Everyone can recover! Learn to arm yourself with an arsenal of ways to heal, including self-help techniques and guidance from professionals and peers.
Having an eating disorder is a scary thing. A person with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS usually feels alone and doesn't know where to turn to begin to get help. Millions of people suffer from an eating disorder, and millions recover. Recovery begins with putting together a plan of action. There are a lot of options for helping yourself, as well as enlisting help from others, including family and friends, professionals, and resources.
Reach Out for Help
The first thing someone with an eating disorder must do is come to terms with the fact that they are sick, and they need help. A sufferer cannot recover in a vacuum (all alone). It can be an intimidating thought to picture yourself telling someone that you have an eating disorder, but owning the truth of your situation is the first step. You can try telling a trusted family member, friend, teacher, school counselor, or romantic partner. Let them know you need to talk, you are looking for support, and anything specific you might want, such as assistance in finding a therapist. Show them the Helping a Loved One page here to give them insight and ideas on how to support you. You can also talk to your doctor, who will hold your information in confidence. Unless you are a minor and law dictates that your parent(s) must be told, a physician has to respect doctor/patient confidentiality.
The next step is to look for the professional help and support you need to get you started in recovery. The most common way to begin recovery from an eating disorder is to find a therapist. If you have never been in therapy before, it can be an intimidating idea. The reality is that milions of people seek out therapy for a lot of different reasons, ranging from fine-tuning a few life skills all the way to needing constant monitoring due to mental health issues. Eating disorders are something many therapists are qualified to treat; some of them even work exclusively with an eating disorder population. You can ask your doctor, a school counselor, or your insurance company for a reference to a therapist, or you can do your own search online.
A physician can be very helpful in monitoring where you are in terms of physical health while you work on recovery, as well as help spot potential trouble in the future. Ask if your current doctor or any other doctor you are considering seeing is experienced in treating patients with eating disorders.
If you are currently in medical crisis or require more intensive care than outpatient assistance can offer, you can look into options for inpatient and residential care, or hospitalization (typically done to stabilize a patient in medical crisis). Inpatient or residential care programs offer a place to stay away from home, usually with multiple types of therapeutic, medical and nutritional treatment. Stays can vary from a week to several months. Some of these facilities offer step-down programs, such as temporary off-campus living or follow-up outpatient treatment. Contact the programs for information about cost, insurance, loans, possible scholarships (some offer a few of these), and requirements for admittance.
A nutritionist or dietician can be very helpful when it comes to learning how to eat for where you are now with an eating disorder, as well as adjusting your food intake for changes along the way. Many people with eating disorders believe they already know all there is to know about food, and can recite calorie and fat contents like they are song lyrics. Yet knowing certain things about food - things that are often compromised due to the fog of the disorder - and making consistent, healthy nutritional choices are two different things. A nutritionist or dietician can not only give meal plans and insight for a person with any eating disorder, regardless of their weight, many of them can offer emotional support, ideas on how to cope with things like fear foods, and often are willing to work in tandem with a therapist or other professional who is also treating you.
There are several options for peer support, such as support groups that are offered by many clinics, hospitals, inpatient/residential facilities, community groups, and eating disorder organizations. Check all available resources for options. You can also register for our bulletin boards, which are moderated by recovered people with a lot of experience working for online eating disorder support groups. The forums provide a safe place to talk openly, yet anonymously, about your feelings, fears, issues, and questions. You will receive support, encouragement, and challenges, and can give your own input and support to other members, all in a community setting of people who know exactly what you are going through.
Book & Workbooks
Another thing you can use to enhance your recovery from an eating disorder is helpful books. There are many books written for both sufferers and their loved ones. Some are more general in their focus, while many are specific to a certain eating disorder, such as just about bulimia, binge eating disorder, anorexia or EDNOS. Some books focus on a co-existing issue, such as another mental health diagnosis, and many combine the subjects of an eating disorder with things like body image, art and creativity, gender, specific types of therapy, or spirituality. There are also a lot of workbooks available that allow you to explore your feelings, issues and triggers, often charting your level of fear and emotions so that you can begin to see a correlation between a feeling or action and the subsequent desire to use behaviors. Workbooks allow a person to work at their own pace, and can even be used in conjunction with therapy.
Keeping a journal can be a great way to learn to recognize and anticipate your patterns and emotions, plan for how to cope with upcoming events, and chart your progress as you move forward in recovery. Remember that your journal is just that - yours. It's important to feel free to write whatever you want, and not worry that a thought or a feeling is 'dumb' or 'wrong'. Every one of us carries around thoughts and feelings that we aren't always comfortable sharing, and a journal is great for giving you a place to let it out. You can also take your journal or a copied page from it to a therapy appointment, and share it with your therapist in order to get insight about whatever subject you've been writing about.
Self-esteem & Body Image
Low self-esteem is an issue for virtually everyone with an eating disorder. It's important to learn to work on improving your self-esteem. Using affirmations can be very helpful. They can be frustrating at first, as most people feel a little silly trying them, but if you make it a priority to stick with them for a long time, they can really help change your mindset. Improving body image is also important. The amount of energy the typical eating disorder sufferer expends hating their body and obsessing over it could light up a large city. Learning to begin thinking kindly about your body and the physical space you take up is key to unburdening yourself. The amount of progress you can make when you are no longer renting a lot of head space to hating yourself and your body is enormous.
One of the hard parts of recovery, at least in the beginning, is holding yourself accountable. If you've ever tried to change a habit, such as quit smoking, or cut back on watching television, you know how hard it can be initially. You also know that the longer you do something new, the more natural it feels. The more time you bank in recovery, the more comfortable it feels, but in order to get that time banked you will have to force yourself to do things that are not always fun, easy or in your comfort zone.
Everyone stumbles in recovery; that's the nature of the beast. A few steps forward followed by a step back is to be expected. No one ever started recovery, made no mistakes or missteps, and recovered without incident. We're all human, and we deserve to be gentle with ourselves. Just as importantly, recovery requires responsibility. Too often the reaction to something that is a trigger for someone is, "I had to binge eat" or "The way she talked to me made me purge" or "I'll show them! I'm not eating today." These reactions come from places like anger and fear, and they don't do anything but punish the sufferer and keep them rooted in another day of being sick. Create a checklist of questions to ask yourself when the urge to use a behavior happens, or if you just used one and are feeling that you had no choice, or if you are feeling stuck in recovery. Ask things like:
Will this help the problem, or just complicate it or distract me from what's really going on?
Am I taking advantage of the things I already have in place, like a therapist, nutritionist, support group or loved ones?
Am I being honest with everyone on my treatment team and those close to me about where I am and how I'm doing?
Am I being honest with myself about where I am, what I'm stuck on, and what I know I need to do but am afraid of trying?
Do I have good, healthy boundaries with the people in my life or is there work to be done there?
Do I respect the boundaries other people have set up in their lives?
Am I surrounding myself with people who are kind to me and want me to recover?
Am I being too hard on myself and it's ok to take a step back and rest for a bit?
Am I not pushing myself hard enough and need to admit that?
Is there something I suspect I may need to try, that perhaps others have suggested I try, that I have resisted, and now is the time to give it a shot?
Am I willing to forgive myself for any missteps taken today, and resolve to get up and fight for my recovery again tomorrow?