When you take that first step and walk through the doors of our eating disorder treatment center, you may feel a number of emotions. You may worry if you made the right choice, wonder if you are "sick enough" to be here or even feel like you don't belong. You may even feel a huge sense of relief, finally allowing yourself to slow down and rest.
Eating disorder behaviors often begin as a way to solve a problem — and then the eating disorder becomes a problem. In treatment, your other problems, that the eating disorder was trying to solve, come along with you and your eating disorder — right through our doors.
Many of our patients find it very challenging to take in food without getting rid of it or exercising it away; it can even feel torturous! Your body isn't used to this kind of discomfort.
During this period of time — as your food intake starts to stabilize — all those thoughts, feelings and worries that your eating disorder had subdued may come pouring out. Many of our patients tell us at this time, "I should be feeling better, not worse!" This phase can be overwhelming, unpleasant and disappointing.
We want you to know that this is all OK. This is normal. It’s OK to struggle in eating disorder treatment. It’s OK to not know how you are going to get through this. Know that this initial distress is temporary and that you have a life worth living for. Stay committed to this work as we do our best to support you and help you recover.
Facing the toughest days
“It’s cliché, but your best day in recovery really is better than your worst day in your illness.” – Chris
Until now, your eating disorder has effectively cut you off from — and provided relief from —emotional and physical pain. And now, as you eliminate eating disorder behaviors from your life, you are probably feeling worse.
Here is the hard truth: you are going to feel worse initially because those difficult feelings and experiences that you have avoided for so long are rising to the surface. You will not fully recover without experiencing this emotional and physical pain.
The positive side of letting yourself feel all of these things is that you get to feel the good stuff, too. Satisfaction, connection, joy, peace and love may also find their way back into your body and your soul.
Our bodies can do miraculous things while healing.
Coping with emotional pain
“It's not just an eating disorder… there is something underlying there that is causing you to engage in those behaviors, and you have to get to the meat of it.” - Monqueescha
Healing from an eating disorder requires intense therapeutic work. This work can bring up a lot of pain and stir up a lot of negative emotions. This work may even feel impossible at times, as sadness, grief, loss or anger become overwhelming.
With the help of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and other therapies that we offer, you will learn that it is OK to have difficult and painful thoughts, feelings and emotions. In therapy, you will identify what you value, learn to use your body to assess these things and let these values guide you each and every day so you can stay active and engaged in life.
In therapy, we will invite you to sit with your pain — in a safe place, and with support from professionals and peers. As you get used to feeling pain, you will become better equipped at dealing with all of the various hardships that come up in life. You will learn that you don’t have to get rid of discomfort and pain. In fact, you can take that pain with you and use it to help you take action towards your values.
As you orient towards what you value, towards a meaningful life and doing the incredibly hard work of being in your body and having a healthy relationship with it, it becomes easier to be courageous at facing this pain.
Managing physical discomfort
“It takes time, but that time is worth it. I never thought I would say that.” - Savannah
Physical pain may also be part of your experience here at ERC, particularly if you have been severely restricting your food intake. For example, when you go through the refeeding process, particularly if your system is not used to being filled up with food, you may experience physical discomfort, constipation or diarrhea. As your system gets used to eating again, it can take time to get used to the feeling of being physically full. Bloating, cheek swelling and edema may occur as you refeed. This can be scary but we will be by your side, educating you on what is happening each day and ensuring your health and safety.
When you stop behaviors like checking your weight frequently, exercising excessively, binging and purging (symptoms of bulimia), you may feel uncomfortable and feel a significant increase in anxiety. Please remember that this is temporary, normal and necessary as you work towards recovery. Remember, eating disorder behaviors have been your solution to avoiding pain in your life.
Yes, feeling physical and emotional discomfort like this is challenging and overwhelming, but it does get better. This may be the hardest work of your life, but every time you are successful in facing your challenges, you are getting stronger.
Making the commitment
I tell everybody, you don't have a choice to be sick, but you have a choice to recover. – Jenifer
If you feel that you must leave the eating disorder clinic, we invite you to talk to your treatment team about your concerns so that we can help you find ways to overcome them. Our primary goal is to make sure that you are stable before you end treatment.
You may want to leave treatment before we think you are ready. If this situation occurs, we will do our best to communicate openly and understand your concerns. And, we will also ask you to spend a few more days at our eating disorder treatment center before you leave. Here’s why: the vast majority of people who commit to these extra days of care end up staying to complete their course of treatment. Many are grateful that they persisted throughout their hardest days.
Starting treatment and achieving full recovery is not a straight line. You may be in treatment more than once. It may even take many years. That’s OK. You are making progress each and every day. We believe in you; we are here for you and we hope that you will continue to do the hard work necessary for recovery — in spite of any hardships that you face.
Supporting you through it all
We all have painful feelings from time to time. But pain is usually a temporary thing.
If you talk to our past patients, the vast majority will tell you how hard this work is. They will also tell you to stay in treatment. They will encourage you and tell you to believe in yourself, that you can do this. They will tell you to keep going. And they will tell you that recovery is possible.
You have our utmost respect for coming here and for fighting for your life. Here at Eating Recovery Center, we believe that it’s OK to have a bad day. And when you do, we will validate your feelings, encourage you through the tough times and support you through it all.
Thank you, Bonnie Brennan, for sharing your insight in this piece.
A note about our program: We’d like to point out that this article discusses what to expect in our 24-hour residential care program. Your experience in other levels of care, including partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient will differ. In addition, we have a number of centers in locations across the country. Therapy offerings and other details will differ by location. Let us know if you have any additional questions about what to expect when you arrive for treatment at ERC.