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Once an ‘Addict,’ Always an ‘Addict’

Eating disorders are comparable to chemical addiction, of which it’s often said ‘once an addict, always an addict’ – the only option then being to avoid the substance in question for ever. With eating, though, this isn’t possible – we must eat to live. And for those who struggle with an eating disorder, something as simple as mealtime can be a trigger for relapse – whether it’s overindulging for folks who struggle with overeating, or if it’s more to do with food-restriction for those with eating disorders on the other end of the spectrum, such as anorexia and bulimia.

Getting Over an Eating Disorder, Just Like Getting Over Drug Addiction

And just like with recovery from substance abuse and chemical addiction, recovery from an eating disorder isn’t final; sustained recovery requires careful planning, and a team approach. In fact, many people with eating disorder issues seek treatment in the form of rehab, like that for drug addiction. Also similarly, those with an eating disorder have found recovery with a 12 Step program.

So, for many people who sought treatment for an eating disorder, or disordered eating, taking advantage of the full continuum of care is key. Typically, recovery does not happen once, but takes place over years, learning and drawing upon tools learned in treatment.  In other words, there’s care and then there’s aftercare. Recovery from an eating disorder is bound to be an ongoing process; patients continuing a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) because, although treatment has ended, it is not the end of your progress in overcoming the eating disorder.

It can be challenging to re-enter into the environment that one’s eating disorder had previously developed.  Just like the caution about people, places, and things for the recovery alcoholic or drug addict, so too must a person in recovery from disordered eating be careful. However, going back with a realistic treatment plan can help to facilitate the recovery process.

Recovery from an eating disorder can be a long process that requires not only a qualified team of professionals, but the love and support of family and friends. It is not uncommon for someone who suffers with anorexia or bulimia to sometimes feel uncertain about her* progress, or for her loved-ones to feel disengaged from the treatment process. These potential roadblocks may, unfortunately, lead to feelings of ambivalence, limited progress, and treatment drop out.

So then is Recovery from an Eating Disorder Ever Complete?

First of all, aspiring to total recovery is misguided; instead, that we should think of the eating disorder, like any other life event, as a mixture of negative and positive effects, as something from which we can learn. Given the complexity of disordered eating, is it possible to expect that recovery could ever be final? Perhaps not. So, perhaps a better way of thinking about it is not as a struggle to regain a level of health that the rest of the population never needs to work to achieve, but rather as hard work that results in a self-awareness and stability that most of the population are never forced to make the effort to achieve.

 If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder or substance abuse please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135


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