Eating Recovery: A Shift In Treatment

By Gayle Masterson, MD
Director, Eating Recovery Program

When it comes to eating disorders, traditional methods of treatment have placed a greater emphasis on the diagnosis and not the individual as a whole. At Sierra Tucson, our Eating Recovery Program is shifting its focus to include attachment issues; developmentally related, early life issues; and the significant ways in which these patterns of engagement in interpersonal relationships result in the development or manifestation of eating disorders and subsequently have a substantial impact on the recovery process.

Our bodies function as a system. Rather than focusing primarily on the food (i.e., meal plan, nutrition, eating behaviors, portion sizes), we take into consideration all parts of the system. Sierra Tucson’s holistic approach to wellness and mind-body-spirit healing includes an in-depth look at an individual’s relationships, relationship patterns, and the means by which he or she may have previously utilized these patterns to manage or cope with stress, distress, and trauma, both overt and covert. Whereas these behaviors were initially helpful at managing feelings, eventually these “coping skills,” which have manifested in maladaptive eating behaviors, no longer serve the individual and begin causing more distress, compromised functionality, and suffering.

Ultimately, for nearly all human beings, our initial, early life relationships are formed with primary caregivers, and there is a biologic necessity for the focus to be on survival. It follows naturally that our first relationships in life involve the act of feeding, and all of the behaviors and interpersonal interactions that serve to facilitate being fed. Looking more closely at the dynamics of these interpersonal interactions and the ways in which we (consciously or not) learned to adapt in order to ensure survival (being fed), allows the opportunity to better understand the metaphorical, symbolic, and often practical role of food and feeding in an individual’s life.

When any human being gets to a point that adaptive behaviors become maladaptive, and enough distress is experienced, there is a beautiful opportunity to intervene. In the process of this intervention, it is possible to help alleviate suffering, improve insight, and assist the individual with an understanding of self, which will help to facilitate a shift toward improved health—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Only when an individual is able to understand fully the ways in which maladaptive behaviors are no longer serving him or her and, in fact, causing a great deal of distress and suffering; and only when the individual is given the opportunity to feel as though he or she can choose different behaviors, does true change occur. At that point, the individual can consciously make different choices, shift away from maladaptive behaviors, and have gratitude for how those behaviors served him or her in the past. He or she can begin to process and grieve the loss of these familiar, previously helpful behaviors and thought patterns, and replace them with more adaptive, healthy, self-fulfilling behaviors.

Overall, while the symptoms and the behavior involves food, the core issues are about feeding, being fed, survival, and how these are all fundamentally related to relationships and attachment patterns in relationships. The focus of eating recovery shifts from calories, grams of carbohydrates, portion sizes, etc., to a genuine understanding of the dynamics behind what drives the choices and behaviors, and what can be chosen in place of those behaviors that encourages self-care, self-love, compassion, healthy and gratifying relationships, and ultimately a reduction in suffering.

For more information on Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Program, call our Admissions Coordinators today at (800) 842-4487.