore important that any treatment plan is coordinated in association with a health professional, or with someone with experience in developing a treatment plan.
Step 1: Ask for help
Taking the first step can sometimes be embarrassing and scary but getting help and support from a trusted family member, partner, friends, colleague or associate is often the most difficult part of the treatment process. It may be that you feel more comfortable approaching someone else with whom you have not intimate connection like an eating disorder specialist, counsellor or nutritionist. Taking this first steps should be a top priority if your health is being affected by an eating disorder.
Whoever you choose as a confidant, ensure you select a comfortable environment, ideally in a quiet place where you can discuss your situation away from other distractions and people that might not be conducive to you being able to open up and express your true feelings. At Addiction Friend, we feel that people who contact us by phone or email in the first instance are able to express themselves more freely – this is perhaps because of the ‘distance’ that is created from not diving straight into a one-on-one human interaction.
People who are close to you might be shocked to hear the true details of your condition when you explain your situation in detail. They may feel unsure what to say or do and might not respond initially in the way you expect. This is understandable as they might be confused and will be inexperienced in handling such a scenario. Remain patient and take time to educate them about your specific condition; explain your eating disorder and how you think they could help you during to journey to long-term recovery.
Step 2: Find professional help
Recovering from an eating disorder can be much easier with the help of an experienced, caring professional. It is of course better to use a counsellor or nutritionist who specialises in the treatment of eating disorders so take your time to find the right fit – someone who makes you feel safe, comfortable, and accepted.
To find specialists in the field of eating disorders you can try asking your primary care doctor or an organisation like Addiction Friend for a referral to a treatment programme. You can also check what services, if any, are available at local hospitals or medical centres, or search online for local services.
Step 3: Addressing health problems
Bulimia and anorexia can cause serious problem to your health – they can even be deadly! For this reason, it is important to get a full medical evaluation. Your physical health is a top priority and treatment programmes will require a certain standard of health before accepting you as a patient. This may include a blood test and/or assessment from a medical clinic. In more extreme cases, it may be necessary to immediately attend a hospital to monitor your physical condition and prevent you from continuing unhealthy behaviours.
Step 4: Planning for long-term treatment and recovery
Once you start to take control of your health problems, your therapist or doctor can work with you to develop a long-term plan to help to maintain recovery. This can involve help from a team of specialists that might include a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker and nutritionist. Working as a team, they can create an individualised treatment plan to follow in the future.
Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are not just about food – they’re about emotions like anger, vulnerability, fear, and self-loathing. Long-term recovery is about controlling these emotions and learning healthier ways of coping and dealing with the negative emotions that accompany disordered eating. If you can identify these emotions in treatment, you can find alternative strategies for overcoming the intense feelings of being overweight, unattractive, or whichever you experience as someone who suffers from an eating disorder.
The Do’s and Dont’s of coping with anorexia and bulimia
Let yourself be vulnerable around people close to you
Try to experience emotions to the full
Be accepting of your emotions and don’t focus on food
Allow people you trust to comfort you when you feel sad
Hide your feeling or pretend they don’t exist
Let people humiliate you or let you feel shame
Try to escape from uncomfortable feelings
Think about food when you experience a hurtful emotion
Adapted from: The Food and Feelings Workbook, by Karin R. Koenig, Gurze Books
Eating disorder self-help: Learn healthy eating habits
Educating yourself about healthy eating habits is an important step in the recovery process. Learning how to approach this will be a component of a treatment programme that should teach you to maintain a regular eating schedule.
Behaviours that accompany eating disorders, like skipping meals and fasting must be replaced with balanced and regular meals and snacks. This might seem daunting at first but healthy eating with a focus on foods that energise and strengthen your body will be the focus of a nutritionally balanced diet. Food is your body’s fuel source and you will eventually learn to listen to it when you feel hungry, and react sensibly by providing what it needs.
Eating disorder self-help: Self-image
Thinking too much about the ways you looks can lead to low self-esteem and a feeling of insecurity. It is however possible to learn how to see yourself in a balanced and positive way. When you obsess about physical appearance, you forget everything else that you are. Your talents, abilities and accomplishment also make you beautiful! If you ask anyone who knows you, they will tell you that appearance is not a significant reason as to why they like you. They like the whole package – and the same probably applies to you if you think about people you know. Is their appearance the only thing that matters?
Think of all the positive qualities you possess and write them down. You will be surprised how remarkable you are. Also think about the bad qualities that you don’t possess!
Constantly looking for flaws in your appearance and becoming distracted by what you regard as being “imperfections” will not help you find your true-self. All these steps get easier over time and with professional help and support, it really is possible to overcome an eating disorder and live a healthy and fulfilling life – just take the first step!