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February 24, 2018

Let’s Get Real About the Early Days of Recovery - Megan Cuilla

eating disorder recovery supportI’ll never forget the hard work that early recovery entails. I’m talking the just-out-of-treatment recovery stage. The holy-crap-how-am-I-going-to-do-this recovery stage.
Trying to implement all of the helpful things I learned in treatment was exhausting and sometimes seemed like an exercise in futility.
I mean, I knew things would be different at home than at treatment, but I still had that desire for everything to stay the same — that desire for safety.
Home had become unfamiliar, and that was scary. I learned quickly that if I wanted to stay at home and stop the in-and-out-of-treatment cycle, I would have to create my own kind of safety and my own kind of routine.
Here are three of the things I did to ensure I could stay in recovery in the early stages of being home from treatment:
  1. Practice flexibility
Flexibility is so important in all stages of recovery, but it is particularly important in early recovery. The schedule and structure of intensive eating disorder treatment makes it hard to practice being flexible in real ways, but you’ll find once you’re home, there’s not room for rigidity. Flexibility for me included learning to do things differently at home. I don’t have the time or budget to plan a different breakfast for all seven days of the week. I might have just two or three breakfast options in a given week. That doesn’t mean I’m not doing things right because it’s different than treatment. I’m simply doing what I can, and that is enough. One of the ways I practice flexibility in meal planning is to plan dinner for four or five nights a week, and allow the other nights to be whatever-I-feel-like-for-dinner. That allows me to listen to my hunger cues and choose to eat what sounds good.
  1. Talk about it
Communication, as we know, is a cornerstone to every relationship. The outside support system you put into place while in treatment might look a little different than the twice-a-week long-distance phone calls you had with your parents or the daily social media conversations with your best friend, but that support system is still there. Be open and honest with your outpatient treatment team and the friends and family you trust. Let them know about your successes, but let them know about your struggles, too. What are your expectations of yourself and your recovery? Let your support system know so they can continue to be there for you in the ways you need.
  1. Let it go
Recovery isn’t going to be perfect. Early recovery is going to be messy. There will be that moment where you’re at a restaurant with your friends and you just can’t remember what an exchange of rice is. It’s okay. You might eat a little less than what your meal plan says, or you might eat a little more. I promise you it will be okay either way. Just be careful not to make a habit out of “accidentally” forgetting your meal plan or “accidentally” skipping that afternoon snack. If you do miss a meal or over/under portion something, be honest with yourself about why so you can learn from it. Were you stressed about something, or did you genuinely forget that you were supposed to have three grains at lunch and not two? Once you’ve figured it out, let it go. Don’t let that meal ruin the rest of your day. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and give yourself permission to move on.
Adjusting to life back home
You might have heard your treatment team say the “real” work starts once you’re out of the structure of intensive treatment and back home. What they don’t often tell us is how different the work will be compared to what we were doing in treatment.
Once home, you might not have someone to prepare meals for you or make sure you drink a supplement if you missed something. You likely won’t have a therapist around every corner or a dietitian at every meal. You may not be completely on your own, but it can still feel very lonely.
You might find yourself craving the comfort of treatment—even if you hated every minute of it while you were there. You might find yourself wondering if you should engage in your eating disorder behaviors again because being in treatment felt easier. These are all normal thoughts to have when transitioning home, and it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re having them. Say what you’re thinking out loud. “I know I want to be home, but today is really hard” or “I miss my therapist/dietitian/group.” Let those thoughts be there, and seek extra support at home if you need it.
If you’re feeling alone or are on your own
Extra support doesn’t have to be anything huge. I’ve kept some of the cards and notes I received while in treatment. When I’m feeling particularly lonely, I can look at those to remind myself that I’m not alone. Reaching out to friends to see what they need is also a great way to get out of your own head and realize how much you’re needed and wanted.
The hard work of getting through the early stages of being home from treatment are worth the struggle. And if things get really tough, know that returning to treatment, if necessary, is still an option — and it’s not a shameful one.
Recovery is very hard work, and it’s one of the best gifts you’ll ever give yourself.
megan cuillaMegan Cuilla is a writer and advocate living in Spokane, WA. They spend their free time reading and watching Law & Order: SVU marathons. Megan found acceptance and recovery at Eating Recovery Center of Washington.
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