Eating Disorder Recovery Resource List
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
I get asked a lot for resources and recommendations when people are interested in exploring recovery for eating disorders and/or disordered eating. I LOVE it when people message me, it is the most heart-filling and inspiring thing, and it’s one of the main two reasons I talk about openly about my recovery on social media. (The other reason is that it helps keep ME sane.)
Every time I respond to people and gather all the info and go searching through my Instagram for my favorite accounts, I think, “man I really should make a list of resources I could reference when I write these messages.”
Hence, list of resources! Supplemented with my personal experience and (non-professional) opinions. I’ll end up using it the most I’m sure, but maybe you’ll find something useful for you or someone else you know. And I'm always here for your questions comments concerns!
Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional. Eating disorders are very serious medical disorders. If you are in need of medical intervention, please reach out to a medical or mental health professional. It's my hope that the information here could maybe help point you in a direction if you are needing help, but my recommendations are not a replacement for professional direction.
Eating disorders vs. disordered eating
First, a note on terminology. Some people use these terms interchangeably, but I think they aren't the same, though I put them on the same spectrum, a spectrum that ranges from healthy lovely fulfilling relationship to food and body all the way to dying from a full-blown eating disorder. Here's an explanation I just found via google that I like:
"What distinguishes disordered eating from a full-blown eating disorder? It is all about degree. An individual with disordered eating is often engaged in some of the same behavior as those with eating disorders, but at a lesser frequency or lower level of severity. However, disordered eating is problematic and to be taken seriously, though the symptoms might not be as extreme as those of a diagnosable eating disorder. Individuals with disordered eating may be at risk for developing a full-blown eating disorder and are more likely to have a history of depression and/or anxiety, or be at risk for anxiety and depression at some point in the future."
Where to start (and when to go to treatment)
When people ask me what I recommend, my answers will differ depending on what I know about they situation and struggles. Here is my super non-professional (repeat, I am not an expert on anything but my own experience) breakdown and overview of what to do depending on seriousness of the problem:
Severe eating disorder (you are or could end up dying from ED)
- Hospital based treatment or residential treatment
Moderate eating disorder (ED is getting in the way of most things in your life and for the most part you cannot sanely feed yourself and/or exercise
- Residential treatment and/or ABA (Anorexics and Bulimics
** This is where I would categorize my ED
Mild eating disorder (you find your relationship with food, exercise, and/or body to be hurtful and getting in the way of some things in your life)
- Residential or outpatient treatment
- 12-step groups such as ABA, EDA (Eating Disorders
Anonymous), or OA (Overeaters Anonymous)
- Nutritionist/Dietician (alongside medical doctor)
Moderate disordered eating (your relationship to food, exercise, and/or body may not be seriously destructive but it does bring you pain and sadness)
- Outpatient groups or ED/mental health support groups
- Education (courses, workshops, books etc. on topics such as intuitive eating, healing your relationship to food, etc.)
Mild disordered eating (the way you eat, exercise, and/or think about your body does not feel like it supports your health and happiness, though it may not feel horrible or be getting in the way of too much)
- Education (courses, workshops, books etc. on topics such as intuitive eating, healing your relationship to food, etc.)
I'll give therapy it's own subheading. I HIGHLY recommend therapy to anyone at any stage. But you HAVE to find the right therapist. I recommend someone who specializes in eating disorders as well as co-occurring disorders (stuff like anxiety, depression, etc.) and has been doing this work for a while. Also, I've had excellent luck with counselors who are in recovery themselves and can't really speak to counselors who aren't.
Note: Therapy takes time and money a lot of people don't have. My experience with free alternatives is limited and includes mostly 12-step programs and various support groups. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) in the US might be good places to start.
