Eating Disorder Recovery FAQ
Am I “sick enough” to seek treatment? What if my weight isn’t very low?
We hear this question quite frequently. The thing is, if you even have to ASK whether or not you are “sick enough,” it’s a sign that you need help. If your eating habits are interfering with your life, your happiness, your confidence, and your sense of well-being, you’ve got a problem that deserves attention.
I’m not underweight, but my eating habits are out of control. I feel like I want to make an appointment at my local ED treatment center. Will they laugh at me or turn me away if my weight isn’t low enough?
A big misconception about ED treatment, especially inpatient treatment, is that only the very skeletal individuals need to be there. However, most inpatient facilities take in patients at a wide range of weights, from emaciated to average to overweight. While it is common for the general media (and even some recent documentaries) to focus on the most skeletal-looking patients, this is NOT an accurate representation of ‘typical’ eating-disordered individuals. The media will always portray the most dramatic images they can find. As a result, people often have a skewed view of what to expect in a treatment program.
The main goal of inpatient treatment is to provide medical monitoring and intervention. Those who purge everything they eat, those who have a significant amount of weight to restore, those who are malnourished, or those who have electrolyte or heart abnormalities should ALL get inpatient treatment, regardless of current weight. It is also important to realize that the majority of the work of recovery happens AFTER a person can be deemed “medically stable.” Do NOT avoid seeking treatment if you are not (yet) medically unstable. You have just as much work to do, and you need just as much support.
I don’t have insurance and I’m a single mom with 3 kids. I can’t afford to take weeks or months out of my schedule to enter a treatment program. What can I do? Does this mean that I have no hope for recovery?
This question covers a few distinct issues, but this sort of situation is not entirely uncommon. For ways to deal with insurance coverage issues, click here. If, after exhausting every possible option, you find yourself unable to get into an ED-specific treatment program, seek out the “next best” options.
An ED treatment program normally provides the following basic parts: nutritional information and meal planning, individual and group therapy, medical monitoring, support during and after meals, psychiatric care, and occupational, art therapy or something similar. Many people who cannot get intensive eating-disorder treatment can get at least SOME parts of what would normally be offered by seeking elsewhere. For example, a person could see a medical doctor on a regular basis to have their electrolytes checked and an EKG. If you have NO insurance coverage, some sliding-fee scale medical services such as free clinics, Planned Parenthood, and others often offer lab tests at a fairly low cost. Do some checking to see what may be available in your area.
Many communities may offer walk-in counseling, community support groups (check National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders for a list of groups in your area), or sliding-fee therapy. For support during and after meals, don’t be afraid to get creative. Enlist the help of your friends and/or family. Let them know what they can do to help. Make an effort to eat in social situations as often as you can. If you live in the Twin Cities area, you can also attend group eating experiences sponsored by The Joy Project. The Joy Project’s founder actually found that working 11-hr shifts at a daycare center where breakfast, lunch, and snack were served was a better-than-nothing alternative to a partial treatment program.
What effect will recovery have on my weight?
For this answer, click here.
Every time I try to eat more, my weight goes up, or I panic, and I just don’t know what to do. How do I end this cycle?
Eating, hunger, and fullness are all balanced by various forces. If you starve, you’ll get hungry. If you eat, you won’t be as hungry. The body has an amazing array of tools it can use to get you to eat- even if you consciously are trying not to. You can’t live without food, and your body won’t let you.
Eating habits are a lesson in BALANCE. You don’t want to eat too much OR too little. You want to be somewhere in the middle. Imagine balancing a see-saw. Imagine that you decide that you don’t like one end of the see-saw, so you run over to the other end to avoid it. But then, your end hits the ground. The thing is, you have to keep the see-saw balanced. So…how do you get your end off the ground?
Imagine you start by running ALL THE WAY over to the other side. What happens? *Thunk* — the other end hits the ground, right? Is it balanced? Nope. This is the same with eating habits. Imagine that you starve for days. You get hungry. You decide you don’t want to starve anymore. You binge. *thunk*. You decide you ate too much, so you starve. *thunk* on the other side. You get frustrated, and want to balance things out, so you stuff yourself with food. *thunk*.
So, what’s the solution to balancing the see-saw? Aim for the middle. Stay there. Allow the see-saw to swing up and down a bit on its own until it settles. Remember that the process of balancing something like a scale or a see-saw means that if you push down on one end and let go, it’s not going to just go right back to the middle. It’ll swing up to the other side, then back again, then to the other side again, with the swings getting smaller and smaller each time, until it finally settles in the middle. This is what happens in recovery. You’ve starved for a long time and forced your body into a state where it is STARVING. It’s initial reaction will be that it will want to eat and hold on to as much food as possible. This DOES NOT LAST. This is TEMPORARY. If you compensate, you’ll be back to the unbalanced cycle. If you resist the urge to compensate, it will balance on its own. What went up will go down again. Eventually, the extremes will stop. The thoughts will be less extreme. It’s incredibly difficult to just ‘hang in there’ while this balancing process is happening. But it DOES work. I promise!