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Eating Disorder Recovery – 3 Crucial Areas Requiring Attention

Written by: JL Keez, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Eating disorders… mental illnesses steeped in misery and mystery; born from individual stories.

A sad woman sitting on a chair.

High school for me was a confusion, a ‘longing to be included’ and, ultimately a time where sensibility was completely over ruled by the many fears I had learnt regarding this thing called life. Desperate to find belonging and experience friendship, somewhere deep inside I must have decided that re-defining the self was the only path to choose. At 15 years of age I took myself from being a top athlete to a barely there rendition over a short space of a few months.


No one asked “Why?”


At twenty-four, anorexia nervosa described my position. Chronic fatigue, migraines, OCD, depersonalisation and suicidal depression joined me on my fated quest. With friendship still a longing guide, I asked myself, “Why?” Unbeknown to me, this answer was still fourteen years away.


Eating disorder numbers have risen a staggering 4.4%, from 3.4% to 7.8% in recent times. 5-10% of those experiencing anorexia nervosa will die within 10 years of developing the illness; 18-20% will die after 20 years. The highest rate of deaths due to a mental illness is that of anorexia nervosa.


However, it appears little is still understood as to their development. Hence, solutions for recovery, remain somewhat elusive. Where then do we turn when we ask, “How do I heal from this?” My lived experience tells me that turning to someone who has suffered and conquered this life before us is indeed the gift we must give ourselves for recovery to be achieved and maintained.


Being one of those valuable resources, may I suggest 3 crucial areas be undertaken in conjunction with each other. I sincerely wish I had the following information available to me at twenty-four ‒ so many wasted years would have been saved.


Area 1: Psychology


Behind all illnesses lies the psychology supporting the development. Psychology is divided into the following components:

  • Thoughts

  • Behaviours

  • Emotions

  • Physical symptoms

Each of these critical areas requires exploration. We need to acknowledge the thoughts running the script of the eating disorder, evaluating each for truth/validity. Examining particular behaviours adopted and attached to the eating disorder require assessing; what are each telling us about why we are doing this action. Emotions are an eye-opener. Dialoguing with each to hear what they wish for us to understand about why this life has emerged is recovery real estate! The physical symptoms demonstrate how you are carrying this illness. Each symptom will have information to share.


Additionally, psychology asks us to explore our wants and needs; are they being met? Wants are those aspects of life that bring joy; are they missing? Needs are those basic requirements for human life that support us – love and belonging, shelter, freedom, survival and power. (By power I mean empowerment, not stand over tactics power.) Beliefs and values held are further sources of discovery. Are you living according to someone else’s beliefs and values? Where incongruence to the soul exists, there is bound to be a disturbance within. The body is trying to communicate this discord; listen.


In combination, each of the above will provide the clues, they answer the ‘why’ AND from here solutions are born.


Then there is the big psychological one!


RELATIONSHIP(S)…


The relationship(s) we encounter throughout life have the opportunity to enhance or impact our growth and development. Where relationship(s) have delivered fear into your life, and you have taken that fear on as real, this will definitely be contributing to the eating disorder outcome. Exploring all relationships, past, present and with the self must be integrated into the recovery program. Healing some, releasing some, redefining some may be compulsory. From my experience, this was the area of psychology that required a hammer and chisel to extricate holds that weighed heavily upon the illnesses I manifested as a result.


Area 2: Understanding This Is Not About Food


Food, of course, becomes a central focus when experiencing an eating disorder. But this is a symptom only. This is a reflection of how the psychology is being played out. The pattern of food intake reflects the inner dialogue influencing our decisions. In recovery, establishing a healthy connection to food is important. Understanding that food is the very ‘thing’ that will actually heal our ailing body must be addressed with healthy eating patterns being introduced.


Do understand, that as this area becomes a healing focus, the re-introduction of food will trigger the psychological component. This is in fact a great outcome! We learn a lot about what is driving the eating disorder in this way – YAY!


