Treatment Expectations That Do Not Disappoint
Entering treatment for an eating disorder, patients and their friends and family all have expectations about how recovery will go.
Fortunately, healing occurs despite our often unrealistic expectations.
Expectations that will not disappoint must encompass patient individuality and the often bumpy, crooked, twisted, slow and sideways path of healing.
Five Realistic Expectations
- It is realistic to think that each person will go through the treatment process differently. Although people who have the same eating disorder generally have the same eating behaviors, they do not share the same genes, life experiences, environment, or temperament. The issues that underlie each person’s symptoms differ, as do the wounds, weaknesses, strengths, and skills each patient brings into treatment.
- It is realistic to expect that treatment will take a long time. A long time can be seven months, 18 months, three, or five years. Even if a person being treated for anorexia gains ten pounds in five months, their internal mental and emotional healing might have barely begun. Being in recovery a long time is normal and is lengthened or shortened by an individual’s desire to be well, acceptance of and commitment to treatment, and their level of support outside treatment.
- It is realistic to suspect a person new to recovery might appear to be doing better than they actually are. People may follow treatment guidelines and begin eating better while still feeling distrustful of food and ill at ease in their skin. They may not yet understand why their eating became disordered in the first place, or that self-acceptance is possible.
- It is realistic to expect people to change as they go through the recovery process. No one is the same after examining their beliefs, feelings, and self-perceptions, or after acquiring effective life skills to get personal needs met. When people relate to themselves differently, they will naturally relate to other people differently.
- It is realistic for people in treatment to ultimately do the work of recovery for themselves. When individuals shift their motivation for healing from outside incentives (e.g., parents, kids, school, a job) to doing the work for themselves, the will to utilize treatment and recover increases. This shift often occurs slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, and signifies a person’s recognition that they are worth fighting for.
Unrealistic expectations can foster discouragement and shame when they are not met. Realistic expectations, being open-ended and compassionate, can give people the courage to take initial steps to a healthier life, and those rooting for them the patience to sustain support.