In my (again super non-professional) opinion, therapy is simply based on the two most important aspects of healing: talking to other humans, and talking to other humans who know more about it than you (either they've been through it themselves, supported someone else through it, or have been trained in it). So if therapy isn't an option, or 12-step doesn't feel like a right fit, or support groups aren't available, the most important thing is having a community and someone to talk to. My long-time therapist (who has worked in addiction and eating disorder recovery for two decades) says, "I don't care if it's a book club, just find a group."
ED practitioners and advocates on Instagram
Body-positive people on Instagram
It's probably apparent that I love Instagram. I really do! My former sponsor and current bestie gave me some crucial advice years ago: actively consume media that includes bodies that are different than the perfect ideal (which is very skinny, athletic, white, able-bodied, hourglass shape, cis-gender, traditionally feminine, etc.) I have since filled my Instagram feed with bodies that don't fit into that itty-bitty box, and it's one of the best things I've ever done! Here are some of my favs actually pretty much all of them:
@scarrednotscared and her other account @bodypositivememes
Note: The roots of the body-positivity movement are far more political than most people know today. I know embarrassingly little about it, and I'll own that I'm probably more on the frilly self-love end of body-positivity that has eclipsed the original movement. I can't and won't say that all the people I've listed here would truly fit in the body-positivity movement, and while a lot of them I feel confident calling fat-positive, I don't know how most of them would self-identify with body-positivity. I promise to keep learning. Here's a couple articles for a bit of extra illustration:
I am not much of a reader anymore (since getting clean and sober I have a really hard time focusing while reading) so I'm not a lot of help in this department. But lots of other people are! And here's a list that looks pretty good:
Anyway, here are the very few books I've read and/or have heard great things about:
Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling
The Body Betrayed: Women, Eating Disorders, and Treatment
Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous: The Fellowship Details Its Program of Recovery for Anorexia and Bulimia
Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight
A note on treatment (and nutrition)
Treatment was the best thing I ever did. No it didn't cure me, but it helped in many ways. One of the most important lessons it taught me was to take my disease seriously; it's hard to believe it's "not that bad" when you're sitting in rehab. It also helped bring my disease out of secrecy and shame, because for the first time I met other people with similar problem and I didn't feel so alone or fucked up.
I attended two treatment centers. When I was 22 I did a ten-week outpatient program in an eating disorder specific treatment center in Denver, Colorado, USA. When I was 24 I spent four months at a residential treatment center in Cobble Hill, British Columbia, Canada that treated substance abuse and eating disorders. (I also was hospitalized at 14 for dehydration and malnourishment.)
I regard my first treatment center as a good first step. It helped me gain awareness of my behaviors, the individual and group therapy was good, I was introduced to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). However. It just scratched the surface for me. And, the nutrition classes only gave my disease more to work with.
I personally do not believe you need to learn more about nutrition to recover from an eating disorder or disordered eating. I do believe nutritionists and dietitians can help because of what I've heard from friends, especially by giving meal plans if it is helpful to have someone else do the planning for you. (I NEEDED meal plans and to surrender control over my food, but I just had regular people pick my food.)
It's important to note that in more severe cases when people are medically underweight and malnourished, weight restoration and replenishing nutrients is very important and should be addressed immediately. Though I did not have a nutritionist/dietician oversee my weight restoration, I was in residential treatment, under the supervision of doctors, and being served three purposefully dense food (because addicts and alcoholics also frequently come into recovery underweight).
My experience with nutritionists/dietitians is very limited (I don't even know the difference between the two). Like I said I know the nutrition classes in my first treatment were counterproductive. I also saw one when I was maybe 9ish when my parents first felt overwhelmed by my extreme pickiness, and I remember her telling them, "just let her eat what she wants!" Which is a lovely sentiment, and much more applicable to me now, a few years into recovery, but back then it just fueled my anorexia, mostly because my reaction to it was, "ha ha got away with it." Which is how I know I had an eating disorder as a kid. Because that's not normal. Mostly though, I believe that a focus on nutrition, like any focus on the food, is usually a distraction from the underlying issues.
