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Treatment For Eating Disorders: Notes From A Survivor & Mental Help Therapist

While it may not be easy to stop your eating disorder (ED), it can be done (and may even be enjoyable!). Before I get into the five questions to ask yourself that can help you get rid of your eating disorder, I am going to get you excited and inspired to become eating disorder free.

But before I even do that, a little bit about my recovery: My anorexia arrived when I was 14 years-old and stuck with me for about a year and a half. I then, secretly, became bulimic for the next 8.5 years. Without getting into too much of the horrifying details, I can tell you that it was a terrible disease that affected all parts of my life, and thankfully, I was finally able to overcome it at the age of 24. Now at age 45 and as a mother of three girls ages 10, 13, and 16, I have a new understanding of my mental illness at that age and why I was particularly vulnerable. I know now that it is possible to live a happy, healthy life without an ED, and that the steps to get there can be positive and full!

As August McLaughlin discusses in “The Silver Lining: 5 Happy Truths About Eating Disorder Recovery,” there are positive aspects in the road to recovery. Recovery leaves people “feeling lovelier, inside and out.” Individuals with eating disorders have distorted views on themselves both physically and mentally. They want to lose weight to fix their physical appearance and they take these drastic measures to make them feel better internally. Treatment, however, teaches people how to appreciate who they are and to love each and every part of themselves.

Treatment leads to greater energy. Eating disorders take an extreme amount of physical and emotional energy to sustain. By letting go of an eating disorder, people will gain back their energy to do things they love and to think about something other than the eating disorder.

Treatment brings enjoyment back to food. Food is no longer as scary as it once may have seemed. By mending one’s relationship with food, a person can enjoy their favorite foods without feeling the extreme guilt before, during, and after.

Treatment leads to freedom. Eating disorders have such control over people’s lives who are living with them. By not letting the eating disorder dictate every life decision, individuals are surprised to see how much they can freely live their life by their own rules.

Treatment comes with support. Depending on the type of treatment that one goes through, they will likely be surrounded by other people in treatment. By being surrounded by like-minded individuals, one can see that they are not alone and that there are people out there going through the same thing who are also looking to get help.

Treatment leads to gratitude. Living with an eating disorder can be extremely challenging and detrimental. People in recovery living without an eating disorder can be thankful for their bodies and their minds without the eating disorder. It may be scary to think about what one’s life would be like giving up this eating disorder that has had so much control, but there is nothing to lose by giving up an eating disorder, just a beautiful life to gain.

Many people believe that when they quit something they are addicted to, they will be sacrificing something. In the case of eating disorders, a client may feel that they are missing out on something by giving up their eating disorder. To help with recovery, we must show how positive it can be to live a life without an eating disorder. There should be “nothing to fear, nothing to ‘give up’ and absolutely everything to gain.”

In order to stop ED, ask yourself the questions below. While I cannot answer these questions for you, I can answer for myself with the hopes that it will help inspire you to search for answers deep within yourself. I would even encourage you to get a piece of paper and write down your answers. Take some time with this, dig deep, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with yourself. Tell the truth, and give yourself some kind love for taking this first step.

Question #1: What does the ED really do for me?

To ask this question in a slightly different way, you can also ask yourself, “What function/purpose does my eating disorder serve in my life?”

My anorexia helped me get attention from people, especially from family members and friends. I was 12 when I was sent to live with a foster family and by 13, my anorexia helped me stay in control over a life that felt miserable and very much not in control. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t aware of that, but I am now.

I was a very developed 13 year-old. Before I became anorexic, I was a bra size D and had no clue which bra, if any, I was supposed to wear. No one ever spoke with me about bras or anything related to sexuality. I started developing and, after the first sign of my period -- which, by the way, I thought I had gotten hurt because I had no clue what had happened to me -- the fears, anxieties, and uncertainty nudged me to become best friends with anorexia and to keep me as the sad little girl I was. Becoming a grown woman was scary and I wasn’t ready to enter that stage. My ED also helped me to stay isolated so I could focus on my education, which I knew would help save me from a life of poverty.

