How human connection reduces the risk of relapse

human connection and eating disorder recovery

How human connection reduces the risk of relapse

Eating disorders rely on isolation; letting others in threatens its very existence. The eating disorder thrives on disconnection from your loved ones, convincing you that it is you and your eating disorder against the world! There is little brain space or energy for any external relationships when you’re in the throes of an eating disorder, as the thoughts and behaviours are all-consuming. Because of this, it only makes sense that the opposite action of prioritising human connection is needed in recovery to prevent relapse.

Not only is this our clinical experience in treating clients with eating disorders at Embody Health London, but it is also backed up by evidence.

One study found that social connectedness was inversely correlated with levels of eating disorder symptoms; in other words, a greater sense of connection was associated with fewer eating disorder symptoms.1

Another study looking at recovered individuals found that recovery was largely influenced by the sense of connection and support the individual felt within their family and friend groups, and within the patient-practitioner relationship.2 They also reported feeling more hopeful about recovery when they developed stronger emotional connections with friends and family who supported their recovery.

We also know recovery isn’t dependent on having a lot of support, but rather on having good quality support. Quality over quantity! So who might these supports include in your recovery journey?

 
Close family and friends

These are most likely the people you spend the most quality time with and the ones you might feel most comfortable reaching out to in difficult moments. Be as open and honest with them as you can about what you’re experiencing, as well as how they can best support you. They want to be there for you but just might not know how to.

What can be helpful in this case is to give some specific examples of what is most helpful for you when anxieties are high, such as talking it through, engaging in distraction, or mindfulness.

If you are having difficulty accepting support, think about how you feel when you are given the opportunity to provide support to others. If you want to provide a helpful resource to a loved one – share our blog to help them understand how to support eating disorder recovery.

 
Your wider community

These are the people who can help you to feel a broader connection to your community and purpose, and might include people from school, work, or a class or group you’re involved in. They might not know the details of what’s been going on but can help you to stay engaged in hobbies and things you enjoy under the threat of relapse.

Beware of unhelpful topics of conversation, as not everyone is well-versed in rejecting diet culture (as we are sure you know)! It can be helpful to have a plan to divert these types of conversations, such as changing the subject or excusing yourself. You can learn more on our blog on how to deflect food comments.

 
Peer support groups

These are people who have gone through (or are going through) eating disorder recovery can directly relate to what you’re going through. Research has found that connecting to people with lived experience not only demonstrates that recovery was possible in the face of relapse, but also decreases isolation.2

There are support groups available both face-to-face and online, depending on your location. For those in the UK, Beat facilitate a range of support groups for people of all backgrounds. 

 

Treating team

An incredibly important support in preventing relapse if you ask us (although we’re a little biased)! Your treating team can include a dietitian, psychologist, psychiatrist, GP, mentor, recovery coach and many more professionals. These are the people who can help you to develop the skills to navigate challenges and provide you with a sense of accountability – remember that true accountability lies with you though!

While your engagement with your treating team will naturally decrease over time as your recovery progresses, it is vital that you reach out immediately if you recognise any red flags of relapse, even if it has been a long time since you’ve been in contact.

The most important thing that we want to reiterate is to ask for help when you need it. We know this can feel scary and you might feel some kind of way about being vulnerable with those around you. However, the people who care about you want to support you and get you through challenging times.

Lastly, remember that relapse is not a failure – it’s an expected phase of recovery and an opportunity to grow and learn about the areas that need strengthening for a life free from an eating disorder.

If you a seeking a dietitian as part of your treating team, that’s where we come in! You can get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you!

As part of our newly re-vamped online programme we are so excited to share that THRIVE includes weekly support groups so you can have a go-to safe space where you will feel understood and supported every step of the way. 

Karli Battaglia, APD

EHL Team x

 

References

  1. Nunez N. Social Connectedness and Eating Disorder Symptomatology. Psychology. 2019;38.
  2. Linville D, Brown T, Sturm K, McDougal T. Eating Disorders and Social Support: Perspectives of Recovered Individuals. Eating Disorders. 2012;20(3):216-231.