There are different methods undertaken to assist the establishment of normal eating patterns. This area of recovery deserves our full attention. I outline this in my online program Anorexia Unlocked Nutrition. My program is comprehensive and highlights the method called ‘The Rule of 3’s’. I discovered this idea in the book, “Nutrition Counselling in the Treatment of Eating Disorders” by Marcia Herrin and Maria Larkin, and found it to be the most beneficial guide for clients.


This approach:

  • outlines the suggestion of consuming 3 meals and 3 snacks at designated times throughout the day. The size of each will vary over time. At first, the quantities may be smaller than what is considered a normal sized meal with small snacks. As you heal, the meal sizes will normalise and snacks be in proportion to your day’s intake. Eventually, snacks may be a thing of the past!

  • assists in normalising food intake, not only for recovery, but as a basis for ongoing eating practices for life.

  • assists in re-establishing the recognition and appropriate response to appetite and fullness signals.

  • is an effective method for long-term weight restoration and management.

  • provides opportunity for your bodies metabolism to start to function as it was designed to so you will experience continued energy without the need to binge.

  • encourages variety, maximising the range of nutrients supplied.

As the psychology heals, food will become our friend again, to be embraced, indulged in and simply enjoyed!


Area 3: Exercise


This area of recovery can be tricky. Eating disorders are often characterised by excessive exercise. Where adopted in this manner, it is a symptom of the psychology carried. Exercise is tremendously important for health. In recovery this needs to be tempered to an appropriate level – just the right amount to support the evolving healthy life, but not to the ‘over-doing it’ extent that it mitigates progress.


The type of exercise is crucial. Depending upon the severity of the eating disorder, all exercise may need to cease as the psychological process begins. Understanding and healing the ‘why’s’ behind what is happening may initially take precedence. This of course, will challenge, which is good as it quickly highlights what is driving the condition. Where weight is so low that exercise is not advised, ceasing must take priority.


As recovery unfolds exercise is appropriately incorporated. Meditation and yoga are wonderful early additions. Meditation calms the mind. The gentle practise of yoga keeps the body flexible, encouraging healthy exercise practices. Pilates is another fabulous form of exercise to be considered. When the body strengthens, where food intake is normalising, and the psychological is finding peace, alternate exercise can be introduced. The type will depend upon the individual. Walking, gym routines, sports, dance ‒ the list goes on.


The priority of recovery is to return the body to optimum health, to a normal life where excess or deprivation no longer rule. Exercise requires monitoring.


The process of recovery is about rediscovering the wonder of the self which became buried beneath the rubble we allowed to swallow us up due to the fears lining the rubble. In believing the untruths told to me regarding life and how it works, I completely null and voided me! In recovery I gradually understood what I had done, and why. Exploring the script of my thoughts, acknowledging the behaviours chosen, understanding the messages of the emotions carried and through communing with the physical symptoms, I was able to reclaim the self I left behind at age 15.


Wants and needs, beliefs and values received a long awaited overhaul!


Relationship(s) were my greatest challenge. Identifying those which damaged meant painfully realising truths I wish did not exist. However, exploring and healing this area was to be the turning point required that eventually found me release the many illnesses I endured.


Food became a nurturing and nourishing friend, the once top athlete and trophy winning netball player attended the gym once more. Walking was fun again. Meditation and yoga fitted in there somewhere!


Eating disorder recovery is an individual undertaking. The story behind the development must first be acknowledged, allowing the psychology, the why, to be known and understood. As the psychology is explored, food patterns are normalised. When the body is able to sustain appropriate exercise, this crucial element may be added.


This article is not prescriptive. The purpose is to open the discussion for consideration. To understand this complicated area of mental illness may I encourage visiting my website where my story lines the programs, insights are genuine, and guides comprehensive.


Recovery is possible… our story holds the clues, and solutions… understanding forms the basis to know how to explore, assess and design individualised pathways toward this deserved outcome.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

JL Keez, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

J.L Keez survived a nine-year struggle with anorexia nervosa. She endured years of mental illness, including suicidal depression, OCD and depersonalisation. Today, she is the Director of JL Keez Anorexia Unlocked, a passionate speaker, author and Thought Leader in her field. In her role as a Reality Therapy Coach and influential teacher she empowers others to heal their lives through delivering the understanding required to do so.

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