5 Ways To Recovery From An Eating Disorder When You Can’t Get Therapy
By: Tiffany Roe, MA, CMHC
Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening, and dangerous diseases. We also know they are treatable, and therapy helps! We know a team of trained eating disorder professionals such as an experienced dietician, medical doctor, and therapist gives someone fighting an eating disorder a strong support system and tools to recover. However, what if you don’t have access to therapy? What if you find yourself in the shoes of so many where support isn’t available or is not accessible; is there hope? Yes!
Not everyone with an eating disorder goes to therapy. Not everyone with an eating disorder is hospitalized or even diagnosed. Not everyone with an eating disorder works with a dietician or treatment team. It’s important to know, there is no one right way to recover. What works for one individual isn’t going to be a perfect blueprint for recovery for the next. Eating disorders are complex biological, psychological, social, cultural, spiritual diseases and each person will find recovery in their own way.
Since eating disorders are severe, I strongly recommend therapy (therapy is cool after all), a professional treatment team, and appropriate level of care all as part of an ideal recovery plan. It’s crucial you have a medical evaluation and lab work done to see what medical needs you have, so make sure you get that. But I’m here to give you some ideas of how-to recovery when you don’t have the ideal, particularly therapy.
Here are the 5 ways to recover outside of therapy:
1. Support system!
Can’t talk to a therapist? Make sure you have other people to talk to. Eating disorders thrive in shame and secrecy. Remember, there is no shame in having an eating disorder, it’s a real medical condition. Eating disorders aren’t a choice, but your recovery is. Open up with family, friends, a sponsor, and folks in the recovery community. This is KEY. Tell them the truth. Share your warning signs, symptoms, and triggers. Help them understand what supports you when you’re struggling. Redefine boundaries around diet talk and body comments, particularly within a family.
You will want to OVERHAUL your social media. Unfollow every single person, blog, or site that triggers you. Make sure to unsubscribe from magazines or newsletters that play into diet culture. Unfollow any fitness, “fitspo”, diet, “lifestyle”, and especially any pro-weight loss or eating disorder media. REPLACE your social media feed and inbox with recovery friendly support! Follow folks who don’t post before and after pictures. Follow folks who have fully recovered and share inspiration, hope, and support. Follow therapists who specialize in eating disorders and are fighting diet culture. Look towards the National Eating Disorder Association and their ambassadors as a starting point. (@NEDA)
2. Ditch the diet mentality
The diet mentality is everywhere because we live in a diet culture. Diet culture is a system of beliefs that says you are supposed to focus on making your size and weight smaller by any means necessary. It puts diet talk at the center of our conversations. It gives status to people who follow its rules and disdain for folks who don’t. Diet culture moralizes food and body types. It’s important to recognize that 1 in 4 dieters will go on to develop an eating disorder and diet culture is oppressive and harmful.
In order to recover in a diet culture, we have to gear up and dismantle it. We need to intentionally fight diet culture and practice seeing it and rejecting its lies. Throw away your diet books and reject “thin-spo.” Start to see diet culture in advertisements, commercials, and media. Read the books “Health At Every Size” by Linda Bacon and “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Again, follow media and communities that are actively working to reject the diet mentality and live a life free from dieting and disordered eating.
3. Free recovery resources
Eating Disorders Anonymous is a free 12-step program based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. According to http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org/ “Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) is a fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problems and help others to recover from their eating disorders.” EDA is a world-wide volunteer-based program and you can find in-person as well as online meetings with like-minded folks. EDA has literature that follows a 12-step program based on working your individual recovery. EDA also provides sponsorships! A sponsor is someone who has fully recovered and worked the 12-steps and is a support to you in your recovery.
The National Eating Disorder Association provides links to other free support options including “NEDA forums.” The NEDA Forums are available for individuals and loved ones looking for a safe space to connect with others about the recovery process. You can also download Recovery Record, an eating disorder recovery app. Recovery Record takes practices for eating disorder treatment to an app. Another free online community is “18 percent.” 18 percent offers free, 24/7 eating disorder support in a moderated environment. Another free app is by Recovery Warriors, the Rise Up app lets you track emotions, behaviors, and thoughts in eating disorder recovery. Check your local university and counseling centers for free or low-cost support groups as well.
4. National Eating Disorder Association support line
The NEDA Helpline is available Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM ET, and Friday from 9AM to 5PM ET. The Helpline is available for support, resources and treatment options for yourself or a loved one. The helpline is provided by volunteers who are trained to help you with support, resources, and information.
You may reach the Helpline at (800) 931-2237. You can always leave a message for the Helpline if it is not currently available and we will return your call or message promptly.
Wanna message instead? NEDA has a “Click-to-Chat” option which lets you speak with a live, trained Helpline volunteer if you prefer instant messaging.
For crisis situations, text "NEDA" to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.
5. Study therapeutic techniques on your own
If you can’t access a traditional therapy relationship, you can still pursue the educational component on your own. Learn everything you can about coping skills, managing urges, building emotional tolerance, and planning for triggers. Grab a book on cognitive behavioral therapy from your local book store. Download a low cost or free dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) app to learn emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills. Browse therapist blogs and social media sites, many of us have tons of free information, blog posts, worksheets, and prompts to support recovery! Grab books by folks who have recovered like Jenny Schaefer’s “Life Without Ed.”
TiffanyRoeSchool.com is home to my online courses which I created to make mental health and recovery support more accessible. Courses are as low at $50 each, including my Eating Disorder Recovery course which comes with a 17-page relapse prevention plan. I have courses ranging from body image to mindfulness and intuitive eating. Grab any of my courses this week for 10% off using the code “selflove”. Subscribe to podcasts that support recovery and share tools, like my podcast Therapy Thoughts. There are many therapists making mental health support more accessible!
Recovery is possible
Full recovery is real. I’ve been fully recovered for over 12 years. I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of others get freedom from eating disorders and you can absolutely get there. Remember, eating disorders don’t discriminate. Folks of all body sizes, ages, races, socioeconomic standing, and beliefs can have eating disorders. Follow along with me this National Eating Disorders Awareness week and let’s make recovery a reality for more folks!