Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear process
Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear process – it is a journey of ups and downs, achievements and setbacks, stagnation and progress; and just because it is not linear, this should not be seen as a negative; and it certainly does not mean you, the eating disorder sufferer, are not recovering or in recovery. Counselling can help you to acknowledge that recovery is not a black and white process whereby one minute you have an eating disorder and then you do not – it is about progress over time whereby you begin to notice triggers, are able to move away from these triggers and can begin to implement coping mechanisms away from food and thoughts around food, in order to lessen your destructive food behaviours.
Eating disorder recovery: How counselling can help
Counselling can help you to identify and learn new coping strategies, and to connect your thoughts and feelings to the behaviour you are exhibiting with food and around food. Cognitive behavioural therapy works to help you challenge your distressing thoughts about things such as daily life issues, weight concerns, body image worries and the need for control; and to change these, look at things differently, challenge beliefs and minimise or better manage your emotional distress. You may begin to acknowledge that it is ok to feel sad, vulnerable and scared, as well as experiencing the good emotions of happiness and excitement that we all, typically, want to last forever!
Counselling helps you to tolerate bad emotions too by sitting with these, breathing through them, processing them or managing them through the use of distraction techniques, as appropriate.
As the recovery journey is viewed as a road full of bumps, twists, turns and challenges, then you, the sufferer, may become more aware of this and begin to acknowledge and accept that recovery itself may not always be a positive experience, but that you can tolerate and experience the journey. Once you have reached this acceptance, then you are better able to be kinder to yourself and get back on the journey if or when you experience setbacks, rather than ridiculing yourself and succumbing to perceived ‘failure’.
In terms of the food, the counsellor will work with you, the sufferer, to help you not to view foods as good and bad; and to challenge your beliefs that if you eat everything you want, then your weight will ‘balloon’ up and up. In time, you will start to acknowledge and accept that it is ok, on the journey of recovery, to have occasional thoughts about returning to your old ways and beliefs around food, as well as gaining self-acceptance in the knowledge that no-one is perfect but that you are as good as the next person.
Recovery is about you exhibiting adverse behaviours around food less and less, coping without the use of food, encouraging new habits to form and moving away from believing that you have failed if you do experience setbacks along the way. Provided you try to implement the techniques learnt in counselling sessions to the best of your ability, then you can feel reassured in the knowledge that slip-ups and to-ing and froing on the journey is still part of the recovery process.
Recovery is about recovering, not reaching a point of ‘perfect’.
In my view, you, the sufferer, can still be in recovery, even if you are not perfect all of the time with food behaviours and thoughts. Provided you can accept these thoughts and not engage with them the majority of the time, work through difficult emotions without the use of food, demonstrate considerable improvement and better manage your behaviours around food, then recovery is maintained. Improvement, not perfection, is key. Demonstrating change away from regular patterns, however small or inconsistent, is still CHANGE, and it is important to remember this too.
This Eating Disorder Awareness Week (25th February – 3rd March 2019) I am encouraging all sufferers to seek counselling help and support to encourage you to engage upon the recovery journey, to be able to see the journey as an opportunity for change, to embrace it and, ultimately, to enjoy it, whilst acknowledging you may not be quite where you want to be just yet. This is OK, and you are heading in the right direction just by seeking counselling help and support.