Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. I’ve heard this statistic many times, and I’ve lost more friends and acquaintances to their eating disorders than anyone should ever have to deal with. But the statistic that is really hard to wrap my mind around is that only 1 in 10 individuals with an eating disorder will ever receive treatment for their disorder.(1) That’s only 10% who will receive treatment! And of those 10%, most do not receive treatment at the appropriate level of care or for the appropriate length of time due to insurance or lack of financing. Of the 10% who do receive treatment, 20% never recover, 20% spend the rest of their lives in a state of semi-recovery, and about 60% fully recover.(2)
For those of us who never receive treatment for our eating disorders, there are still several ways to help ourselves. I highly, highly recommend at the very least seeing a therapist (and/or dietitian) or going to 12 step meetings or support groups.
Here are 5 key methods of support treatment programs offer and how you can mimic this support at home either in lieu of treatment, or once discharged from treatment:
1. Being Heard and Understood
Treatment may be the first time you’re surrounded by people who really and truly “get” what you’re going through. You can talk about your feelings and not feel judged, because chances are, most of the other people in the group know exactly what you mean or have gone through the same experience.
At home, try to stay connected to positive friends and support people who are willing to listen and share in your moments. This person does not need to have an eating disorder themselves to be there for you. It may be tempting to join with others on social media who are also struggling with their eating disorder and mental health, but this may be more triggering than helpful. Know when to set boundaries.
In treatment, you’re held accountable by your therapist, dietitian, doctor, counselors, and other patients. Everyone knows what your general goals are, and they all want to help you achieve them. In addition, there are consequences for acting on behaviors.
When you’re on your own, self-awareness is key, so remember to check in with yourself frequently. Journaling is a helpful way to keep track of your thoughts and feelings and this can be done in a notebook or blog. There are also many recovery oriented food and mood logging apps to help you stay accountable to yourself. Maybe send a text to a friend to let her know when you’re struggling and could use someone to check in with. Just by letting someone else in helps hold you accountable.
Feedback in treatment comes from your treatment team, other patients, and even from yourself. Other people may be able to notice your successes and convince you of them more easily than you are able to. In addition, they may be able to help point out areas where you still need some work.
At home, you can still work on giving yourself feedback. The journaling and keeping logs of food and mood can be very helpful for seeing any trends in your behaviors and helping to develop new goals and ideas for moving forward. Also, if friends or loved ones express praise or concerns, try to listen to them. They may not express themselves in helpful ways, but try to take it in as feedback to help you get on the right track or stay there.
4. Planning and Problem-Solving
We can’t do it all alone, that’s the reason we enter treatment. If we had all the answers, we’d be recovered by now, or at least better off. Your treatment team has the experience, knowledge, and creativity to try new strategies you never would have thought of. In addition, they also have the means to carry out many of these strategies.
You can still develop goals for yourself and make concrete plans for how to achieve your goals. Turn to reputable websites, books, and your peers for information on what worked for them.
Another really helpful thing about treatment is the structure it provides. Vitals are often at the crack of dawn, then breakfast, group, snack, group, lunch, group, dinner, group, sleep, and repeat. There are rules in place to help you succeed (even if at the time you hate them and do everything in your power to break every last rule).
At home, you may have a wide open schedule, or you may be at school or work all day. Plan time for meals, exercise/movement, self care, and rest. A meal plan may or may not be necessary, but a plan for what you will make or buy for meals is absolutely crucial. Do not allow yourself to skip meals.
It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which this year runs from February 26th-March 4th. This year’s theme is “it’s time to talk about it”.