Ask Aly: Accepting Help

How can people with eating disorders reach out for and accept help from others? Eating has always been very personal for me. I don't know how I can include loved ones in my recovery journey when I can't even be honest with myself about my eating habits.

Hi there!

Accepting help from others and being honest with yourself are two of the hardest--but also most important, steps that anyone can take when trying to overcome an eating disorder. Personally, I really struggled with both throughout all three of my disorders; however, I realize now that being honest with myself enabled me to reach out and accept help from others when I was ready.

When I was anorexic, I was in complete denial about what I was doing. I thought that because I was the smallest I had ever been in my life, I was also my healthiest (which is definitely not true for anyone). Whenever friends or family tried to reach out to me, I would push them away and justify my actions. Not only did I make myself miserable, but I made them miserable as well.

My relationship with my family--especially my mom, became really strained when I became a binge eater. However, it was during this time that I was finally able to start accepting that my previous "diet" was an eating disorder and that turning to food for comfort (I would eat uncontrollably for hours in order to forget my depression, how much I hated myself, or to forget how I was treated at school) was a disorder as well. Despite realizing this, I had a lot of emotions trapped inside of me. My family didn't really know how to handle me, my depression, or my disorder; no matter what they did or said to help, it was wrong. I hated them for not understanding what I was going through or for not understanding in the way that I needed them to. Because of this, everyone tip-toed around me like  I was a bomb that was waiting to go off...which only made things worse.

Eventually, I went to a therapist and she helped me gain more control of my emotions and my relationship with my family.

Like you said, eating is a personal thing and I think eating disorders are even more so. I think that's one reason why connecting with others throughout recovery is so hard. Eating disorders are unique to each individual who experiences them--but they aren't something that you can overcome on your own. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a strong (and diverse) support group to heal an eating disorder victim.

Looking back, I think that the most important step that I took towards being honest with myself was telling my mom that I thought I had a binge eating disorder and then looking for medical help. From there, I was able to find professionals who gave me the tools and support that I needed to heal--and with this, Elaine Cheung, my therapist, was a godsend. I sincerely believe that having an unbiased, third-party to talk to was one of the best resources that I could have had--especially at the beginning of my recovery. Talking to family members--or even friends, about eating disorders or other emotional experiences, will always have strong emotional consequences on both sides...there can be a lot of unintended misunderstanding. My therapist looked at me objectively which allowed me to say things to her that I couldn't have said to others--she allowed me to talk about my relationships at home without offending anyone at home. By doing this, I was slowly able to release a lot of emotional pressure within myself and get to a state of relative calm where I could then move forward and take bigger strides towards recovery.

Another thing that I came to realize is that you have to give those around you some slack. I think a lot of my fear and frustration towards my family came from me expecting them to perfectly understand what I was going through--which they never could have done; not because they didn't want to, but rather because they couldn't. Well-meant sympathy is never the same as empathy. They also weren't eating disorder specialists. I expected them to save me when they were just as lost with how to help me as I was. I was so focused on myself drowning, that it was hard to see them drowning beside me.

I don't know if this answered your question, but I think you already hit the nail on the head. The first step towards including those around you is to be honest with yourself which then enables your to be honest with them. I remember that after meeting with Elaine for a while, she suggested that I sit with my family and officially tell them what I was going through--put it all out in the open so that everyone was on the same page. It was terrifying and embarrassing, but it helped. It's a wall that I would have eventually climbed at one point or another, but as soon as I did, I was able to move on to the next hurdle in front of me.

So, the sooner you do in your road to recovery, the better.

I can't guarantee how your family will react to something like this, but it's important to remember that whatever they do, it will be out of love and concern (even if it's sometimes misguided).

So make sure that you're not only patient with yourself, but patient with them too.

You can overcome your disorder, I believe in you.

You can do this!

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