How My Attitude Affects Your Eating Disorder Recovery

November 11, 2014 Jessica Hudgens

I was hospitalized in an inpatient facility for a few days recently (not for my anorexia, but a comorbid condition). I was there long enough to see some patient turnover and was reminded just how much the attitudes of people you are in treatment with can affect you. In school, we call this the "therapeutic milieu." I prefer to think of it as the general "vibe" of the unit.

Wherever you are in treatment, the therapists, dietitians, and psych techs will tell you to stop worrying about others and take time to focus on yourself. And there is some truth and wisdom in that -- you'll never recover if you are trying to take care of everyone else and worrying about their problems. However, the reality is that you and the guys or girls you are in treatment with create a little feedback loop and your emotions and actions play off each other.

Attitude is Contagious

This isn't true only with inpatient treatment. I have seen it in residential, partial hospitalization (day), and intensive outpatient treatment. It exists, to a somewhat lesser degree, even in outpatient support groups. (The difference with outpatient support groups seems to be the general fluctuation of group attendance and members, versus the stable census of a more intensive program.) The attitude of the other people in the room is almost certainly going to affect your own. Attitude plays a role in recovery from eating disorders. Learn how a positive or negative attitude can be contagious and impact your eating disorder recover.

You might check into your day treatment facility ready to take the bull by its horns and do recovery. You're going to do every assignment, interact in every group and eat every exchange, awesome. See how long you can keep that go-get-'em attitude when the other girls in your program are talking about how they leave program every day and engage in x, y, or z behavior.

Likewise, a group of positive guys and girls can change the tone of the group for the better. Three or four patients on a residential eating disorder unit who want to compare calorie counts or body check or talk about ways to get around the rules cannot possibly stand up to another 15 girls who refuse to put up with it. I have seen it happen (and have been on both sides of that conversation). Regardless of where you are (treatment, work, sports team) the group can hold incredible sway over individuals.

I think of it like this: in recovery, our brains are constantly throwing ideas from two totally different camps. First, our wise brain, which wants to make recovery-oriented choices. Second, our eating disorder brain, which I think we are all quite familiar with, by this point. Those two sides are warring all the time, especially in early recovery, so the messages you're receiving from the outside play a big role in tipping the scales.

The more crummy messages you're hearing, the less hopeful and optimistic you are going to feel about eating disorder recovery. Alternatively, if you are hearing people say positive things about their experiences with recovery and how far they've come, your eating disorder brain has a little less to work with.

How Does Attitude Apply to My Real-World Eating Disorder Recovery?

At a treatment center, you are somewhat limited to your choices of companions (but you can still seek out others with recovery-oriented mindsets). However, when you get into the "real world" it is a whole different ball game. You can choose who you talk to and how often. You are not forced to listen to someone prattle on about his/her exercise routine simply because the two of you share a room. You can walk away.

And you should, if a relationship begins to become toxic and starts to drag your eating disorder recovery down with it. This is the point where all the therapists, dietitians, and everyone else are right: you need to do what is best for your recovery. Where this line is drawn is extremely personal and may change depending on where you are in your recovery.

At earlier points in my recovery, I needed to pull away for seemingly small reasons. A friend who was consistently skipping one snack without remorse might hear responses from me only after many hours. I couldn't talk to people about their exercise routines (approved or no) at all.

Today, I am solid enough in my recovery that those sorts of things don't trigger me in the same way they might have at one time. I can continue to engage in these friendships and offer support to people who are having a tough day.

All that said, I won't have conversations with someone's eating disorder. I won't continue on in a friendship where the other person isn't even trying to recover. I won't have conversations that focus solely on the crummy parts of recovery.

Those are my own personal lines in the sand. I suspect that as I continue to grow in my recovery and become more solid in my footing, I will have an easier time engaging with and supporting people who are in earlier stages of recovery (with the whole range of ambivalent feelings that accompany them). If I don't respect my limits and engage in these relationships before I'm ready, now there are two of us stuck in an eating disorder, not one.

Have you seen this at work in treatment centers? Or school? Or work?

Jess can also be found on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

APA Reference
Hudgens, J. (2014, November 11). How My Attitude Affects Your Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Jessica Hudgens

Leave a reply