You may have clicked on this blog because you’re trying to better understand the recovery process, you’re struggling and searching for answers, or because you fear recovery and the challenging aspects that seem to accompany it. You may be here because you’re doing some research for a loved one, and you want to show them that fear is incredibly valid; however, it may be holding them back from taking the steps necessary to achieve a fulfilling and healthier life.
Regardless of your reasoning, we can all accept the very real fact that any kind of recovery process can be scary – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. And typically, eating disorder treatment includes treating all three of those components. Fear creeps in when we realize that things are about to or will ultimately change, and although you may be struggling right now and know you want or need help – accepting, adapting, and allowing change to overcome you can end up saving your life regarding eating disorders.
Recovery is complicated. It is the right thing to do, and your loved ones might keep telling you it’s right; your therapist or doctors may say the same. And they are right, but recovery is complicated in the mind of someone with an eating disorder. It is more than a yes or no decision. It is life or death, but sometimes the thought of staying in your eating disorder and comfort zone feels right. Recovery is a life or death decision, but sometimes, the eating disorder can take control of that, confusing you on what side is truly life and which is truly death.
Some very damaging aspects of eating disorders are the coping mechanisms and behaviors that you’ve adapted, allowing the behavior to continue, as there is some comfort in knowing you have control over your body and thoughts. But very rarely is that the situation. You don’t have control over your eating disorder; it has control over you – and most of the fears you’re facing when considering treatment is your eating disorder telling you that you can’t and will most likely fail. We’re here to debunk that thought process for you.
It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be fearful of change. But when change is the best option for you to successfully regain control of your life – and we mean healthy control rather than limiting control – sometimes you must learn to loosen your grip and trust the process. We are here every step of the way to show you how to do that.
Common Fears in Eating Disorder Recovery
Although fear is an entirely normal reaction to treatment, that fact doesn’t necessarily make it easy to accept. However, suppose you don’t learn to accept that facing your fears is your key to recovery. In that case, you’ll continue enabling your eating disorder to create denial and push harmful behaviors into daily habits, tricking your brain into thinking you don’t need help. Here are some of the most common fears our clients begin to face when in treatment:
- Fear of losing control: Individuals with eating disorders often feel a sense of control over their food and weight, and the idea of relinquishing that control can be overwhelming. Eating disorders often serve as a coping mechanism for underlying emotional or psychological issues such as trauma, anxiety, or depression, and the thought of giving up this coping mechanism can be challenging and uncomfortable. You may feel overwhelmed by the idea of facing your emotions without the safety net of your eating disorder behaviors.
- Fear of food: It is understood that fear foods are the foods around which a person experiences extreme fear, anxiety, shame, or guilt about eating them. Consequently, food restrictions are a major symptom of eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, and overeating disorders, like binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.
There is no way to know which foods will become a fear food for someone. The answer will vary greatly from person to person depending on their culture, gender, family upbringing, socioeconomic status, and many other variables that are not readily apparent. Fear foods usually arise from dissatisfaction with one’s body, media messages that label particular foods or food groups as unhealthy, or even healthcare messages that glorify particular foods.
- Fear of weight gain: Many people with eating disorders fear gaining weight and may be afraid that treatment will require them to gain weight or change their body shape in ways that they are uncomfortable with. This fear can be particularly challenging because it often goes against cultural messages about thinness and beauty. It’s often deeply ingrained and can be a significant barrier to recovery.
- Fear of being judged: You may feel ashamed or embarrassed about your condition and worry you will be judged or stigmatized by others. Eating disorders are commonly believed to be a matter of choice or willpower. However, several factors contribute to the development of these mental health conditions, including genetics, environment, and psychological factors.
This misunderstanding can lead to feelings of shame and guilt in individuals with eating disorders, making it difficult to seek help. They may worry that others will judge them for their behaviors or appearance or be seen as weak or flawed.
- Fear of losing your identity: For some individuals, their eating disorder has become such a big part of their identity that they may be afraid of losing their sense of self if they recover. You may have a strong attachment to your illness, which becomes part of your identity. You may believe that your eating disorder sets you apart from others, and losing it may mean losing a part of who you are. In addition, the eating disorder can serve as a coping mechanism for deeper emotional issues, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or trauma.
- Fear of facing underlying issues: Eating disorders often co-occur with other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and trauma. Facing these underlying issues in therapy can be scary and difficult.
- Fear of change: Recovery requires a lot of change, including changes in thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes toward food and body image. This can be daunting and overwhelming for some people because these thoughts and beliefs may be deeply ingrained and reinforced by societal messages about thinness and beauty.
In general, fears are a normal part of the human experience, and finding ways to combat them is 100% possible. Acknowledging your fears and taking steps to overcome them can help you build resilience and confidence during your recovery process. The best part about owning your fears is that you don’t have to take them on alone; when you enter our doors, you can rely on and trust your healing process.
