This post was written by Amanda Christenson, a former Utah Valley Counseling therapist who specialized in eating disorder therapy.
The prison of an eating disorder can sometimes feel like a life sentence. It is a compilation of days that make up months and years of painful silence. Each day, rigid goals about food and exercise are made, labels of “never enough” “disgusting” and “weak” are reinforced, and secrecy breeds intense loneliness. Whatever version of disordered eating you may experience (restriction, bingeing, purging, chewing and spitting, negative body image, etc.), there is hope. About 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder. But, 60% will make a full recovery with eating disorder therapy.
As a therapist specialized in eating disorder therapy, I look across at a person I am meeting for the first time and feel that I already know a lot about them. I know that it took tremendous courage to overcome the common barriers to treatment and attend that first session. To ask for help, it is admitting that you haven’t been able to do it on your own. It is giving up the false sense of control that an eating disorder gives you. It is believing that you are worth more than the way you treat yourself. It is overcoming shame. It is facing the fear that becoming healthier will make you fat. And it is combatting all of your rationalizations of “I’m just being health conscious” or “My eating issues aren’t bad enough to need professional help”. If you are unsure about having disordered eating, it’s okay to go in and say, “I have some concerns, I’m not quite sure, but something feels off” in the same way that you would go to a doctor to talk about having headaches.
If you are thinking about attending therapy for any variation of disordered eating, here is an outline of what treatment and recovery will look like. Depending on every client’s personal needs, the order of these steps will be customized:
Finding the Motivation to Change
Finding the motivation to change involves deciding that the way you are living now is not the way you want to be remembered, nor is it making you happy. An eating disorder can serve false purposes such as improving self-esteem, control, or even acting as a familiar “friend.” However, there are healthy options to having self-esteem and control in one’s life that are not detrimental to your health. Finding the self-respect to want a better life for yourself is a process.
An eating disorder is an intruder in your life. The process of externalizing is learning to separate your voice from your eating disorder’s voice and then making active choices about whose voice you will trust. Clients also learn to internalize a positive voice that is encouraging and loving.
It is normal for everyone to want degrees of control in their lives, but with an eating disorder, food and behaviors like restricting, bingeing, and purging are used as a tool to feel in control of overwhelming emotions or life events. Learning what healthy control looks like and finding ways to incorporate it into your life is a positive replacement for your eating disorder. This is a key element of eating disorder therapy or treatment.
Increasing Emotional Fortitude
Throughout life, we sometimes learn that negative emotions like sadness, loneliness, and anger are too painful or inappropriate. Increasing emotional fortitude is about learning to recognize and accept your emotions as they are instead of trying to escape from them through an eating disorder and self-criticism. It is also about learning how to self-sooth and cope with anxiety, stress, depression, perfectionism, etc.
A New and Healthy Relationship with Food and Exercise.
With an eating disorder, you are fighting against food as if it is a threat to you, the ultimate enemy. Food is just food. Calories are not little fat soldiers marching into your mouth; they are simply a measure of energy that your body can now use to function. Exercise is not a means of punishing yourself, but a way to take care of your body, reenergize, and boost your mood. When this change of perspective slowly sinks in, anxiety decreases, food can be delicious again, and exercise can be enjoyable.
Reaching out is one of the hardest steps in recovery because your eating disorder has gained much of its power through secrecy. Attending therapy for eating disorder treatment is the first step to reaching out, but having friends and family to depend on and encourage you truly provides the opportunity to come out of the darkness and into the light to heal.
Recovery requires minute by minute choices every single day in combating patterns that have felt important to you. Remembering that recovery is a process is a part of understanding relapse. Having plans in place for when your eating disorder’s voice is yelling so loud that you can’t hear anyone else is imperative.
If you or someone that you love is considering counseling for eating disorder therapy in Utah, contact us at Utah Valley Counseling by calling 801.407.4134 for an appointment or for a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of our trained therapists.