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Tips to Assist Recovery from an Eating Disorder


By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator: 


Photo CreditEleni Psillakis, 2017 – Embrace Life – 

Recovery from an eating disorder is very complex. These serious mental health issues result in a disordered array of physical, mental, emotional and social health consequences. Research indicates that approximately 50% of people who have suffered from an eating disorder fully recover. Because of their complexity, there is no single pathway to recovery and effective treatment would consider the multifaceted nature of these issues and each individual concerned.

No Judgement

I was fortunate to take part in a recovery forum conducted by the Butterfly Foundation, where people with a lived experience of an eating disorder gave insights to key points that assisted recovery. I remember the highlight for me in this setting was that there was no judgment. This is a key factor to assisting recovery. Someone with an eating disorder judges themselves enough. Having someone listen to me respectfully and not focus on the exercise or dieting behaviours made me feel like I was being heard and seen as a human being and not as a problem.

Supportive relationships help to diminish the huge sense of guilt and fear that the individual is already experiencing. The fear of taking the first steps towards recovery is immense. Comments like “you should be eating ice cream, not yoghurt”, not only raised anxiety and fear levels, but I also felt that my attempts in trying were not good enough. This was the mindset I had that developed the unhealthy behaviours to start with. I felt more support from the people that did not comment about food.

A sense of control or agency was the biggest issue for me personally. This was also found to be a common factor for others.  Self-control needs to be encouraged for recovery not in the sense of reinforcing the control over restrictive eating or compensatory behaviours, but rather encouragement that I was taking responsibility for my health. Gradually increasing the amount and variety of foods I ate and changing my exercise habits from running purely to burn calories to cutting out all cardio and just do resistance training was frightening! But the thought of going to the hospital on bed rest was more frightening.

Education about what health problems arose from the behaviours I was engaging in helped. These health problems were not to do with weight or shape but rather the damage to my metabolism, endocrine system, bone health and cardiovascular system. This did not help immediately, but it certainly gave me something else to think about other than merely burning calories. Not being rushed and having time to consider helped alleviate a little bit the fear to try to change my behaviour. As I got through each week gradually increasing for food intake, I realised the fears I had about billowing out were unfounded and my attitude to eating kept improving.

I was in my second year of university when I made first steps to recovery. Gaining feedback from others about my work or how well I was doing in my course was helpful for two reasons. One was that I was able to start focusing on other goals such as obtaining a degree and secondly I felt a sense of responsibility to try and recover. Focusing on other goals helped me to regain a glimpse of who I was as I had forgotten that person.

Professional Help

I will continue to maintain that seeking professional, psychological help was the key to working through the issues that caused the unhealthy diet and exercise patterns. Unless these are treated I do not believe full recovery occurs. Self-acceptance and self-love is the goal where the worth of an individual is not based on the adherence to unhealthy regimes or substances, to deal with negative thoughts. Letting go of calling the anorexia I suffered as ‘my eating disorder’, was one of the most liberating feelings. Your identity is NOT the eating disorder. I found who I was again through many mistakes, a multifaceted treatment plan and lots of unconditional support.

For further tips on what is helpful in assisting recovery please visit https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/assets/Uploads/ButtInsights-BOOK1-online-nov5-FINAL-20161107.pdf.

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis


Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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