 

The power of yoga in eating disorder recovery

yoga and eating disorders

Yoga as an embodiment practice

 

There is a growing interest in the benefits of practicing yoga for those struggling with an eating disorder. You might be wondering how a form of exercise could help with eating disorder recovery – however yoga is about so much more than moving from pose to pose or sitting cross legged on the floor. By promoting slowing down and turning the awareness inwards, yoga encourages a harmony between the mind and body that is lost through the eating disorder.

In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into the benefits of yoga in eating disorder recovery and the evidence supporting it.

 

What does the research say?

There is plenty of evidence supporting the benefits of yoga in eating disorder recovery. To describe a few…

One study of a group of women with Bulimia Nervosa or EDNOS found a significant decrease in eating disorder psychopathology after six months of twice-weekly yoga classes.1 The most significant impact was seen in a reduction in eating concern, weight concern and restriction.

Similarly, a study of women between the ages of 18-30 found a reduction in body-image dissatisfaction and spent less time focused on their appearance when they practiced yoga twice a week for twelve weeks.2

Another small study of adolescents with an eating disorder being treated as outpatients found a significant decrease in anxiety, depression, and body image disturbance after completing a weekly yoga class for twelve weeks.3

 

What is it about yoga that supports recovery?

Yoga can be uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. By offering a safe space that is free of distraction, there is the opportunity to process and release emotions that may have been pushed down for a long time or coped with through the eating disorder. You might also find you can prove to yourself that you can survive hard things and that discomfort will pass. Learning to sit with discomfort and respond to your feelings rather than react are key skills for eating disorder recovery, as they allow you to navigate the urge to engage in disordered behaviours.

Another idea that is emphasised in most yoga classes is meeting yourself where you’re at. This means not comparing yourself to others, or even to your own “best self”. Instead, yoga encourages you listen to your body in any given moment, and to give it what it needs. Some days your healthy self will want a little more movement; some days it will need rest. Both are okay!

We said earlier that yoga is not just about the poses, but they have their place too! Moving (or holding still) with mindful intention allows you to connect in with your body without any focus on appearance. Despite an often-obsessive focus on the body, eating disorders leave us feeling incredibly numb and disconnected from our physical selves. Too often, we treat the body like the problem, when reconnecting with it can actually be the solution.

 

What should I look for in a yoga class?

Not every yoga class is going to be helpful, especially in the early stages of recovery. Choose classes that are gentle and focused on relaxation and stretching rather than more intensive movement. These classes are sometimes called “Yin yoga” or “restorative yoga”. Yoga classes that are trauma-informed, or even specifically directed towards eating disorder recovery are also out there – we suggest Googling what is available in your area.

Like almost all good things, diet culture has unfortunately found its way into some parts of the yoga community. While many studios are “safe” spaces, not all will be. Have a look at their website and social media to see what kind of messaging they promote and avoid any that refer to using exercise or food to change your physical appearance.

It should also be noted explicitly that while we obviously believe in the power of yoga in supporting eating disorder recovery, it should be practiced in combination with other treatment modalities and should NOT replace traditional evidence-based treatments. Make sure you discuss with your team before you introduce any exercise!

To learn more about how our dietitians can support you in your eating disorder recovery, book a free discovery call.

 

Karli Battaglia, APD

EHL Team x

 

References

1. Karlsen K, Vrabel K, Bratland-Sanda S, Ulleberg P, Benum K. Effect of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders: A single-blinded randomized controlled trial with 6-months follow-up. International Journal of Yoga. 2018;11(2):166.

2. Ariel-Donges A, Gordon E, Bauman V, Perri M. Does Yoga Help College-Aged Women with Body-Image Dissatisfaction Feel Better About Their Bodies?. Sex Roles. 2018;80(1-2):41-51.

3. Hall A, Ofei-Tenkorang N, Machan J, Gordon C. Use of yoga in outpatient eating disorder treatment: a pilot study. Journal of Eating Disorders. 2016;4(1).