Recovering from an eating disorder can be a difficult, but extremely rewarding experience.
With the only comprehensive eating disorders program in Central Illinois, OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center helps men, women and adolescents gain control of their eating disorders.
We asked patients and their families, “What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began treatment?”
Here are some of their answers.
“It’s more complicated than ‘just eat’ or ‘don’t binge.’”
“These behaviors are driven by the way that people think and the emotions that they have. Restrictive eating or binging is a coping mechanism they use to deal with those thoughts and feelings,” said Tim Bromley, director of behavioral health at OSF Saint Francis. “Simply eating or stopping the binging behavior doesn’t change those negative thoughts and feelings.”
True recovery means replacing those unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones. It’s as much about learning new behaviors as it is about avoiding old ones.
“I wish I would have known how to make our home less triggering for her. It was helpful to begin to know what I can do to help her at home.”
For people dealing with an eating disorder, temptation to lose weight or binge eat can be relentless. Changes at home can help eliminate some of that temptation as you recover.
This can include physical changes to your environment – covering mirrors, removing scales, tossing your fitness tracker – or changes to the way you interact with your family.
“It’s very common for families to joke or make negative comments about the way that they eat. One negative comment can stay with someone for a really long time. It’s important for each family to understand those triggers,” Bromley said.
“I thought that my daughter would go through the partial hospitalization program at age 11 and just be ‘better,’ but her eating disorder came back even stronger without much notice. I had no clue how much this illness was going to change our family, her sibling’s childhood, our jobs, our health, our freedom. I had no clue in the beginning that this eating disorder was going to change our lives for good.”
Eating disorders affect more than just a single individual. They can impact many of our relationships, including with friends, family members and spouses or significant others.
Recovering from an eating disorder can be a long process, and continues even after you complete treatment.
Eating disorder behaviors are driven by negative feelings and, often, low self-esteem. Stopping those unhealthy behaviors is an important part of recovery, but addressing the underlying emotional aspects is just as important. Each person does this in their own way and at their own pace.
“It’s critical to get a person’s support system involved in changing as well. They need to understand where the thought patterns come from, where the vulnerability comes from so that they don’t feed those negative thoughts,” Bromley said.
“I wish I knew just how strong and resilient our entire family really is – especially our daughter.”
Medical professionals can help guide you through the recovery process, but only you can make the decision to change. The path to recovery will be challenging, but with the support of counselors, family and friends, you can get better.
“We provide a guide and a road map to success. We will be there to support you, but you have to take the journey,” Bromley said.
“I know now to trust all of you and the process because it works. No matter how awful and desperate it felt to have to go there, things actually can get better.”
Recovering from an eating disorder means leaving behind a coping mechanism that, while unhealthy, is familiar, and developing new habits that you may not understand or trust right away.
“Sometimes you might try and fail before you find what works, and that’s OK,” Bromley said. “If you keep practicing and keep staying away from the eating disorder behaviors, you can have some empowerment that before you were convincing yourself that you didn’t have.”
“I didn’t know how beneficial group therapy would be or that I would be able to relate to others and learn from their experiences.”
People who struggle with eating disorders often deal with a negative self-image, which can feel very isolating. Hearing that you’re not alone in feeling that way can be an unexpected relief.
“People are amazed when others say the same things about themselves that they have thought privately. They get invested in supporting each other. They pull each other all together and try not to leave anybody behind,” Bromley said.
Group discussions lead by a psychotherapist are used in the partial hospitalization program, as well as in weekly support groups.
These support groups are free and open to all, whether you are dealing with an eating disorder yourself or supporting a loved one through recovery. You do not need to be in treatment or formally diagnosed with an eating disorder to attend.
Even those who aren’t sure whether they are interested treatment are encouraged to attend, listen and learn more about what resources are available.
The support group meets every Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Room A109 of the Allied Building, 320 E. Armstrong Ave., Peoria. No registration required.