woman in white short sleeve white shirt looking down at flowers

For those who have never struggled with an eating disorder, it makes sense to have only a general understanding of what causes eating disorders, what it’s like to have an eating disorder, and what it takes to recover from one. Eating disorders are often much more multifaceted than what some people realize. I hear people who do not have eating disorders describe eating disorders as an “attempt to control something:” binge eating and purging disorders being a display of “out of control” eating followed by controlled purging and restrictive disorders as an attempt to “gain control” over something.

The Complexity of the Eating Disorder and Recovery Experience

The recovery process can be much more complex than people realize, too. When people ask me about my own healing journey, I get many questions about “when I started eating again, and how I “reintroduced foods.” While there may be elements of control involved in eating disorders for some, and while healing food thoughts and behaviors is one of the recovery focus areas for many, generalizing eating disorder experiences and recovery to these two things oversimplifies and tends to trivialize the struggle and the recovery process. 

In reality, there are many potential focus areas when you are in eating disorder recovery. If you are someone considering recovery for the first time or again, or if you are someone who has a loved one who is considering or in the midst of eating disorder recovery, it may be helpful to know what some of your focus areas could be when you start recovery. As someone who struggled with an eating disorder, learning about the multiple focus areas in eating disorder recovery helped me better understand the depth and severity of my own eating disorder as I moved through the recovery process. 

If you are someone who is supporting a friend or loved one in the struggle, understanding that recovery has layers and is a lot more than simply fixing disordered eating patterns can help you have patience, compassion, and empathy for a person in your life who has an eating disorder. Below are six of my own eating disorder recovery focus areas that I have had to learn about, work through, and heal throughout my healing journey. Yours may be similar, or they may be much different, but either way, this can help frame how complex the recovery process can be.

6 Eating Disorder Recovery Focus Areas

1. The impact of diet culture on your body image and decoupling your self-worth from your body size

Diet culture perpetuates the belief that thinner bodies are inherently more valuable or desirable. And even if we do not actively subscribe to this belief structure, we are inundated on all platforms and in many conversations with messages about dieting and all its synonyms. This messaging infiltrates our thoughts, behaviors, and ultimately, our belief systems. Part of recovery involves challenging and dismantling these beliefs, recognizing that your worth is not tied to your body size, and fostering a healthier, more accepting view of yourself.

2. Addressing and interrupting disordered eating cycles and behaviors

Perhaps one of the most commonly recognized focus areas for eating disorder recovery is addressing binging, purging, restricting, and/or compulsive exercising cycles. Recovery involves recognizing these patterns, understanding their triggers, and developing strategies to interrupt and ultimately lessen, eliminate, and potentially replace them with healthier behaviors.

3. Regular eating and reintroducing forbidden foods

 A crucial aspect of recovery is establishing eating thoughts and  behaviors that promote tuning in to hunger and fullness cues, eliminating food guilt and shame, and reintroducing foods that you might have previously deemed forbidden. This recovery focus area helps to normalize your relationship with food and reduce anxiety around eating.

4. Unpacking and regulating emotions, improving emotional coping

This has been a challenging recovery focus area for me; it’s one that requires a lot of introspection and vulnerability. Eating disorders can serve as coping mechanisms for managing difficult emotions. Doing the work to learn about the emotions and experiences you may be trying to numb is both hard and critical. Exploring, naming, and working through challenging emotions and experiences has caused them to lose their power while equipping me with different coping strategies. This helps to reduce my reliance on eating disorder behaviors and improve overall emotional well-being.

5. Addressing and working to improve unhelpful thinking styles

Thinking patterns like all-or-nothing thinking and catastrophizing can fuel disordered eating behaviors. Focusing on when thinking patterns you have developed and act upon can help you determine how and where you need to heal while in treatment for your eating disorder.

6. Improving body image – working toward body neutrality and greater body acceptance

It’s important to note that not every eating disorder is coupled with bad body image, but because many are, this may be a recovery focus area. Rather than aiming for body “love,” which can feel unattainable or curated, focusing on body neutrality—accepting your body as it is without judgment—can be a more achievable and sustainable goal. Improving your body image through aiming for body neutrality reduces the intensity of body dissatisfaction.

Lean Into Your Recovery Focus Areas to Heal

If you are thinking about entering treatment, these may be some of the recovery focus areas you spend time working through during your own recovery process. If you are in or have been in treatment and feel like you got to a point where you stalled in your recovery, it may be worth examining if there is a focus area from the above list or from your own treatment process that you could still work with your team to dive more deeply into. And if you are supporting someone who is in recovery, please know that your friend or family member is doing a really hard thing that has no quick fix.

The multiple layers of recovery can make the process feel long and daunting, and having your support could be what helps them continue trying, even in the face of some really challenging days. Recovery is challenging, and it can be a long and arduous journey, but every small step you take towards healing is a significant move towards a more liberated, full version of you. 

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

How Can Wildflower Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?

If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you unpack and approach the the complex set of experiences and emotions that come with having and healing from an eating disorder , our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help!  In fact, you can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.

Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy, Philadelphia, PA

Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services.

With this in mind, we offer services for eating disorder therapy, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health maternal mental healththerapy for college students and athletes. As well as LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapy. Accordingly, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office. Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health. We look forward to partnering with you on this journey!