Life After an Eating Disorder: What to Expect in Recovery

Spending time in an eating disorder treatment center provides patients with access to a safe and supportive community of medical professionals, psychiatrists, counselors, and peers. Residential eating disorder facilities are designed to help nurture patients and give them time to heal before transitioning back into their regular day-to-day life. While in an eating disorder treatment program, people can talk freely about their feelings and past behaviors, while learning new skills and coping mechanisms. But inevitably, all patients will have to leave their eating disorder recovery center and return to life in the outside world. While this can be a scary thought at first – with the right tools, plenty of support and additional outpatient eating disorder treatment options, many people are able to make a smooth transition back into a regular routine.

One of the most vital aspects of a successful recovery from an eating disorder post-treatment is support. For many people who have completed eating disorder treatment, it is common to experience feelings of loneliness or stress once they return to their everyday life. If these feelings are left unchecked, it is entirely possible that they could trigger relapses of eating disorder behaviors. Having access to a mentor, trusted family member or regular eating disorder counseling can be helpful to help transition back into life after treatment.

What Are the Most Common Eating Disorders?

While there are some people who believe that eating disordered behavior is just a phase or lifestyle choice, in reality, eating disorders are serious mental health conditions. They affect people of all ages, races, genders and social demographics. With psychological, physical and social risks, eating disorders can have life-threatening consequences. Studies have shown that in the United States eating disorders in women are most common, with nearly 20 million women and 10 million men living with an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.

Eating disorders can arise for a variety of reasons and people with eating disorders can experience a wide range of different symptoms. But, all have one thing in common – abnormal eating habits that interfere with their everyday life. Disordered eating behaviors can result in serious health consequences and in some cases, even death. While people can develop an eating disorder at any age, adolescents and young adults are most likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. In fact, studies suggest that up to 13 percent of young people will experience at least one type of eating disorder by the time they reach age 20.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most well-known eating disorders in the United States, with at least 0.9 percent of American women developing the disorder at some point in their lifetime. This common eating disorder typically develops during the adolescent years or young adulthood. While anorexia is one of the most common eating disorders found in women, men are affected by the disorder as well. Many people who have anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, even in circumstances where they may be extremely underweight for their age and stature. It is common for those with anorexia nervosa to spend time constantly monitoring their weight to the point of obsession. Additionally, many people with the disorder will avoid eating certain types of food or food groups and severely restrict the calories they consume.

People with anorexia nervosa may also present with obsessive-compulsive symptoms where they find that their thoughts are often preoccupied with food. Those with these types of symptoms may also exhibit additional behaviors; such as obsessively hoarding food and collecting recipes or cooking for others, but not eating the food themselves. It is very common for people with anorexia nervosa to have difficulty eating around others or in public, limiting their ability to keep up their former social commitments and potentially leading to isolation.

Some of the common symptoms associated with anorexia nervosa include:

●A very intense fear of gaining weight, even if they are already considered to be underweight by medical standards
●A distorted body image. This can include denial that they are underweight and a compulsion to diet
●Restricted eating patterns that include certain rituals surrounding meals and the elimination of specific types of food
●Anemia, low hormone levels, muscle weakness, sleep problems and dental issues
●The inability to maintain a body weight that is medically appropriate for their age, build, height, etc.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is another very common eating disorder that affects both men and women. In fact, about 1.5 percent of women in America will develop bulimia nervosa in their lifetime. Similar to anorexia nervosa, most of the people who have bulimia nervosa will develop the condition in adolescence or young adulthood. With this type of eating disorder, people will frequently binge-eat large amounts of food within a short period of time. In most cases, people will continue to eat until they become painfully full. These binge-eating episodes will typically result in feelings of shame or guilt, leading to purging behaviors.

During a binge-eating episode, most people feel a loss of self-control and have a very difficult time trying to stop themselves from eating. Binge-eating can happen with any type of food but most often, people binge on foods that they have been previously restricting. To compensate for the number of calories consumed, people with bulimia nervosa will then engage in purging behaviors such as forced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise or the overuse of laxatives and diuretics.
Often times, the behaviors associated with bulimia nervosa can go unnoticed by friends and family because they may maintain a “normal” weight for their age and size. Some common signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa that friends and family should be aware of include:

●An intense fear of gaining weight, even if a person seems to have an average weight already
●Hiding food, eating in secret, using the restroom directly after meals
●Developing rituals around food and mealtime
●Fear of eating with others or in public places
●Maintaining an excessive exercise routine despite illness, weather issues, illness, etc.; all in an effort to “burn off” calories
●Tooth decay, stained or discolored teeth
●Extreme mood swings, frequent dieting, and concern with body shape and/or weight.

