Eating Disorders and Early Recovery
Eating disorder recovery is a complicated process to navigate, especially early on, because the body tends to heal long before the mind catches up with it; you are healing physically but feeling worse emotionally. This mind-body dichotomy is largely due to the fact that physical healing, especially in inpatient programs, happens regardless of the emotional healing at the root of the disorder. This can leave the individual feeling worse than before treatment, as the eating disorder behaviors they previously used to manage their emotions have been suspended without the resolution of the underlying cause.
In cases where people have lost weight due to their illness (keep in mind, not all people with eating disorders will lose weight) there may be a lack of understanding when they appear healthier to others, but are struggling more emotionally than before treatment. This is when it is important to remember that the eating disorder was not caused by weight loss (or eating disorder behaviors) and therefore is not simply cured through weight gain (or the absence of eating disorder behaviors).
To begin looking at the root cause, it can be helpful to ask yourself what need you are attempting to meet with the eating disorder.
For example, does the eating disorder provide a sense of control and structure in a tumultuous family? Or, do you struggle with emotional regulation and eating disorder behaviors brings you reprieve from day-to-day stressors?
In summary, eating disorders can be fatal if left untreated and addressing the symptoms of eating disorders are essential. However, managing the physical symptoms alone risks insufficient treatment until the root causes of the disorder are addressed. Unfortunately, because the discomfort is so great early on in recovery, people often return to the security of their eating disorder to regulate distress, not giving themselves the chance to fully heal. For this reason, it is important during early stages of recovery to trust that the initial discomfort is a temporary, but necessary step towards not only physical recovery but emotional healing.
Article by: Katie Card
Katie is a registered psychologist working out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She counsels individuals and couples in the areas of addiction, trauma, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and personal growth.