What It Takes To Get and Stay Recovered Part 2

It was innocent enough.

It was only one spoonful of peanut butter instead of two.

I figure I’d glob on more strawberry jam to make up the missing calories from the lack of peanut butter.

Because calories are just calories, right?

Not so.

One less spoonful that morning led to the same less spoonful the next day and a little less jam because, well, the toast was too sweet with ALL THAT JAM.

And then less jam led to smaller slices of bread because the lack of surface area fit the amount of peanut butter and jam better.

And so on.  And so on.  Until my normal breakfast of cereal, toast, and juice dwindled to nothing.


And then the relapse occurred.

In my previous post, I talked about THE KEY to getting and staying recovered in eating disorder treatment:  discipline and consistency.

Having discipline to consistently feeding oneself no matter what is going on in the world (stress, work, school, family, LIFE) leads to good habits being formed (self-care).  In time, those habits become second nature, a knee-jerk response whenever the lure of restriction or binging come in to play.

In the article “Nutritional Rehabilitation in Anorexia Nervosa:  Review of the Literature and Implications for Treatment” from the US National Library of Medicine, it is stated that “Individuals with AN often drop out from treatment programs and relapse because of continued harmful eating behaviors [].”

Continued harmful eating behaviors, aka habits that are formed from an eating disordered mind and NOT one that is steeped in wholeness and healing.  So how can one find the discipline and consistency to maintain (and even start) positive habits?

  1. Seek help.  Initially, trying to determine what looks like a “normal” amount of food is overwhelming, and truthfully, when coming out of a starvation or semi-starvation state, the body needs way more calories than the “normal” individual.  Getting involved in recovery means seeking the aid of a nutritionist/dietitian, counselor/therapist, family, friends, and co-workers to ensure that a person in recovery is getting the required amounts of food in in order to repair.  Also, a solid network of support will help enforce the discipline and consistency necessary in the beginning stages of weight restoration, as those recovering from eating disorders are often NOT thinking very rationally in the initial stages of recovery.  I, for one, initially balked at the idea of needing someone to spoon out my rice and chicken, but knowing that person (and it was a person I trusted) was going to keep me consistent in faithfully eating the right portions and amounts was, well, actually, freeing.

2.  Get someone to hold you accountable.  After a certain point, one is no longer in the scarily-thin category, and all may seem fine and dandy.  In actuality, THIS period is the most challenging in recovery.  It is during this time when family and friends loosen the reigns.  Meals don’t need to be monitored.  Appointments with dietitians and medical doctors are shortened.  Treatment team members and those around the patient may think she is “better” and “can do it by herself.”  But the eating disorder is, sadly, still there.  Discipline and motivation are still needed to keep on eating A LOT OF FOOD in order for the body and mind to fully heal.  To the person overcoming the disorder, however, THIS FEELS AWFUL.  Every dessert consumed feels wrong.  Every extra piece of pizza or pie seems unnecessary.  It is during this time when patients need an accountability partner to check-in with twice a week.  What does an accountability partner do?  Namely, this individual is a springboard, someone the patient can talk to about feelings of “fatness” or to report food records to.  For those with a strong spiritual foundation, the accountability person can be one to pray with and for the recovering individual.  Whatever actions this person does, the goal of the accountability partner is the same:  Help the individual in treatment to the disciplined and consistent actions that were once introduced by the treatment team.  Can a person write down all of these feelings and emotions and use CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to combat the eating disorder voice?  Sure!  But there’s something to be said for speaking out the truth to another human being.  Oddly, whenever I’d share my fears about getting bigger thighs or cellulite on my rear to a friend, once the words left my mouth, I could hear how obtuse and absurd these ideas sounded.  There’s something powerful about speaking out the truth, and doing so with a trusted friend, family member, or treatment team member is vital.  If you are reading this and are thinking to yourself, “I don’t have that accountability person!” or “I don’t want to burden those around me with unleashing my ED thoughts on them!”, then feel free to contact me.  I know how difficult it is to overcome an eating disorder, and welcome anyone in need of support.

Granted, there are some individuals who don’t need the accountability partner, and good for them!  For the majority of patients, however, the push and pull between the anorexic and rational mind is still strong.  This study done by Wagner and colleagues (2005) shows that it takes anywhere between twenty-nine to forty months for full cognitive restoration to take place in “recovered” eating disorder patients.  Wow.  Why take a chance on a potential relapse?  Why NOT enlist the help of an accountability partner to keep the positive recovery actions in check?

Consistency and discipline and the habits that emerge from those actions take a while to develop, and in my next post, I’ll discuss two more methods to ensure that one is able to develop consistent positive behavior patterns.

What do you think?  How have you been able to develop good recovery habits?  Comment below!

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