Hello! Before I jump into this, let me take an opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Colleen Reichmann. I am a licensed clinical psychologist in Virginia Beach. I am a specialist in the treatment of adolescents and adults with eating disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia, ARFID, Binge Eating Disorder, and OSFED). Before moving to Virginia, I completed my predoctoral internship at The University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro Center for Eating Disorders Care. I then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. At these centers, I worked across the inpatient, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient levels of eating disorders care. I ran groups, provided individual therapy, and conducted psychological assessment. Besides those job duties, I would like to add that I spent a substantial amount of time being inspired by the warriors fighting the good fight on the unit. I am forever grateful for my patients, and for my time spent at these treatment centers.
I am extremely passionate about this subject. Eating disorders are highly misunderstood and complex illnesses, and the stakes are high due to the coinciding medical risks. I believe that we need more players out on the field, raising awareness, advocating, conducting research, etc. Through my time spent doing all of the aforementioned activities, coupled with my own journey and life experiences, I have come to hold a few strong beliefs about the eating disordered (and human) condition:
- a) Change and full recovery are possible.
- b) There is a warrior that resides within us all.
I’m not here to save people from eating disorders and body image struggles. I couldn’t if I tried. What I am here to do is empower people to save themselves. Empowerment can be accomplished through a variety of avenues. Through this weekly question and answer forum, I hope to offer some knowledge, insight, and maybe even a bit of inspiration!
So, without any further ado, this week’s question is:
“How do we get through the recovery process (when the behaviors are mostly gone but the thoughts are still constant and the fight with ED is still every day)?”
Great question! This is so important, because I would argue that this stage of the journey can be even more difficult than when the behaviors were most significant. Hear me out- Your body is physically restored to a safe weight. Or the behaviors that invoked the loudest concern from family and friends are no longer occurring. But your mind is still very much under siege. The eating disorder is still there. The fight is an every day process. But problematically, chances are, you will be receiving less support during this time than when you were at your most severely ill. So while you continue to feel like you are very much in the fight of your life, others around you may begin to assume that you are “good to go,” “healthy,” or, “recovered.”
This is where continuing to implement everything that you have learned so far about recovery becomes absolutely crucial. Because it is at this point that the eating disorder might begin to say things like, “better skip breakfast to show them you’re still sick!” Talking back is an absolute must. Because you know, you know, that telling them you are still sick is a more effective long-term solution than showing them with your body or behaviors. So:
- Talk back to ED. Continuously Keep journals. Keep writing down the thoughts. Cross them out, then write down your warrior-esque thoughts. Writing them down is important. Don’t just notice the ED thoughts and think the good thoughts-Write them all down.
- Continue with treatment. Don’t ditch the treatment team the second you get a handle on the behaviors. If insurance and finances allow-continue on with weekly therapy sessions, continue meeting with your dietician, continue meeting for group therapy. The body heals long before the mind, and therapy is an ongoing process, so stopping when the behaviors stop is like stopping an antibiotic as soon as you start to feel better. (And yes, I realize insurance companies could really smarten up and begin to recognize this fact as well. There is so much to be said on that, it could be a separate blog post entirely.) Keep going!
- Surround yourself with positivity. Put positive post-it notes up on your mirror. Follow recovery-oriented instagram accounts. Some of my favorites? @bodiposipanda, @findingbodyfreedom, @recoverywarriors, @effyourbeautystandards, @its_called_recovery, @joannathangiah. Positive vibes are so important right now. Just like diet culture is poisonous, the pro-recovery and bopo community can be a really healing space. Immerse yourself!
- Hobbies hobbies hobbies. You must have a hobby. In fact, now might even be the time to try something new. Something to get lost in. It’s time to find something that gives you the feeling of flow-that is, the state of complete immersion in an activity. You see, eating disorders are full time jobs. You can’t expect your brain to quickly snap out of thinking about [food-weight-body] 24-7 just because the behaviors stopped. I kind of see it like this- our brains have two modes- autopilot and emergency break. So when you stop doing something that you used to do on autopilot, you brain pulls the e-brake and says, “HEY! THIS IS WHAT WE DO RIGHT? WE LISTEN TO ED?” Then the ED thoughts get even louder. Hence distraction is key. Fill the time that used to be consumed by the ED with new, cool stuff. Like yarn-bombing. Or upcycling. Or playing the violin. Or podcasting. The possibilities are endless. Again, the body heals long before the mind- your thoughts will take much more training, and hobbies will be your best friend when it comes to that.
- A lot of those who have fully recovered from eating disorders say this is one of the main keys that turns, clicks, and takes them from 90% recovered to 100% recovered. Find a purpose- an “other focus.” Find a cause. What social issues are you passionate about? What cause can you take up and begin to become very knowledgeable about? Eating disorders trick us. They make us believe that our worlds are small and that we are powerless. Fight fire with fire- find a cause, open up your world, then begin to make a difference and take your power back!
Recovery is a process. That is for sure. The period between cessation of behaviors and full recovery can be brutal, and we likely do not discuss it enough. My final thought? Keep going keep going keep going! Don’t let the difficult valleys stop you short just before the finish line. Just imagine, for a second, what lies beyond. It is possible for you. Yes you! Keep pushing forward, don’t stop, and live the life that you deserve!
Colleen Reichmann is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in the treatment of individuals with eating disorders, body image issues, self-esteem issues, and women’s issues. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband, goldendoodle and (brand new!) sheepadoodle.
Email questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook Page: Dr. Colleen Reichmann
*The views expressed in this posting are based on this writer’s professional knowledge, training, and experience in accord with current and relevant psychological literature and practice. These views do not indicate that a professional relationship has been established with any recipients. Readers should consult with their primary medical professionals for specific feedback about any and all questions.