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Helping yourself & others

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Helping yourself & others

People with an eating disorder often struggle with a sense of shame.

Feelings of shame can prevent you from seeking help for an eating disorder. Making changes and facing up to personal and family issues contributing to the eating disorder can be scary, and recovery can take a long time. But on the other side of recovery is a new life.

The climb up and out can be arduous at first. The path is not always smooth. But each step builds a little more strength. Soon, what seemed impossible during those first wobbly steps of recovery—a solid self-image and a healthy body—is an everyday fact of life. The first step is acknowledging that you have an eating disorder.

Taking the first step

If you think your relationship with food may be out of control, the first step is to reach out to someone trustworthy.

Tell a friend, spouse, partner, boyfriend, healthcare provider, teacher, family member, or anyone you believe would be supportive. There is no one right way to tell someone else about your eating disorder. And there’s no way to predict how your loved one will react. Reactions can range from surprise to fear to understanding and empathy. Your loved one may need time to learn more about eating disorders and understand what you’ve told them. The important thing to remember is that while  reaching out to another can be a scary step, it is vitally important.

Finding a heathcare provider
Finding a healthcare provider is also essential. A healthcare provider can monitor your physical recovery and also make a referral to a therapist or a treatment center.

Coping strategies
Once you’re in treatment, simple coping strategies can go a long way in helping sort through the complex emotions that are likely to emerge during recovery.

Some coping strategies include:

  • Keeping a journal: Writing down feelings, fears, and hopes is an excellent way to cope with life’s daily ups and downs. A journal is also a trusted place to chronicle progress and a safe place to explore hurt and anger and other “forbidden” emotions that arise during recovery.
  • Doodles and scribbles:  Doodling is a great way to relieve stress. Forget about being artistic. Draw simple flowers, smiley faces, frowny faces, stars, wavy lines. It doesn’t matter what the doodles or sketches look like. Just the fact that you’re creating them can help release hidden tension. Some people have found that doodling helps relieve anxiety and improve their focus and concentration. Research has even found that doodling can help your memory recall.
  • Making time for yourself: Learning to say no to someone who infringes on your time can take a lot of courage at first, but it gets easier with practice. Another way to make time for yourself is to dedicate a set time every day to writing in a journal. Or take a class, join a group, or set a regular date to connect with a friend. The little moments add up. They let you know that you value yourself—and valuing yourself is an immense accomplishment that starts to happen during recovery.

Ways to help a loved one

Expressing your concern
Hesitation, nervousness, fear of saying the wrong thing, or dread at being mistaken. These may hold you back from saying something if you suspect a loved one has an eating disorder. But ignoring the potential problem won’t make it go away. Eating disorders get worse without treatment. Remember, anorexia nervosa is life threatening. The alternative to not speaking up could be tragic.

After you speak up, your loved one may be angry, express denial, or distance herself from you. Don’t be alarmed. Bringing up the eating disorder may feel threatening to your loved one. Focus on expressing your concern about your loved one’s happiness. Reassure her that you won’t abandon her.

Helping to find treatment
The next step is to help find treatment. The longer an eating disorder is untreated, the harder it is to treat. A healthcare provider can assess the signs and diagnose an eating disorder. Besides looking for any medical problems, the provider can also determine if other mental/emotional issues are present, such as substance abuse, depression, or anxiety.

Being supportive during recovery

It’s important to remember that recovery takes time and dedication. Express compassion, practice patience, and avoid unnecessary pressure. Your loved one already exerts enormous pressure on him-  or herself; adding more won’t help the recovery. Each small step—whether a person with anorexia eats a full meal, someone with bulimia doesn’t purge after eating a bagel, or a person with binge eating disorder has one helping instead of three—is a victory. Praise each victory, even if it’s the same victory for five days in a row. If your loved one slips, remind her that progress isn’t perfection. A few steps sideways or backwards doesn’t mean failure; as we learn new behaviors, the old ones creep back in from time to time. Most importantly, loved ones will need your positive feedback and support throughout recovery.

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