Coming Home After Eating Disorder Treatment: 3 Things They Don’t Tell You



Congratulations! You’ve successfully finished residential or inpatient treatment for your eating disorder. You’ve worked very hard over the past several days, weeks, or months and are ready to get back to your life. Don’t let the following potential snags stand in the way of your recovery.

  1. You’re really, really on your own now with meals

After spending the last several days, weeks, or months with 24/7 support around meals and snacks, you are now on your own. Even if you’re stepping down to a Partial Hospital or IOP setting, you are responsible now for several meals per week on your own. So how do you manage? The excuses to use eating disorder behaviors can feel really strong in this situation. No one is watching. It is possible to get away with so much. So how do you keep from slipping backward?


First: Lean on your meal plan

You were most likely discharged from treatment with a folder full of meal plans, menus, and exchange lists. You may even have a specific number of calories or exchanges you need to meet per day. Lean on that plan. Even if you’re reached a point in your recovery where you believe you can eat “intuitively”, the stress of returning home can quickly derail all of that.


Let me say it again…

Lean on your meal plan.

It’s there to guide you, to add structure when life seems crazy. There may soon come a day when you don’t need it anymore, but let’s just say today is not that day.


Next: Ask for support

Eating on your own after a stay in residential or inpatient treatment is like learning to ride a bike -- sometimes you need someone behind you, holding you up so you don’t fall. You’ll want all the support you can get. If your family has been attending Multifamily Group and family therapy sessions, they likely know the basics about how to support you. However, even the most compassionate family members need a little help adjusting. Remember that they’re learning right along with you, and they may have never done this before. I often spend a lot of time with parents, spouses, and other supports, just helping them to re-learn how to offer the RIGHT kind of support during meals. Some families even find it helpful to have me come right to their home to help coach them through some meals. Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists (http://eatingdisorderspecialists.com/) is another great resource. They also offer in-home meal support coaching.


2. You’ll Get A Lot Of “Where Were You?” Questions

It’s your first day back at school or work. You’re ready to dive back in, lunchbox in hand. Suddenly, classmates and co-workers start to ask about where you’ve been. If you’re not prepared, this line of questioning can throw you for a loop.


Deep breaths.


Ok, the first thing to remember is that information about what is happening with you, belongs only to you. You can choose to deal with these questions in a few different ways.

First, the honest approach. Eating disorders are nothing to be ashamed of, and getting help takes a lot of courage. You should be proud to put it all out there! But what if you’re not? What if you’re worried that you can’t quite trust everyone, or you’re just a more private person?


Many of my clients find that the “vague yet positive” approach works best. It goes something like this:

Friend: Hey!! You’re back!! We missed you! Where have you been?!

You: I had to take some time off for medical reasons. I’m feeling great now and glad to be back. How have you been?!

Most people are satisfied with this answer, and find that turning the conversation back to the other person takes the pressure off of having to answer further questions. After all, people love to talk about themselves!


3. You May Want To Go Back

As happy as you are to be leaving treatment, you have to be prepared for the feeling of wanting to go back. You may be thinking: but being away in treatment was terrible. I missed my family, my friends, and sleeping in my own bed. Why in the world would I want to go back?


Many of my clients get to feeling nostalgic every now and again for the time when they were in a treatment center. After all, a great deal of personal growth happened there. The staff were likely really nice, and took great care of you. You were protected from the outside world and all of its triggers. There was always someone to talk to.

When life gets stressful, it’s easy to look back on that setting and miss it. That feeling can sometimes feel like an anchor, pulling you back under as you try your best to keep your head above water.

So how do you stay afloat?


First: Be careful about keeping in touch

You probably made some great friends while away at treatment -- people who really get it. In some instances, your treatment friends can make or break your recovery. On one hand, if your friend is doing well in his or her recovery, they can be an inspiration for your continued recovery. On the other hand, looking at social media posts that showcase your friend’s relapse can be triggering. You have to prioritize your own recovery first, and really set boundaries with friends from treatment.


Next: Remember why you’re here

Remember why you entered residential treatment in the first place: to get your life back. Well here you are. Life can be unpredictable, messy, and even sad. It can also be wonderful, rewarding, and incredibly fulfilling. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes. Hold your motivation for recovery close, and never let it go.

You made it through some of your darkest days. What’s waiting for you on the other side?

Your whole life.


Christine Knorr is a Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and therapist in Rockland County, NY. For more information or to get support from Christine, please visit her website at www.christineknorrlcsw.com

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