How Eating Disorder Solutions Helps You Overcome Your Fears
Again, we want to make sure you understand that it’s absolutely normal to have fears going into any form of treatment, as there are a lot of unknowns to you right now. No matter how long you’ve struggled, your eating disorder has begun interweaving into your daily thoughts, habits, and choices.
And although, at the time, it seems almost helpful and gives you momentary relief to rely on your eating disorder to regulate your emotions, your eating disorder will always be a crutch just waiting to splinter and break. It’s not strong enough to hold you up forever, and eventually, it will manipulate your lifestyle so much that you may not be able to recognize yourself anymore. Not just in the sense of your body but your mind as well.
Your brain will begin to trick you into thinking negatively about yourself, and the heavy ankle weights of unhealthy coping mechanisms, anxiety, and depression that can co-occur within an eating disorder will have you feeling as if you’re staying above water until you’re suddenly not anymore. The weights will grow heavier and heavier with each passing day until you’re stuck at the bottom, wondering where you went wrong. We want to interfere before you ever get there.
Here’s how Eating Disorder Solutions will help you free yourself of your fears:
- We provide a safe and supportive environment: Eating Disorder Solutions provides a safe and supportive environment where you can explore and address your fears without judgment or criticism. We offer 24/7 emotional and clinical support. If your fears are ever creeping in, you can remember that you’re surrounded by people who are here for you and by your side – keeping your safety our top priority. You’ll not only experience safety and inspiration while you’re here, but you’ll also be surrounded by nature, which has been proven to aid in anxiety and depression.
- Through teamwork and compassion, we continually remind you of your value and goals: We pride ourselves in our treatment program and our staff and clients. In any treatment, empathy should be the name of the game. Our eating disorder treatment programs include group therapy sessions, which can provide peer support and encouragement. This can help you feel less alone in your recovery journey and provide a sense of community.
Being around others experiencing similar struggles will allow you to see different perspectives, and as you learn about others, you naturally learn more about yourself. This can reap multiple benefits in your recovery, as it aids in discovering underlying causes and where those fears might be coming from. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others can be intimidating, but when you accept that you’re all there to heal, you’ll begin to see the many advantages that vulnerability offers when it comes to life-long recovery.
- We offer evidence-based interventions: Treatment for eating disorders often involves interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help you challenge negative thoughts and behaviors and develop new coping strategies.
We also include our approach to Exposure therapy, which is a behavioral intervention that teaches individuals to systematically and gradually face their fears. Exposure therapy works because individuals learn that what they are afraid of is not as scary as they might have thought and can tolerate the anxiety that occurs when facing their fears.
Mealtime food exposures are also effective at increasing food intake and decreasing anxiety around food. In this type of exposure therapy, clients are exposed to feared foods. During the exposure, patients are encouraged to experience (instead of avoid) the resulting anxiety and to refrain from engaging in any avoidance or ritualistic behaviors that temporarily reduce the stress.
Here’s the thing: exposure is supposed to raise your anxiety. It must do so to work. By repeatedly exposing the brain to the scary situation, it learns it is not truly dangerous. Conversely, avoiding feared things only makes them more frightening.
- We help you identify underlying issues: Eating disorders often involve psychological and emotional issues such as trauma, anxiety, or depression. Treatment can help you identify and address these issues, reducing the intensity of your fears. As your eating disorder becomes a part of your life, it can become your identity. Your thoughts can be invaded, influenced, and taken over by it. When you live with an eating disorder for a long time, you can become so enmeshed with it that the idea of living without it can be terrifying.
- We provide education and resources: While in treatment, we provide education and resources to help you understand your condition, the recovery process, and the tools and strategies you need to manage your fears. As an example, we work on finding you valuable and healthy coping mechanisms through trial and error. When you take the time to understand which strategies work for you, you’ll reduce your chances of relapsing into those fears.
- We encourage accountability: Treatment can help you set goals, track progress, and hold yourself accountable for your recovery. This can provide a sense of control and empowerment, reducing fear and anxiety. Creating relationships with our staff and other clients plays a crucial role in this.
Remember, facing your fears is an essential step toward recovery, but it can sometimes be challenging and scary. Eating disorder treatment can provide the guidance, support, and resources to confront your fears and move towards a healthier, happier life.
Get Eating Disorder Treatment Today
At Eating Disorder Solutions, we design individualized treatment plans to ensure you receive the right treatment at the right time. Our programs include inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient for adults. Throughout your recovery journey, we will provide you with best-in-class care and support. In our treatment programs, you will learn real-life skills, such as nutrition and culinary experiences, that you can take with you after your recovery is complete.
It is important to know that you will not be alone through the highs and lows, valleys, and peaks of your journey. Leaning on the support of your treatment team, family, and friends who love and care for you will be instrumental to finding the courage you need to move forward with your journey. You can do what you think you cannot do, but you do not need to face your fears alone.
If you or anyone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, please contact Eating Disorder Solutions in Dallas, Texas, to schedule an appointment with one of our health professionals. The admissions line operates 24/7, and confidentiality is guaranteed.
- Steinglass et al., 2014