Eating Disorders: The Dangers of Self-Treatment and the Need for Professional Help

Eating Disorders: The Dangers of Self-Treatment and the Need for Professional Help

By Dr. Teri McCann, PhD, CEDS

Taking the first step to begin recovery from an eating disorder requires immense courage. There are a number of intervention methods for eating disorders, and each requires compassion above all. Often times, those who live with an eating disorder feel like a burden to the people around them, and therefore, attempt self-treatment. Self-treatment may seem completely possible, especially when you believe you are in control of your mind and body. However, there are several reasons to consider seeking professional help.

According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration, the earlier professional help is sought, the shorter the duration of the disorder, and the greater likelihood of a full recovery. This is not to suggest that there are not methods of self-treatment that can assist in the recovery process. Instead, it is to suggest that there is no need to embark on the journey alone.

It is important to be aware of the potential dangers of self-treatment in order to know when it’s time to seek professional help.

You may not be aware of your needs. It’s difficult to see the full scope of a situation when you’re in the middle of it. You may feel fine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your body and/or mind are receiving everything that they need to recover. Seeking help from a professional can take off the pressure of spotting every need for yourself.

Professionals know and can recommend effective methods of treatment. Therapists, clinicians and health care professionals can prepare you with practical steps to take in your recovery process. Their specialized training enables them to help get to the root cause of what led to an eating disorder, while prescribing the appropriate treatment. They can also monitor both your physical and psychological health and equip you with coping mechanisms to ensure that your recovery is complete and permanent. While you may know what works for you, professionals know the science behind the condition, which is an incredibly valuable resource.

Guessing your needs can sometimes cause more damage. Self-treatment poses the risk of physically issuing yourself the wrong treatment, or mentally causing more trauma by doing it alone. Without an outside (and professional) perspective, it’s more likely that you will undergo more trials and setbacks in your recovery before finding out what works. Professionals can cut out a substantial amount of time and trial-and-error from your recovery.

Self-treatment could lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like self-harm or isolation. Recovery is an emotional, taxing process that is not meant to be endured alone. Needing help does not mean that you are weak! The pressures of self-treatment alone are more likely to lead to harmful coping mechanisms, like cutting or depression, than undergoing treatment with a professional and a supportive community.

Speaking of isolation, when you cut your journey off from others who can help, you start to believe that no one will ever be able to understand or help. What we often don’t realize in recovery is that the people around us want to help. We need a circle of support to encourage us forward, pick us up on a bad day, empathize with our struggle and remind us of what we’re fighting for.

Seeking professional help takes courage. Reaching out takes strength. Committing to a journey of recovery takes bravery and boldness. What you may not hear enough is that taking those steps is beautiful and admirable. You are never alone, and you are never too far from help or encouragement.

If you are in need of professional help for an eating disorder, contact Fairhaven Treatment Center at 901.757.7979.

Dr. Teri McCann, PhD, CEDS is the Founder and Executive Clinical Director of Fairhaven Treatment Center near Memphis, TN. Dr. McCann has over 30 years of experience in working with women and adolescents with symptoms of eating disorders of all kinds. Dr. McCann specializes in the treatment of eating disorders that are related to trauma and attachment disorder.

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