12 Lessons From Eating Disorder Treatment


There are so many things I learned and skills I obtained while in treatment. Some are just silly and enjoyable. Others are deep, long lasting skills, opinions and mindsets I acquired.

Here’s what I learned:

1. How to make an omelet.

OK, this one is just kind of silly, but I had been doing it wrong for years. Now, I can make beautiful omelets that taste amazing and hit all of my exchanges. It wasn’t only learning how to make an omelet, but the bonding over meal prep and meal time. It was always a stressful time for all of us, but being able to bond, teach, learn and make cooking something more than just a chore was great!

2. Yoga and how freaking kick ass it is.

I am extremely competitive and into sports. Of course, I was denied exercise privilege for weeks. I was losing complete control. I would workout in my room, do crunches on the rug and step ups on a chair. It got to the point where I was climbing the stairs almost so many times a day because I felt so cooped up and antsy.

We had yoga twice a week. I always figured that yoga would be silly, so when I walked into my first class, I was skeptical. I unrolled my mat, and attempted to breathe.

I could not get into it. My mind was going 1,000 miles a minute. I even attempted do a leg lift while we were supposed to be doing Savasana (the part of the practice when you’re just laying down). She came by and gently pushed my feet back to the ground. After a week or so, I began to really enjoy it. It wasn’t competitive, but I enjoyed challenging myself with different poses. I wanted to see how far I could go into forward fold, which eventually turned into the teacher showing me scorpion pose and letting me try that and dancer pose. Part of my disorder was definitely overexercising. So being able to do something challenging, that demanded some sort of muscle, was amazing.

3. DEAR MAN the hell out of people.

This is a technique in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). You need something? Have a problem with something? DEAR MAN the hell out of them. I also thought this would be a crock of shit. For the first month or so of DBT, I was not receptive at all. Once I began to listen though, I realized how absolutely amazing and helpful it really is.

Describe the situation.
Express feelings and opinions clearly.
Assert your needs.
Reinforce you are listening and being receptive to their ideas.
Mindful of the outcome you want.
Appear confident.
Negotiate.

4. Get off the train.

The director in my treatment center is one of the greatest ladies I ever had the chance to meet, and I am so grateful she has had such an amazing impact in my life and my recovery. During my stay in treatment, some of my family members would attack my progress and make me feel like a terrible person. It was so ridiculously difficult for me to hear all of this and not let it affect me and my progress.

After hearing so many negative things directed at me, the director taught me to “get off the train.” I could either allow all of the negative, hateful, nasty comments to just float down the river and out of sight or get caught in the negative comments and be trapped on my family’s bullshit train. I was taught to “get off the train,” and work on letting it continue to just fly by while you sit there and just watch.

5. Support isn’t always family.

This kinda ties in with the previous point. Between letters, calls, texts and even emails from some family members, I quickly learned they were ignorant and not supportive.

I was being told, once again, that my eating disorder was nothing more than an inconvenience and selfish. It hit me hard that sometimes the people you want to be supportive aren’t the people you need to be supportive. While my blood family was not advocating my recovery, I still had amazing support.

First of all, the clinical director. I cannot say enough amazing things about her. My best friend. She was there during my struggles, completely supportive of me going into treatment, and she continues to be one of my biggest cheerleaders through every day in recovery. Her parents too, were both amazing, and continue to be there for me. They know how my family has been treating me and try so hard to reassure me that what I have been doing is worth it and so is my life.

6. Self-care is not selfish.

Growing up, I was made to feel like everything I did was selfish.

Through treatment, I learned not everything I do for myself is selfish. Taking care of myself is necessary. Without self-care, I would end up right back where I was. Feeling selfish, worthless and all of the other lies I was fed growing up. Taking care of myself is something that has to be done. I cannot take care of others and help them if I am not willing to care for and help myself.

7. You are worth it.

You may not think you are. You may not feel like you are, but feel again. I believed I wasn’t worth it, the time, effort or attention. I walked into treatment because others were much more concerned about me than I was. I didn’t believe I needed help, and to be totally honest, I didn’t think I deserved it. My self-worth and esteem were practically nonexistent.

I was told, “If you aren’t ready to do recovery for yourself, then do it for your little sister.” Honestly, that worked. Every time I wanted to give up, not take another bite or just walk out, I pictured her. In my mind, my sister was right beside me asking me what I was doing, why I was quitting. I visualized telling her I was coming home and her responding with such excitement, “Yay! Are you better now?” I would have to look into her young, beautiful face and tell her no.

Even if you don’t feel like you are worth it, there is somebody out there who has faith in you and believes in you. The director sure did. She believed in me on a daily basis, even when I wasn’t able to believe in myself, she was there for me.

8. Hugs are pretty great.

I hated hugs. I had a bubble. Nobody was allowed in it. Hugs were for the weak, the sissy, the girly. I didn’t want to mentally, emotionally or physically allow anyone close to me. That too changed. I would receive two or three hugs a day. They meant a lot to me, a demonstration that they cared. Even those few seconds of embracing, that was time they could have been answering their phone, meeting with a resident or typing an email. That time was time they agreed to allow me interrupt their schedule and acknowledge me.

9. Be open, honest and vulnerable.

One of the only saving graces was I was able to stay in treatment so long. This was because of my honesty. I was known around the facility as the honest one. I despise lying and hate being sneaky. Plus, if I am going to treatment to get help, I need to be honest. Upon admission and for the weeks to follow, I was involuntarily throwing up food because my body wasn’t use to the amount I was consuming. I was throwing up at the table. I would receive a text from family, and I would voluntarily purge in the bathroom. I would come clean, express aggravation, discouragement and regret. I felt like a lost cause with all of my slip ups. I was honest though. I told them when I made a mistake, I wasn’t being sneaky, and there was still a part of me that wanted to recover. Being vulnerable was something I was never good at.

Once I left treatment, I continued to be honest and open. Telling my best friend when I skipped. If I purged, then she would check in with me. Honesty is key.

10. Trust the process.

You may not understand the process, you may not want to believe in the process (I sure didn’t.) No matter how many times you fail or fall though, just continue to trust the process. It never set me astray or messed my progress up. Was eating six times a day really necessary? Not being allowed to work out, are you kidding? I didn’t believe in any of it. I quickly learned that it isn’t my place to understand it or question it, but to just accept it and trust it.

11. Stick to the meal plan.

This is so ridiculously important. I am still eating six times a day even though I have been out of treatment since late February. It is a struggle every day, and I still fight the thoughts of restricting. I tell myself that the meal plan didn’t fail me for the past three months.Why would it start failing me now? I still don’t want to eat so often and stick to all of my exchanges, but I do it because I want recovery. I refuse to let three months go down the toilet.

12. Do the next right thing.

I will slip. I already have. The key is to not let one slip snowball into relapse. Recovery isn’t a poof situation. It is a process and a journey. When I purge, spend too long at the gym or restrict, I don’t allow that one circumstance to impact my next day or even my next meal. Get up, dust yourself off and do the next right thing. Eat the next snack. Meet your exchanges. A slip isn’t a relapse sentence.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns

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