Here's a good first step article into the vast world of busting nutrition myths:
A note on 12-step programs
I do not have a black-and-white answer, or experience, with the 12-step program. I have attended 12-step programs for both substances and eating disorder for almost five years, and I've found them to be very similar, but not the same. ABA (Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous) was absolutely essential for me for my first few years, and I credit it with getting me "sober" from my eating disorder. However, I got to a point about a year ago when I realized the abstinence/sobriety model no longer fit for my eating disorder recovery, and I left ABA. I still recommend ABA to people, especially if they are early or more severe.
ABA is the "food fellowship" (I hate that term because I do NOT believe food is a drug or the actual problem in an eating disorder) I have experience with. I am familiar with EDA, and I quite like what I know about it; from my understanding, it is less rigid than ABA, and I needed that ABA's seriousness when I was early. EDA sounds like it would fit more with my current recovery; maybe I'll give it a try. OA I do not have personal experience with, so I reserve judgement, though I will say that I've known people in OA to believe their sobriety includes not eating sugar or flour and attaining a certain weight, and that philosophy not only doesn't align with my personal recovery, but also can be very counterproductive to some, especially anorexics and orthorexics.
Furthermore, I am not sure I even believe eating disorders are actually addictions, and after some googling it seems that the medical community doesn't either, though there are many similarities. I do that know for me personally, I am an addict and I was addicted to numbing myself, and my most effective numbing mechanism was obsessing over food and body, which seems contradictory to what I just said, so I'd like to spend some more time thinking about this one.
What I DO know is that my ED recovery and substance recovery overlap but are not the same thing, nor are they identical. I hear a lot of people in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous—people who DON'T have eating disorders—say all you have to do is work the program and replace certain words, and that's what they do with their sponsees. When I hear this I internally wince, then take a deep breath before telling them how in my experience it hasn't been that simple. I believe it's true to an extent, but I think we should be cautious when someone who hasn't experienced a certain problem is guiding someone else through it.
Eating disorders and substance abuse disoders are considered separate by the medical and mental health fields, and eating disorders are serious. They have the highest fatality rate of all mental illnesses. According the WebMD, anorexia carries four times the death risk of major depression, three times that of bipolar disorder, and twice that of schizophrenia. Yet, if someone in AA had a sponsee with say schizophrenia, I seriously doubt they would be so confident that all they have to do is replace a few words in the steps, and I SINCERELY HOPE they would encourage them to seek additional professional help.
Finally, though I am for sure a 12-step person, I don't believe it's the best fit for everybody, and I really think we should stop shaming people for not liking it. Especially since that discourages them from giving the program a fair shot; anything that might help is worth a shot, but we need to let something go if it's hurting more than helping. I had to take a break from 12-step for a while and really decide for myself if it was for me or not, and my relationships with the program itself and the different fellowships have changed immensely over the years, and going through that process has been a crucial part of my recovery.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
There are as many different recovery programs as there are people recovering. There is no one-size-fits all solution, and I'm biased but I think this is especially true for eating disorder recovery. The most important thing for anyone to do is try things, and ask for lots of help, and learn about different perspectives because it's a complex disorder, and it often needs a multi-faceted approach.
One of the best things that the 12-step world has taught me is to find the people who have what you want, and do what they do. With time people get clearer on what is important to them and their recovery. These are the main things that have proven to be crucial for my recovery and me personally:
A peaceful and enjoyable relationship with food
A gentle and accepting relationship with my body
A fun and relaxed relationship with exercise (still working on that one)
Not placing moral values on certain foods, weights, or shapes
Learning to listen to what my body wants and using food and exercise as currencies of love and care for myself
Well, I hope you've gotten something useful from this, I certainly had fun writing it! Please remember that my thoughts are not a replacement for professional or medical advice. Let me know if you are in need of further information, or just want to chat!
Some of my fav of the favs @neda @bodyposipanda @yourhappyhealthyrd