Written by: Christina Purkiss, MA, LMHC, CEDS-S (she/her/hers)
Site Director, The Renfrew Center of Orlando
Leaving residential eating disorder treatment can bring up mixed emotions – excitement, fear, anxiety, and anticipation to name a few. In this article, we’ll review some things to consider and plan for as you begin adjusting back to life after treatment.
Residential treatment is a time of significant emotional growth and change. It’s important to plan ahead for leaving the structure and support that a residential facility provides, as it can bring up new struggles and challenges that you may not have had to face while in treatment. You may even feel some ambivalence about leaving. For instance, you may feel excited to see your friends and family after time away, while at the same time feel scared that they may say or do things that will trigger your eating disorder.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your transition.
5 Tips for Starting Your Eating Disorder Recovery Journey
1) Solidify your step-down plan
What does your aftercare plan look like? For those fortunate enough to access care, it’s best to gradually reduce the support and supervision provided in a residential treatment center. Upon discharge, your team might recommend a step down to a partial hospitalization (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP). By gradually increasing your independence, you have the opportunity to more confidently practice the new skills and knowledge you’ve learned in residential while leaning on the support of your new team and the structure of your next program.
2) Know your red flags
It’s a good idea to think about what your red flags are that signify you are starting to slip. Try identifying and writing down the thoughts and behaviors you experience/engage in that indicate your eating disorder is getting louder and your urges are getting stronger. From there, lay out a game plan on how to respond to those slips. What do you need to do, specifically, if you notice yourself isolating from supports, cutting back on your meal plan, eating in secret, etc.? With the help of your treatment team, it can be helpful to create a clear plan of action before any challenges arise so that you can reference that guide when you’re struggling.
3) Identify a support system
Eating disorder recovery is hard work, but a solid support system can make the process feel a bit easier. Keep in mind that your expectations for your loved ones may look very different pre- and post-treatment and will continue to shift throughout your recovery. You have likely gained insight into boundaries you need to put in place with your supports, and perhaps you’ve identified where and when you will need extra accountability and check-ins from others. Your supports won’t know what your newfound needs are unless you communicate them. This can be scary to do (especially if you identify as a people pleaser). Joint sessions or family therapy sessions are a great place to practice advocating for yourself and your recovery needs.
4) Create structure
If you’re leaving residential, you are leaving an environment that inherently comes with a lot of structure. Suddenly you may start to feel that you have all this time and space on your hands that you haven’t had for several weeks. While that can feel exciting and liberating, it can also open a window for your eating disorder to creep in. It can be helpful to create structure for yourself so that the transition back home does not feel like such a shock. That can look different person to person – perhaps it’s creating an eating schedule with support people, identifying a time you will grocery shop, making a shopping list ahead of time, or scheduling time to practice mindfulness exercises. As part of your relapse prevention plan, lean on your treatment team for help with this one!
5) Add in Accountability
Recovery is not linear. It’s full of bumps along the way, so adding in accountability can be helpful even if it feels like you don’t need or want it. Eating disorder urges can be strong and it’s not uncommon for urges to come back after they’ve stopped or significantly lessened while in residential. Accountability is often essential when you do not have the strength to fight through an urge on your own. Accountability will look different person to person, so it’s best to identify what your needs are with a treatment team member or a trusted support person.
Seek Out Support Opportunities
Recovery is a process that continues after eating disorder treatment is completed; you need and deserve ongoing support, compassion, education, and motivation to help you stay the course.
To help meet these needs, we have developed Renfrew’s Alumni Services to aid at any point in your recovery journey.
As an alum of Renfrew, you will receive free access to the following recovery-focused resources:
- In-Person and Virtual Events, Reunions & Support Groups
- Recovery Blog
- Monthly Webinars
- Bi-Annual Newsletter
Navigating life after treatment is something you do not need to figure out alone. While taking steps to plan for success is important, it’s equally as important to set realistic expectations. Struggles will happen and that’s okay! Rather than judging yourself for struggling, try practicing self-compassion and ask for help when you need it. Eating disorders often thrive in secrecy and silence, so it’s important to push past the urge to hide and be open with your support team about your struggles and ask for help. You deserve it!