Recovery from an eating disorder may be a long and complex process, but that doesn’t mean that healing isn’t possible.
The recovery process looks different for everyone and finding a recovery team and treatments for bulimia nervosa that works for you can take time. There’s a wealth of information out there, however, to help guide you through and find the recovery process that works best for you.
What does the recovery process look like?
Appropriate care for any eating disorder begins with medical stabilization. Those struggling with bulimia are especially at risk for medical complications, and ensuring that you or your loved one is medically stable is the first step to any recovery plan.
Next, your loved one and their guardian will need to decide which treatment option is the best choice, both for the family and for the individual struggling with the disorder. Various inpatient and outpatient treatment options for bulimia nervosa exist, and any one path may not be right for your loved one, or may not be affordable for the family.
Inpatient hospitalization, partial hospitalization, and outpatient treatment are the main treatment types. For those experiencing a severe eating disorder, someone who presents a danger to themselves due to their behaviors or medical complication should be placed in an in-patient hospitalization setting in order to give them the best chance possible for survival and for long-term recovery. Those who need support, but not round-the-clock monitoring and supervision, might fare better in a partial hospitalization setting or with an outpatient treatment plan.
How to choose a treatment team
No matter what path your loved one follows for their treatment, they will likely be working with a dietitian and a therapist to help guide their recovery. Ideally, their therapist will help them to recognize cognitive distortions, will engage your loved one in mindfulness education, and will use various therapeutic models to help your loved one to heal. For those struggling with bulimia, the best evidence we have right now indicated that a cognitive-behavioral approach may work best for long-term recovery.
It is important to note, however, that everyone has a very individual experience with therapy, and modalities that might have an excellent track record according to research may not be as effective for your loved one. Finding a therapy approach that works for you, whether it’s exposure-response-prevention, , cognitive-behavioral, dialectic-behavioral, or another, can be key to long-lasting recovery.
When building your loved one’s care team, it is also important that both your therapist and dietitian are well-versed in Health at Every Size ®, a healing modality that gives your loved one the best chance for long-term recovery. A Health at Every Size ® approach actively works to fight weight stigma within the healthcare field, and the eating disorder field is certainly not immune to needing this kind of intervention. In fact, studies suggest that eating disorder clinicians are among the most stigmatizing in regards to weight when compared with other healthcare professionals. This is important to note, because it makes the mandate to find a Health at Every Size ® clinician to support your loved one through recovery that much more dire; without this kind of weight-inclusive care, your loved one may not receive the guidance they require in terms of unlearning the harmful messaging that we have all internalized about weight and food. These messages are most often precursors to eating disorders, and rooting them out is an important part of the recovery process. A non-Health at Every Size ® clinician, however, is not likely to include these sociological and cultural interventions in their treatment, putting your loved one at risk for relapse.
Making treatment count
Your loved one could have the best treatment team in the world, but if certain work is not done or maintained in your loved one’s home environment, it is possible that all of their hard work in treatment for bulimia nervosa will continually and unnecessarily be challenged.
In order to ensure that the tools learned in treatment are not left behind when your loved one leaves their treatment setting, it’s important that their home life reflects all that they have learned in recovery. This means no diet talk in the home, no diet paraphernalia, no negative commentary about food or bodies, and more. More generally, this means that in order to help maintain your loved one’s recovery, you might have to do some internal work yourself. If you are struggling with stressful thoughts related to your body or the foods that you eat, be sure to reach out for some guidance from a trained mental health professional who can help you to challenge the diet-mentality within you. Though it will likely be challenging, ultimately this is only going to help support your loved one in full and lasting recovery.
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