As I matured and gained weight, I was sexually assaulted by several people who took advantage of the fact that I was insecure, neglected, and vulnerable. The various other traumatic incidents that happened to most of the eating disorder people I knew as well helped perpetuate my eating disorder. This kept me in a bubble because I was under the illusion that life with an eating disorder provided people with a feeling of safety and security. My eating disorder started out of instability with the hope that the eating disorder would create stability. My eating disorder held great control over my life, which I grew accustomed to over time. Letting go of my eating disorder was scary and I was under the (false) impression that it gave me a sense of control and comfort.

Question #2: Do I really enjoy it?

Once again, ask yourself this question and try to be as objective as you can. How much joy does your eating disorder bring to your life? Do you enjoy restricting? Binging and purging? When I reflect back and ask my old anorexic or bulimic self this question, the answer is that I did enjoy being skinny or maintaining weight when I binged and purged. Of course, I didn’t know back then that when I purged, I only purged about 50% of what I binged on. I wonder if knowing that would have helped me stop binging and purging. I am not sure about the answer, but regardless, I am sure that I “enjoyed” looking the way I did, even though clearly I was not happy.

Some believe that eating disorders calm and soothe people. In addition to striving for thinness, individuals may use unhealthy behaviors such as dieting, starving, binging, and purging to cope with unpleasant and overwhelming emotions and stressful situations. While these behaviors may relieve anxiety and stress over a short time, in the long-term, they actually increase anxiety and stress in addition to creating other complications.

Question #3: Do I really need to go through life playing with my health just to maintain my eating disorder?

Of course, at the time the answer would have been, “Of course, yes!” But if you ask yourself that question and truly think about the answer and the kind of life that you wish for yourself, you might come up with a (slightly) different answer.

I remember my first visit to my doctor when I weighed 78 pounds. I had stopped getting my period and my doctor told me if I kept up my anorexia, I would never be able to have children. His words stayed with me and helped me kick my anorexia (by welcoming bulimia into my life). If you are wondering about the health risks that are associated with eating disorders, I can assure you that they are real.

There are many health risks related to eating disorders. Each has its own health consequences due to the nature of the disorders. As anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation, the body is forced to live without the essential nutrients it needs for normal functioning. Anorexia can lead to abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart failure, reduction of bone density, muscle loss and weakness, severe dehydration which can result in kidney failure, fainting fatigue, overall weakness, and dry hair and skin (hair loss is common). It is also possible that there is a growth of a downy layer of hair all over the body to keep the body warm.

With the binge-and-purge cycle of bulimia, the entire digestive system becomes affected, which leads to electrolyte and chemical imbalances of the body. These electrolyte imbalances can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. This is because electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium, and chloride from the body each time the individual purges. Gastric rupture can occur during binging. Frequent vomiting can lead to inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus as well as tooth decay and staining from stomach acids. Abuse of laxatives can lead to chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation.

The consequences of binge-eating disorder are similar to the health risks associated with clinical obesity. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease due to elevated triglyceride levels, type II diabetes mellitus, and gallbladder disease.

Two other ways to ask this question are below:

  1. What am I getting out of maintaining this eating disorder?

  2. Would my life be incomplete without it?

Question #4: How can I make my life more complete so I can get rid of my eating disorder?

Can you imagine a life where you are eating disorder free? How is your life different? What are you doing? How do you feel doing what you really want to do?

Visualize this. Really think about it. Write it down. Maybe sleep on it. It doesn’t have to be only positive answers -- jot down anything that comes to mind.

Question #5: How can I use the resources and people around me to help?

I am sure that for many of you this might not even be a possibility or an option. Asking for help? That would mean that you have to let go of what is helping you “maintain your weight” and be “happy,” right? But let’s think about it more in depth and start by stating that there ARE many resources and people who CAN and WANT to help you overcome your eating disorder.

There are probably people around you who want to support you whether you realize it or not. These people can be friends and family members who may or may not know about your disorder already who can be a good support system on your journey to recovery.

Another resource is an eating disorder specialist and/or mental help therapist. Someone who has trained in this field will be supportive, non-judgmental, experienced, kind, and knowledgeable. They can give you specific tools unique to you to help you towards a happier and healthier life! You may be asking yourself “Can I even find a good eating disorder or mental therapist near me?” The answer is most definitely yes. If you need help in your search, Bespoke Wellness Partners is always happy to help by matching you with someone in your area who can help you on this path. Contact us today if you would like to schedule an appointment.

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