Studying Eating Disorders - Thoughts on Formal Education

Over the weekend, I attended my first course in the Eating Disorders Institute at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire (US). The course is part of a graduate studies program in counseling and health studies, which can be taken as a stand-alone institute (15 credits) or as part of a master’s degree in counseling. I have chosen to take the institute as a stand-alone program to add to my master’s degree and my professional coaching certification.

I was curious to see how studying eating disorders in a formal classroom setting compares with my own research on eating disorders over the past 18 plus years. I feel like I have researched every facet of eating disorders from the traditional standpoint – and over the past 6 years, from the non-traditional standpoint.

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Recovery

While I am in this program, which will take over a year, I will be sharing what I am learning – and comparing & contrasting it with what I have studied from alternative, holistic health practices. I am interested in really understanding the similarities and differences between treatment protocols that are mainstream versus those that are not considered mainstream.

I truly believe there are many paths to recovery
As many of you who’ve been reading my posts already know, I feel like my recovery was prompted by what I consider alternative, holistic methods. Instead of conventional medical treatment, drugs, therapy or treatment centers, I followed a plan that consisted of healing my life – reducing stress, finding out what I really want to do and getting to know who I am. I truly believe there are many paths to recovery – sometimes traditional paths work and other times alternative paths work. The idea is to find what works for you and go with it.

In my studies, I want to understand how prevention and treatment of eating disorders is typically done and get a sense of whether professionals in traditional treatment paths honor each person’s individual needs for “treatment.” In other words, is there one way that is prescribed as the “right way?”

Also, I have found little written on medical causes of eating disorders, although there are a handful of health professionals and doctors who truly believe that eating disorders are symptoms of medical issues. As you know, I’m convinced that faulty digestion & digestive pain, leading to malnutrition & leaky gut, prompted my eating disorder. At the same time, I had the genetic predisposition (maternal grandfather, grandmother and mother were binge eaters, diabetes in family history, etc.) and I bought into thinness as beauty & success.

What We Learned

One of the first things we learned in the Eating Disorders Awareness & Prevention class I attended over the weekend, was that the causes and effects of eating disorders can touch many areas of our lives. Mardie Burckes-Miller, who founded the program at Plymouth State, gave us seven areas that contributed to the cause or various effects of eating disorders:

  • Occupational
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Environmental

As a class, we discussed how each of these areas can impact the lifecycle of an eating disorder. So while I believe that digestive issues prompted my eating disorder, I also believe that I had issues in each of the 7 areas we discussed, which contributed to developing and continuing disordered eating behaviors.

My path to recovery included really looking into each of these areas and clearing out everything that inhibited my wellness. Feeling better digestively – and eating foods that repaired my body’s vitamin & mineral supply, freed me to take full advantage of what I had learned (how to use my thoughts for wellness) – instead of constantly living in chronic pain.

The Value Of Learning

Taking these classes will be very valuable for me – not because I have learned anything really new about eating disorders – but because I am learning new things about how they are thought about and treated. One thing you may want to know is that professionals who enter the eating disorders field do so because they really care – they don’t see us as “less than” or “defective,” for the most part. If you find a professional who you don’t connect with, seek out a new one. Many people in the field really care about helping us heal. The important thing is – when you seek out help and support from a professional – look for someone who honors your ability to try what works for you. Using tried & true successful techniques is important, as long as they take into account what truly works for your individual situation.

The other big benefit I’m getting from the classes are learning from guest speakers who have recovered from many different types of eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, “bigarexia” (muscle dysmorphia – wanting to be bigger/more muscular), binge eating, etc. Mardie has several guest speakers share their experiences, how they felt before and after recovery. Most have told us that there were things they were not addressing in their lives – and that after stopping their disordered eating behaviors, they still had to address those things (e.g., anxiety, need for control, fear, etc.). Listening to the stories of others was very helpful – and everyone in the class was so grateful that these courageous & inspiring people came to speak to us.

We Are More Than Labels

I struggle to wade through all the labels and categories – the “boxes” that professionals in the field create in order to analyze, talk about and treat eating disordered individuals. Sometimes, it’s these “boxes” that tend to dehumanize us or make us feel defective. And yet, I understand the need to create a language and common understanding about eating disorders in order to prevent and treat them. For me, while I was engaged in disordered eating, I felt like an alien when looking at myself through the lens of these categories, words and boxes. I somehow felt “less than” normal, less than successful. It was a tough place to be.

I felt like an alien when looking at myself through the lens of these categories, words and boxes
When I began to learn how to love myself, how to reconnect with myself and then how to eat a body-repairing diet, I felt empowered. With support from my coach, I felt like I was learning new skills that, with practice, I could master. With mastering the skills, I got better and better at recovery – relapses happened less often. Once I got my eating plan right for me with The Body Ecology Diet, everything just snapped into place. This process, for me, allowed me to feel excited about my recovery. I was not reading about eating disorders, the complications, what was wrong with me psychologically, what was in my past, and all the other “wrong” things. I was actually focused on what was right – what I was learning, what I was getting better at, loving myself, etc.

Honor Your Own Path

I want to emphasize that this is my experience – I know there are excellent treatment plans, therapists and health professionals out there who honor each individual and help them reconnect to self. I also recognize that I own my thoughts – and therefore, I own that is was me who THOUGHT I was “wrong” or “less than” when seeking treatment from mainstream professionals.

We – each of us – connect with what works for us in our own way, through our own filters. It’s helpful to know that there are so many dedicated, caring people, with good intentions, entering the field of eating disorders. And, there are many alternative paths if traditional treatment does not connect with you. As you listen to your heart, you will know what works for you. Knowing this will allow you to select a healing professional who can support your needs for your own recovery path.

(Visited 206 times, 1 visits today)
The following two tabs change content below.
As a coach, writer and recovered former executive, I understand the challenges of creating a balanced, healthy lifestyle when over-scheduled. In my journey to radiant health, I created a whole health system of eating, exercise, renewal and recharging -- a roadmap toward health & vitality. I empower clients to create their own whole health systems, in their own unique ways. I have seen amazing results in working with my clients!