Eating disorder recovery can seem like a daunting task. Plan your meals. Eat your meals. Face your food fears. Journal and challenge eating disorder thoughts. Work on using adaptive coping skills for emotional distress. Go to your appointments. Wake up and repeat tomorrow and the next day…and the day after that.
Eating disorder recovery takes effort and consistency over an extended period of time. It is hard to maintain this effort using our own strength. This is where the help of others comes in!
Should I have a support person involved in my treatment?
My answer to this question is usually a resounding YES!
Humans were built for community and connection. Eating disorders do a really good job of isolating an individual. Eating disorders do this in a couple ways. One of the ways is that they plant lies in our head like:
“You’re a burden to others.”
“If they knew the real you, they wouldn’t love you”
“You’re so ‘extra.’ No one wants to deal with ALL that.”
When we believe these thoughts, we think that it is all on us to “fix” ourselves and that’s really hard to do day in and day out. This is why I encourage my clients to engage a support person, or multiple support people, in their eating disorder treatment.
What does it mean to have a support person involved in my treatment?
It will look different depending on the person and the provider!
I love the people I work with to feel supported by me and those in their real world. This is why I encourage them to have their support person attend at least one appointment. During this session, my main focus is on educating that support person on my dietary approach and tangible ways that they can provide support. If that support person needs more coaching on helping my client recover from their eating disorder, I will offer additional appointments.
So what does a support person help with?
A support person is any person that an individual recognizes that could aid in their treatment process. This could be a parent, sibling, significant other, friend, or coworker.
A support person provides any combination of the following types of support:
Practical support. This may look like: scheduling appointments, transportation, meal planning/preparation, communicating with school/work, etc.
Behavioral support. This will include: enforcing the meal plan and supplement protocol, implementing post-meal accountability measures, providing exposure foods, etc.
Emotional support. This will include: recognizing eating disorder thoughts/behaviors and directing them to other coping strategies, validating feelings while challenging thoughts, being a shoulder to cry on, active listening, physically comforting as appropriate, etc.
It’s also important to consider the level of support a support person can provide. This can vary from:
Low. A low level of support is usually time or place specific but may not happen with high regularity. As an example: “My friend can skype with me over breakfast 1 time per week.”
Moderate. A moderate level of support can be time or place specific but is happening at more regular intervals. As an example: “I have lunch with my coworker at lunch daily at work.”
High. A high level of support is when a person is available at most times and most places. As an example: “My mom monitors my meals and snacks daily when I’m at home and asks for pictures when I eat away from home.”
As you can see, support varies by type and by level of support. This is why it is valuable to have a couple reliable and safe support people to assist in our recovery journey.
It’s important to note that there is value in having these support people in your day-to-day life. However, sometimes that isn’t possible. When that’s the case support services are another option to pursue additional support outside of treatment. Support services can take many forms, including meal support groups, therapeutic (DBT, CBT, ACT, etc) groups, and support groups.
What if I don’t feel ready to ask for help yet?
That’s okay. Asking for help can be scary.
First, I would ask about the barriers to either asking for help or receiving help. There are some very real barriers to asking for support and exploring those can be helpful. From there, I would then encourage you to think about the pros and cons of engaging support people or support services in your treatment. Finally, I would focus on what you ARE ready to do to get support for yourself on your recovery journey.
Eating disorder recovery takes effort and consistency over time. It is valuable to have support people to help with the recovery journey. Support varies by type and level of support provided so it can be valuable to have a reliable and safe support network, which may include multiple support people and support services.