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Stages of Treatment and Recovery for Eating Disorders

Recovery from an eating disorder can be difficult. Individuals have to overcome physical, mental, and emotional barriers so they can return to having normal eating habits. Patients will likely feel uncertain about their treatment progress and their loved ones may not know always know how to help. These roadblocks can create ambivalence, limit patient progress, and encourage treatment dropout.

Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Successful recovery from disorders like binge eating and bulimia necessitates the help of professionals and the continuous support of friends and family. Being aware of the stages of change involved in recovery will help both patients and their loved ones handle the road to recovery.

The process of recovery from an eating disorder occurs in a cycle and not in a linear progression. The patient will likely go through and revisit previous stages before they successfully recover. The steps to getting better are complicated and highly individualized.

Pre-contemplation Stage

This stage can be taken as a time of denial, as the patient does not see or is unwilling to admit that a problem exists. Likely, friends and family are the first to notice symptoms. These can include restrictive eating, binging and purging, and preoccupation with appearance and weight. Loved ones should share their concerns with the individual for them to realize and accept help.

Contemplation Stage

The individual should now be open to receiving help. They may harbor a strong fear of change. However, a therapist can help them deconstruct the function and purpose of the eating disorder and allow the individual to move to the next stage of recovery.

Preparation Stage

At this stage, the patient spends time developing coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with eating disorders and triggers to eating disorder behaviors. This may involve boundary setting, new strategies to deal with negative thoughts and emotions, and ways to resolve personal needs. The therapist, nutritionist, patient, and family members can work together to figure out an efficient and individualized plan of action.

Woman holding bowl of vegetablesAction Stage

The individual is now prepared to carry out the strategy and treatment plan and confront the eating disorder head on. They are prepared and willing to face their fears and try out new thought processes and behaviors. They should trust the treatment providers and have a support network in place.

Maintenance Stage

After an individual has been in the action stage for at least six months, they move into the maintenance stage. They should be actively using newly developed behaviors, thought processes, and coping skills. They should also revisit and be exposed to their old triggers. By facing them and not going into relapse, they can increase the likelihood of starting a new chapter in their life.

Termination or Relapse Stage

The last stage can either be termination of treatment or relapse. If relapse occurs, the patient should return to previous stages for recovery. Otherwise, treatment can be discontinued and recovery can be considered successful. At this point, the patient is well-equipped with the necessary coping skills and has a relapse prevention plan prepared.

The individual and their friends and family should be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings to one another freely. Open communication means a better way to deal with problems associated with recovery. The patient will also feel better supported when going through the different stages of recovery from an eating disorder.

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