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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Mero

Is This the Missing Link in Your Recovery from Disordered Eating & Body Image Distress?

Most people understand that eating disorders are related to one's relationship with food and body image, but what they don't consider is that they extend beyond just physical manifestations. Managing disordered eating and body image distress can be crippling because the symptoms can affect ALL areas of a person's life. According to The World Psychiatric Association, Psychology Today, and other sources, eating disorders are the mental health diagnosis most likely to cause death (Yes, more than schizophrenia and depression).

The emotional, psychological, spiritual, biomedical, and social aspects of eating disorders are profound, and recovery often requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond just medical and individual psychological interventions. Because of the lethal nature of disordered eating, it is critical to have a treatment team consisting of a competent therapist and an eating disorder-informed registered dietician at bare minimum. Another essential aspect in recovery is having a reliable and safe support network. The issue with this is that even if you have loved ones who are willing to support you, "normies" don't always understand how they can easily trigger those who are struggling and actually cause them to backslide in recovery. This is due to the unfortunate fact that fatphobia and diet culture have permeated our society for decades, thus causing disordered eating and body image distress to be perceived as "normal," "good" or even something to be envious of.

Luckily, peer support groups have emerged as an invaluable component in the journey of recovery from eating disorders. When moderated effectively, these groups harness the collective strength, experience, and understanding of individuals on the same journey. American Psychologist and Emeritus Professor at Stanford University, Irvin Yalom, MD, is a long-time proponent of the importance of connectedness in his work. Social workers and therapists study his widely recognized theory in their accredited programs so they can be equipped with the knowledge of how to run a powerful group. The efficacy and benefits of groups can be further understood by examining Yalom's group therapy principles:

1. The Instillation of Hope: One of the primary benefits of being part of a peer support group is seeing others at various stages of recovery. Witnessing peers progress and overcome challenges instills hope, fostering the belief that recovery is indeed possible.

2. Universality: Knowing that one is not alone in their struggles helps in normalizing feelings and experiences. Recognizing the universality of certain thoughts and behaviors can combat feelings of isolation and shame.

3. Imparting Information: Peer groups act as a hub for sharing practical information, resources, and coping techniques. From understanding the science behind eating disorders to sharing local resources, this sharing can be instrumental in recovery.

4. Altruism: Being able to offer support, advice, or a listening ear to someone else can boost one’s self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose. Helping others often aids in one’s own healing process.

5. Corrective Recapitulation of the Primary Family Group: Peer groups can often mirror family dynamics, offering members a chance to address unresolved family issues in a safer environment. They provide an opportunity to practice new behaviors and ways of relating to others.

6. Development of Socializing Techniques: As members interact within the group, they learn and practice interpersonal skills, which can be especially beneficial for those whose disorders have led to social isolation.

7. Imitative Behavior: Members can model healthy behaviors and coping strategies they observe in peers, thereby learning from one another.

8. Cohesiveness: A sense of belonging and acceptance is vital for recovery. Peer groups foster a sense of unity and belonging, often becoming a foundational support system.

9. Existential Factors: Facing and discussing existential concerns, such as the meaning of life and death, can provide deeper insights into one's disorder and the broader aspects of existence.

10. Catharsis: The act of sharing personal experiences and emotions provides a therapeutic release. It allows for the ventilation of feelings and can be deeply healing.

11. Interpersonal Learning: Interactions within the group facilitate both interpersonal learning input (how one impacts others) and output (how others impact oneself). It offers a chance to understand one’s relational impact and learn from feedback.

In Conclusion:

Peer support groups are a powerful resource that create one-of-a-kind supplemental healing spaces for people who are struggling. These groups not only offer the collective wisdom of shared experiences but also provide emotional, psychological, and social tools essential for sustained recovery. By creating a safe, accepting space for open dialogue and mutual support, peer groups become an indispensable asset in the journey to overcome eating disorders.

Are you struggling with disordered eating or body image distress? Contact me today to see if we are a good fit! I am a licensed therapist in the state of California offering individual counseling and a weekly sliding scale peer support group! You don't have to go through this alone.

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