About 24 million people in the USA suffer from an eating disorder, mainly due to stress brought by the pandemic. Other common causes include peer pressure, negative stereotypes, and the media’s unrealistic depiction of the “ideal” body image. If left untreated, eating disorders can cause serious or life-threatening health problems.
The road to recovery from eating disorders begins with your admission that you have a problem. This can be tough as old habits are hard to break, but these behaviors can be unlearned. It’s not just giving up unhealthy behaviors; it’s also about rediscovering yourself and learning ways to cope with your emotional pain.
Once you’ve decided to make a change, here are essential factors you need to consider to recover fully:
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Reach out for Support
Opening up about the problem is one of the key steps on your road to recovery. It can feel embarrassing or scary, so make sure you choose a family member or a close friend who you trust and will be supportive without rejecting or judging you.
You may also feel more comfortable speaking with a doctor or therapist, so opt for a counseling service to let professionals create a plan to resolve your eating disorder and avoid causing life-threatening complications.
If you ever feel conflicted about speaking up or experience difficulty in letting go of the disorder, it’s not an immediate sign of failure. Always be honest with the people who support you from the start because they are going to stay with you until you fully recover. Tell them how you’re struggling so you can explore various treatment options and choose the one that makes you most comfortable.
Figure out Your Treatment Options
Your treatment team will help you develop a plan that will meet your needs. It includes setting treatment goals, monitoring any health and medical complications, and identifying readily available resources to help meet your goals. For example, psychological therapy can help you explore healthy ways to cope with problems, monitor your eating habits and moods, and normalize your eating patterns until you achieve a healthy weight.
Here are other available treatment options you can explore:
- Nutritional Counseling: Since eating disorders distort an individual’s perceptions of a healthy diet, a nutritional counselor will instill normal eating habits and help you develop an eating plan that will let you maintain a healthy weight.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This goal-oriented therapy works on changing unhealthy thought patterns that can lead to positive behavioral changes. It usually takes 10 to 20 sessions and may be done individually or with a group.
- Medications: Medications can help lessen obsessive thoughts about body image, food, or exercise. Anti-anxiety agents or antidepressants may also be used to treat some underlying mental conditions such as depression, which usually occur with eating disorders.
- Hospital Day Treatment Programs: Day treatment programs are generally held several days a week. They provide a high level of care through nutrition education and structured eating sessions.
- Residential Treatment: A residential treatment program is essential if you need long-term care or if you’ve been hospitalized several times with no improvements on your physical or mental health. You temporarily live at a treatment facility where you’ll receive 24-hour observation and support, as well as medical and psychiatric supervision.
Have a Healthier Relationship with Food
Developing an improved relationship with food is essential for your recovery. The goal is to find balance and control, especially with strict rules that usually fuel eating disorders. For example, if you completely forbid yourself from eating desserts, change it into a more flexible rule such as “Don’t eat desserts every day.” Remember that you won’t gain weight by enjoying an occasional cookie or cake.
Also, avoid diets. If you restrict food, you tend to become more obsessed with it. Focus on having nutritious meals instead and avoiding unhealthy foods. It also helps to stick to a regular eating schedule instead of skipping meals or starving yourself. Plan your meals and snacks ahead and try to eat at least every three hours.
When you have an eating disorder, you may not recognize your body’s fullness and hunger signals as you’ve learned to ignore them. The goal is to familiarize yourself with these internal cues again, so follow a proper eating schedule so you can eat based on your body’s needs.
Your eating disorder recovery doesn’t end once you’ve switched to healthier habits. It’s important to prevent relapse and maintain your progress by developing a solid support system, following your eating disorder treatment plan, and making time for positive activities. Once you keep yourself busy with rewarding activities like a fun hobby or a new skill, you’re less likely to focus on your weight and food.
To achieve successful treatment, you have to keep yourself encouraged and motivated, so make sure to have your loved ones actively involved in the process. This journey is meant to empower you and make you healthy again, so trust the professionals who help you, your family, friends, and yourself, as you are always in charge of doing what’s best for your body on your own terms.