It’s no secret that recovering from an eating disorder is a long process. There will be steps forward and backward, breakthroughs and relapses, victories and setbacks along the way. With all the difficulties, it can be hard to keep up the motivation to continue with treatment; it can even be hard to find the motivation to get started. However, finding ways to boost and maintain that motivation is essential to long-term recovery and a happier, healthier life.
Here, we’ll discuss some ways to keep your motivation up when it comes to eating disorder recovery. Any person struggling with disordered eating will have a unique perspective and needs; some tips may apply and others might not; feel free to mix and match or use the tips that best suit your situation. There is no wrong way to stay on track with recovery. There’s only what works for you.
Motivation to Get Started on Eating Disorder Recovery
The first hurdle to a full recovery is simply getting started. It’s difficult to muster the courage to admit to yourself and others that there is a problem. After all, no one likes to dwell on negatives in life, and showing others vulnerability is also a nonstarter for most people. Many people with eating disorders display strong perfectionist tendencies. Always wanting to put their best face forward in all aspects of life, people with perfection on their minds are even less likely to admit there is something wrong.
Even more than that, eating disorders have a way of telling a person that nothing is wrong, that they are simply concerned about their weight or appearance, or living a healthy lifestyle. They can cloud a person’s mind, obscuring an objective look at the reasons for using disordered behaviors and preventing the person from seeing there is a problem. So if they’ve got a nagging feeling that something is wrong, how can a person with an eating disorder gain the motivation to get started on treatment?
Start a Journal
Journaling is a practice that’s often used in specialized eating disorder treatment centers, but it can be enormously helpful at any time in a person’s life. Unlike keeping a diary or journal of events, tracking feelings and emotions is more pertinent to getting started on eating disorder recovery. The journal should be for you and you alone because emotional honesty is the key. Fear of being judged is a major roadblock for people who are considering getting professional help for an eating disorder, and keeping a private emotional journal can help you see what disordered eating is doing to your emotional state without raising the specter of someone else judging you.
Listen to Your Feelings
The most common eating disorders (binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa) all cause feelings of guilt and shame surrounding their signature behaviors. People with these eating disorders will often go to great extremes to hide the behaviors, partially out of this shame, and partially because the eating disorders don’t want to be exposed, in case someone might try to stop them. Part of recognizing the need for eating disorder treatment is understanding that truly healthy actions don’t make you feel ashamed or guilty. Understanding that you want to leave these negative emotions behind will help you gain motivation to get treatment.
Look at Success Stories in the Recovery Community
There has been a huge growth in the number of eating disorder recovery communities online. Both websites like Project Heal and Beating Eating Disorders and a variety of social media platforms boast success stories and other articles from people who are currently in or have completed treatment and achieved recovery. Very often people who stumble into these communities find that others have articulated feelings and thoughts they’ve had for years. Realizing that others have been through the same struggle and come out better on the other side can be a huge motivator.
Staying Motivated in Treatment
While in active treatment, it might seem simple to maintain the desire to keep addressing your eating disorder. In residential treatment, you’re surrounded by the recovery process 24 hours a day; in an outpatient or day treatment setting, there are regular appointments and therapy sessions. However, treatment can be stressful in and of itself; many people are resistant to changing themselves even if they have recognized the need for help. Here are a few tips on keeping up the pace while in treatment for eating disorders.
Don’t Try to Hold on to the “Positive” Parts of Your Eating Disorder
In order to make a full recovery, you can’t look back and romanticize certain parts of it. Many people struggle with this concept; they want to stop binge eating, for example, but not the restricting behavior that triggered the bingeing in the first place. Often, this is because they look at the results of disordered eating behaviors (like weight loss) as positive even if they want to change the behaviors themselves. Holding on to certain parts of the eating disorder as “good” or “positive” can only hold a person back. While in treatment, if you find yourself holding on to your disordered self, try to remember that no part of the eating disorder is worth holding space for.
Lean on Your Peers and Let Them Lean on You
Virtually every eating disorder treatment program includes group therapy as part of its central treatment plan, and for good reason! Many people note that these sessions were the most effective and memorable part of their treatment. They provide opportunities to see that you are not alone, that others are going through the same struggles, and can empathize, not only sympathize. If you feel your motivation to continue treatment begin to sag, look at your peers in treatment as examples of perseverance and growth. It can provide that boost you need to keep going on. And return the favor! If you see one of your friends in treatment beginning to lose motivation, be there to provide a shoulder to cry on and a voice of support. Not only will that help them, but it may also increase your self-confidence and resolve to get better.
Staying Motivated and Maintaining Your Recovery After Treatment
We mentioned earlier that the road to recovery is full of twists and turns, steps forward and steps back; the weeks, months, and years after treatment are the time when most of these challenges will occur. Relapse rates for eating disorders are high – although a few people in recovery won’t feel urges to return to their disordered eating behaviors, most will. That makes boosting your motivation from time to time crucial to keeping your recovery on track. Fortunately, treatment will teach you various coping mechanisms for stress that will help avoid relapses. Certainly, anyone who’s completed treatment can lean on those lessons, but if you feel your motivation flagging, consider these tips to maintain recovery after treatment.
Remember How Far You’ve Already Come
Overcoming an eating disorder and returning to a healthier life is a major achievement. By the time you’ve been discharged from an eating disorder treatment program, you’ve challenged yourself, changed your mindset and lifestyle, and overcome a major mental illness. However, back in the “real world,” you might begin to feel it was all for nothing – that the struggle is endless. You may dislike the changes to your body or struggle to keep eating in a healthy fashion. If you ever feel like giving up, a powerful motivator is to remind yourself of how far you’ve already come. One good way to accomplish this is to look at your old journals – you’ll be amazed at how much happier you are and how much stronger your mental health has become.
Step Down and Stay in Contact With Fellow Alumni
Many eating disorder treatment facilities run “step-down” programs for recent graduates of residential treatment on a day treatment basis. These programs greatly assist people with the transition back to their daily lives and provide continuous contact with the professionals that helped them in the past. These step-down programs are crucial for the first days of life after treatment when 24/7 support is no longer available.
In the months and years after both treatment and a step-down program, the need for immediate support may abate somewhat, but the urges to return to disordered eating behaviors might continue. Just as with group therapy while in active treatment, alumni groups can help bolster your confidence and motivation to stay healed. Oftentimes, lifelong friendships can blossom from these groups, and seeing others’ successes can motivate you further to keep your success story going. They can also provide resources for support in moments of crisis or whena relapse has occurred.
Look at the Challenge as an Opportunity
Each urge to go back to your eating disorder can seem like an inexorable beast; you may see them as an unbeatable challenge. When this happens, look back on what you’ve already overcome. This will help you realize that every challenge is an opportunity to renew your commitment to your recovery. They might seem insurmountable now, but remember that you will see them in the future as just another difficult time you’ve overcome. Life in recovery isn’t easy – but you’ve been up to the challenge time and again. You’re stronger than you ever were, and that will make the difference in recovery.
Don’t Ignore an Eating Disorder
If you’re reading this, you probably have a suspicion that something is amiss with your eating behaviors and that this mental illness is affecting your life negatively. Although it can be hard to summon the initial motivation to get help, eating disorders only worsen without professional help. The health and psychiatric consequences can be severe – and the psychological damage can last a lifetime. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, reach out! Certainly, an eating disorder treatment center can help, but if you find the motivation to get help, don’t wait. Reach out to your doctor, your therapist, or even a friend or family member. The important part is striking while the iron is hot, and beginning the journey to recovery as soon as you can.