While I’m not an eating disorder treatment professional, I have been trained professionally to recognize the signs. And as my readership has grown, it’s become clear that I have a large segment of my readership that is in treatment (or seeking treatment) for disordered eating. For this reason I’ve provided many resources for finding treatment in my blog posts and ebooks for people who believe they may be dealing with disordered eating, and have stressed the importance of seeking professional help.
Some people decide to forego treatment and attempt to handle the issue themselves. As I’ve said before, this can be quite dangerous for several reasons, not the least of which is the process of recovery from starvation requires medical supervision to identify and avoid any potentially fatal side effects of refeeding. The bodybuilding and fad diet communities have unfortunately co-opted the term ‘refeeding’ to refer to what is more accurately termed a ‘cheat-day’, which has had the unfortunate effect of diminishing the gravity of the term and the process of true refeeding. We’ve got people all over the internet claiming they are ‘refeeding’ when really they are simply ‘taking a break’ from dieting, or having a cheat day or week, or carb loading, or even just using the term as an excuse to eat what they want to eat. (You don’t need an excuse to eat what you want to eat, by the way. You’re a grown adult, you have every right to eat what you want. No explanation or excuse necessary.) True refeeding is serious business, people, and needs to be implemented under the supervision of a medical professional and as part of an eating disorder recovery treatment protocol.
A less dangerous, but more insidious, problem associated with attempting to recover from disordered eating without professional treatment is the very real danger of relapse. Even people in the very best treatment programs can relapse. The danger is exponentially higher when there isn’t a knowledgeable, experienced professional there to identify early warning signs and provide perspective and resources, as is the case when a person attempts recovery without the support of a knowledgeable and experienced ED professional.
Here’s how I see it play out so, so often. Things are AWESOME at first. The person feels a tremendous sense of relief at being free of their self-imposed rules. They revel in their new freedom. They have more energy and their mood improves. They may see improvements in their health. Gweneth Olwyn calls this the ‘Honeymoon Period’ and describes it as such on youreatopia.com:
“Many experience a tremendous sense of relief and initial joy at eating in an unrestrictive way. Understandably, you have many, many distributed and ingrained systems that ensure you eat because your survival depends upon it.
However, the restrictive eating disorder will not allow that relief to stand for very long. Soon you will find yourself starting to feel edgy and anxious. For many the fast physical shifts in the body will become a focal point for allowing the eating disorder to suggest that the process is not going “according to plan” and that somehow trusting your body cannot apply to you as it does to everyone else.”
~From Phases of Recovery
But soon the very normal, but less pleasant, effects of recovery begin to create anxiety and a sneaky voice starts in and whispers “This isn’t working. Look at you! Gaining all this weight, not working out as hard as you should. You’re lazy! And fat! This was all a big mistake! You should go back to what you were doing. It was working so well! Remember how thin you were? Remember how in control you felt?” Sometimes that voice comes from inside your own head. It is the voice of your eating disorder. Sometimes, unfortunately, that voice comes from outside, in the form of a ‘well meaning’ friend, or a stranger on the internet, or someone else trapped deep in the spiral of disorder who can’t bear to be alone there. It is the voice of someone else’s disorder, or simply the disorder so deeply entrenched in our diet culture. This is a very normal stage of recovery, but it is the point at which relapse becomes almost inevitable without a supportive, knowledgeable, experienced treatment team. Which is why it is so vital to seek out professional treatment if you are dealing with symptoms of disordered eating. So that there is someone there to identify that voice for what it is: the Voice of Disorder. And to give you the tools and perspective to shut it down before it drags you right back down into the darkness.
Read more about relapse, and find resources to help you through: