What Does Eating Disorder Treatment Look Like?
For many of us, this past year marked an unprecedented loss of normalcy and control – beyond our comprehension. We’ve borne witness to the loss of hope and desperation of loved ones and community members. We’ve had to create a new sense of safety, structure, and routine.
Likewise, for those who struggle with eating disorders, the pandemic has been particularly challenging because these issues tend to spike during times of isolation, boredom, and additional stress when food becomes a source of comfort and control. That’s why we’re so appreciative of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness and how the organization goes above and beyond to help those afflicted. The Alliance’s “NOT ONE MORE” Weekend reflects the importance of hope and healing in recovery.
In fact, these themes are closely aligned with the mission and vision of Caron Treatment Centers.
In my work as a primary therapist at Caron Renaissance, for example, I treat many people with eating disorders and body image dysfunction alongside a substance use disorder.
It is critical to deal with these behaviors in the context of treating a substance use disorder because an individual and family cannot fully recover if we are not addressing them holistically. We also want to create accountability and make sure they have a strategy to cope with all problematic behaviors that impede their ability to live a fulfilling life.
Sometimes certain substances contribute to eating disorders because they cause appetite suppression or conversely binge eating. For other patients, when we take away their substance of choice, an eating disorder they previously experienced flairs up.
One of the first steps we take when we look at these issues in treatment is to evaluate what type of messages our patients received from their family of origin. For example, we determine whether they grew up in a chaotic environment and used food as a source of control. For many, process addictions helped them cope and became a form of self-medication to survive a difficult situation.
Societal norms and the increase in social media scrutiny also put tremendous pressure on people to achieve a certain body type that creates an environment for eating disorders to fester.
For many, trauma also plays a role in the development of an eating disorder. One patient suffered abuse growing up and started using food to not only to numb herself, but also to feel a sense of control. The challenge was she got stuck in that place of unhealthy coping and her desire to be invisible is not functional for her life.
It’s important to note that men struggle as well. Many men misperceive that body image issues and eating disorders are not masculine and do not realize it can apply to them. Therefore, it’s important to continue to normalize that it’s not just a women’s issue.
To address process addictions in any gender, we must look at the negative messages feeding them. I recently did a therapeutic exercise in group where I had each member stand in the middle of the room with their eyes closed. They would recite aloud their negative narrative – that shaming voice and what it tells them. The idea is to show how these voices isolate and adversely impact them – and to help them see that there is no evidence to support the negativity.
Other members of the group go to the center of the circle and support their peer – highlighting what is real and reinforcing that the negative thoughts are not valid. We learn about the importance of practicing self-compassion and empathy and letting go of those ruminations that would only serve to destroy us.
As part of this process, learning self-care is extremely important. Many people don’t inherently develop these skills as they grow up – but they are critical when it comes to recovery. Our patients attend classes on yoga, mindfulness and receive cognitive behavioral therapy. We also work on practicing positive affirmations – challenging and standing up to the negative messages. Additionally, we work on balanced eating, meal planning and learning to enjoy food in a healthy way. Ultimately, an ongoing treatment plan is essential to achieve sustained recovery.
We also work with families to help them understand how this impacts their loved one. Even when families struggle to connect, many people relate to feeling insecure about themselves in some way.
Like The Alliance, our goal is to create lasting change – so when people are triggered – they have the tools to challenge their old response and make choices that will be helpful and not harmful.
In fact, one of the biggest triggers we find for people with eating disorders is shame. That’s why learning to share our authentic self, being vulnerable in the safety of a support group, and developing a network of trusted partners, such as The Alliance, are essential to recovery and to providing lifesaving aftercare and resources for people from all walks of life.
We can continue to make a difference by coming together to advocate for the increasing needs of our community because it’s never too late to ask for help. Taking steps to create a life worth living is always worth it. THANK YOU, ALLIANCE, FOR YOUR CARE AND ALL THAT YOU DO!
Kristen Alcover, MA.
Primary Therapist – Caron Renaissance
Caron Renaissance is part of the Caron Treatment Centers continuum of care and provides individualized care for adults in need or who would benefit from a progressive therapeutic environment. The Caron Renaissance treatment model allows our expert staff to provide the oversight and mentoring needed for patients to learn and use new behaviors and skills that lead to a healthy, successful life post-treatment. For more information, please visit: https://www.caron.org/locations/caron-renaissance-florida