Why is it so hard to recover from an eating disorder?

Taylor Adams, Mental Health America

We live in a culture of juice cleanses, trendy gyms, and Instagram models. An eating disorder fills your head with noise and rules, and society reinforces it. Whether it’s restricting food, purging, overexercising or overeating, it often feels like an uphill battle, but it is possible to recover from an eating disorder and start living again.

Eating disorders are one of the noisiest mental illnesses.

When both your mind and body are compromised by such a debilitating illness, it can threaten your life. A major component for people who live with substance use disorders is to avoid the substance that fuels their addiction. For people who live with an eating disorder, your body needs food to live, and you cannot avoid eating to aid in your recovery. It’s an ongoing battle that you’re faced multiple times a day.

There are many factors - such as physical, verbal, or sexual trauma - that can contribute to the onset of an eating disorder, and these factors can later be triggers that affect recovery. The voice inside your head can resurface at any time when triggered by reminders of trauma. However, choosing a path to recovery can help quiet the voice enough to move beyond surviving and start living.

People may not notice that you are struggling early on—or ever.

Eating disorder thoughts often take control slowly and you may not realize what is happening until you are seriously struggling physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

For people with restrictive food behaviors or who exercise compulsively, the people closest to them might assume that if they are eating healthier or exercising more that they are making healthy choices. People are often validated and encouraged to keep up these new “healthy” habits. They are often complimented on their weight loss, which reinforces the behaviors.

But contrary to popular belief, eating disorders don’t look a certain way. People can be underweight, “normal” weight, or overweight and be struggling with the life-threatening issues that come with eating disorders. When you don’t look the way people think eating disorders “should look,” people may dismiss your issues—and you may even dismiss them yourself. Having others dismiss your concerns can make it hard to ask for help or to stay engaged in treatment. Remember, you don’t have to look a certain way to be deserving of help and support.

Not all mental health professionals understand

Unfortunately, there are mental health professionals who aren’t well-equipped to treat someone with an eating disorder. So, it is important to do your research to find the right team of mental health professionals such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, and support network of friends and family to help you focus on how to recover and stay well. It’s also important to know that with the right support, recovery is possible.

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