Binge Eating Disorder

Although binge eating disorder has only recently been recognized as a separate eating disorder from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, it is actually the most common eating disorder found in women and men throughout the United States. In fact, studies show that 2.8 percent of adults in America will develop binge eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. And like the previous eating disorders mentioned, binge eating disorder often first develops when people are in adolescence or early adulthood.

While similar to bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder varies slightly in the fact that those with the condition do not engage in purging behaviors after a binge. However, they will still consume very large amounts of food uncontrollably in a short period of time and potentially have feelings of shame or revulsion after the fact. People with binge eating disorder will often binge even without feeling hungry and continue to eat until they are in physical pain.

Common signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

●Uncomfortable eating around others or in public
●Stealing or hiding food in strange places
●Withdrawing from friends and social activities
●Frequent dieting
●Feeling embarrassed, depressed or guilty after overeating
●Weight fluctuations, concern with body shape and weight
●Disruption in normal eating behaviors (eating throughout the day, skipping meals, repetitive dieting or sporadic fasting)
●Obsessing over food, cutting out entire food groups from their diet, fad dieting (no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, vegetarianism, veganism, etc.)

Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Eating disorder recovery can be approached from many different angles but early intervention is something that is extremely important for most people. There are many different eating disorder facilities throughout the United States that focus on both residential care and outpatient eating disorder treatment. However, patients and their loved ones should keep in mind that there is not one perfect eating disorder treatment method out there. In fact, many patients will try several different methods before finding one that works for them.

For patients with co-occurring disorders like bulimia nervosa and substance abuse or depression, it is best to search for eating disorder treatment centers that offer both medical care and psychiatric care. The following treatment options for eating disorders have shown to be effective in helping patients of all ages recover.

Intensive Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment

With intensive outpatient eating disorder treatment (sometimes referred to as day treatment) patients are deemed medically stable and therefore do not require daily medical monitoring. They are also psychiatrically stable and, with support, are able to return to work, school and social activities. However, patients can still benefit from regular eating disorder counseling or therapy sessions to help aid the recovery process.

Residential Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

Residential treatment is ideal for people who are medically stable but could benefit from daily medical monitoring and more intensive therapeutic and psychiatric therapies. In most cases, patients in residential eating disorder facilities are psychiatrically impaired and can, therefore, benefit from regular psychiatric care before transitioning back into their normal daily routine or a lower level of care.

Types of Psychotherapy

In eating disorder counseling, psychotherapists use a number of different therapy methods. Depending on a patient’s specific needs, they may work through one or more types of therapy to help patients better understand their disordered behaviors and learn new coping skills that will support the overall eating disorder recovery process. Some of the most common types of therapies used to effectively treat eating disorders include:

●Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
●Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
●Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)
●Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
What to Expect After Treatment
After completing treatment for an eating disorder, it is very common for patients to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed by the transition back into daily life. However, by following a few key practices and with appropriate support, most people will find that after a few days or weeks, they will begin to gain confidence in their recovery.

Maintaining a Solid Support System

In addition to following the proposed guidelines from the patient’s treatment team, when transitioning from an eating disorder treatment program back to home life, individuals should put plenty of focus on surrounding themselves with a great support system. This support system can be made up of therapists, family, friends and other trusted adults. Additionally, maintaining counseling sessions after treatment can be very helpful for those who are feeling overwhelmed and want to avoid common triggers.

Remain Flexible

Recovery isn’t a simple process, so it’s a good idea for patients and their families to remain flexible as they ease back into things. From time to time, people in recovery will feel stressed out, overwhelmed and afraid. However, these feelings are completely normal and can be appropriately addressed. If possible, patients should remember to take it easy when it comes to returning to their previous schedule. Depending on recommendations from the treatment team, going back to school or work part-time can be a good option for some individuals; helping to gain confidence, experience and flexibility in their lives outside of treatment.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers: Effective Treatment Options for Eating Disorders
At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, people with eating disorders can find compassionate, caring and top-quality treatment in a comfortable and home-like setting. With access to a tenured team of medical professionals, therapists and dietitians, patients and their loved ones can enjoy peace of mind in knowing that they are receiving the best care possible.