One of the most important functions of an eating disorder recovery coach is to help clients access their “healthy self”. What do we mean by “access your healthy self?” Let’s look at some things many sufferers of eating disorders often say… “Part of me wants to recover but part of me doesn’t want to let go of the eating disorder” or “I told myself I wouldn’t binge and then I went ahead and did it! It’s like a monster took over!” These examples illustrate two parts of the sufferer: the healthy self and the eating disorder part (or voice). Regardless of whether clients are suffering from anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder and/or atypical eating disorders, the two parts most likely co-exist. My role as an Eating Disorder Recovery Coach is to help clients identify their healthy self and strengthen it so when the eating disorder part gets loud, they can resist its urges and practice recovery behaviors instead.
The concept of healthy self and eating disorder self are central to Carolyn Costin’s 8 Keys to Recovering From an Eating Disorder text and 8 Keys to Recovering From an Eating Disorder Workbook. Both are important tools for eating disorder recovery and provide a foundation for the work I do with my clients.
While in training with the Carolyn Costin Institute to become a certified eating disorder recovery coach, I was asked to respond to sample client scenarios in writing and help them access their healthy self so they could take back control from the eating disorder part. In the following imagines meal session dialogue, I illustrate how coaching can help clients access their healthy self and have it take control of their behavior. I realize it may not be as easy as I portray here. My dialogue is admittedly condensed as I aim to give a brief glimpse into the coaching process and how eating disorder recovery coaching helps clients access the healthy self and challenge the eating disorder part.
Meal Session Dialogue:
Client: “I can’t eat this food.” (after it arrives at the table during a meal session).
Me: Tell me more?
Client: I can’t eat it — it looks wrong — I don’t know — I can’t eat it
Me: Let’s pause for a moment. Let’s take a few breaths together.
Client: Okay — I’m sorry — I guess I’m freaking out a little
Me: It’s okay. Let’s take 3 breaths together then we’ll talk about it
Me: I think the eating disorder self is trying to get you to not eat this meal. Can you tell me what thoughts you’re having?
Client: It’s like there’s a wall going up and I can’t climb over it
Me: I know that wall! I’ve had that too. Okay so we need to give you some climbing equipment so you can get over that wall. I’d like you to look at your food for a minute and tell me what you see
Client: I see a REALLY BIG plate of food that I CANNOT EAT
Me: Okay so look at my plate — does it look really big, too?
Client: Not really but you’re used to eating that much
Me: Yes, I am eating a regular sized amount and I have been doing this for years and it’s okay. Your food is the same size as mine. My body needs the food on my plate and your body needs the food on your plate.
Client: My dietician said I had to eat this and I want to but I don’t want to.
Me: Yes…the eating disorder self and your healthy self are both there. Sometimes it’s helpful to begin. Then it gets easier. So I ask you to begin — what part of the meal could you take one bite of?
Client: The sandwich but I don’t want to eat the bread. I’m sorry. I’m more freaked out than I thought I would be.
Me: It’s alright to feel scared. These feeling are coming up because you are trying new behavior. I challenge your eating disorder self — I challenge the fear — and I ask you to challenge it by taking one bite of the sandwich, including the bread.
Client: Okay one bite here I go
(takes a bit) (I take a bite)
Me: Remember we can always use our senses to help us stay in the now — fear wants to take us into the future — so let’s practice being in the now by using our ears — let’s keep eating and see what sounds we notice. (we do this for a couple of bites)
Client: That helps because it gives me something to think about.
Me: Yes – good – and we can focus on something light by talking a little too. I think music is a good topic because who doesn’t love music? Is there a period of music you like? (we talk about music for a bit) (client continues to eat) (client stops eating)
Client: I don’t think I can eat any more (meal is half eaten)
Me: Really, why not? How is your food tasting?
Client: I honestly really like this. My e.d. self doesn’t want me to admit that. Isn’t that weird?
Me: I’m glad you can admit it — that strengthens your healthy self. I didn’t want to admit I liked eating when I had my e.d. I thought it would make me seem weak. But it takes strength to do what you’re doing. I’m really proud of you. Let’s eat a few more bites. (we continue to eat)
(Client leaves 2 bits on plate. Client is supposed to eat entire meal)
Me: I see you only have 2 bites left.
Client: I’m full
Me: Are you sure the e.d. isn’t trying to get you to leave some food on your plate for some reason?
Client: I don’t know
Me: If you leave food on your plate, what does that mean?
Client: why can’t I just be normal?
Me: You have been eating quite normally here with me!
Client: That’s true!
Me: Would it be “normal” to finish the meal — especially since you like the way it tastes?
Client: Yes but I feel scared. The wall is coming back
Me: Okay let’s get some climbing equipment! Do you think that leaving food on the plate proves something?
Client: yes, it shows that I can resist eating when I want to
Me: And is that your eating disorder self speaking or your healthy self?
Client: It’s the e.d. Geez it’s hard — the thoughts keep coming.
Me: But look at how you can hear them and name them!
Client: Yes..okay I am not going to let the e.d. self make me do this ritual of leaving food on my plate. (starts eating)
Me: You have challenged and succeeded again and again today. The more you do, the easier it will be. Trust me, I’ve been through it.
Client: (after finishing) Wow that was hard but I did it.
This scenario illustrates how the sufferer’s distorted perception and thoughts can be challenged and changed with the help of a caring eating disorder recovery coach. The coach helped the client access their healthy self and challenge the eating disorder part. The client is able to eat a full meal and is empowered for the next one. I truly enjoy sitting with clients at mealtime and helping them progress in their eating disorder recovery. If you need help recovering from your eating disorder, click here to schedule your complimentary clarity call today.