Why is an Eating Disorder like a Virus?

The nature of an eating disorder is fluid and constantly changeable. Even though the thoughts and symptoms often seem fixed, any change in situation, context or environment will precipitate an immediate adjustment in the eating disorder. In this way it is like a virus in the mind, always ready to adapt to new surroundings, multiply and attack. This ability keeps the eating disorder powerful and enables it to dominate a life. 

For instance, when someone with an eating disorder moves to a new environment, the rules instantly change to suit the situation, mostly in order to maintain strict control over food. A new relationship will lead an eating disorder to find a way to inject itself into a situation. Changes in a food plan precipitate other, often hidden, changes to compensate.  

Paying attention to the subtle response of an eating disorder and fighting to avoid those pitfalls are challenging yet necessary in recovery. 

The ever-changing, insidious quality of an eating disorder demands a consistent, flexible treatment team. The people who comprise that team need to understand each other, be capable of quick response and be very familiar with each other's thought processes about recovery. There can't be a secondary agenda. The team can't isolate from each other and compartmentalize aspects of treatment. Working as a cohesive, directed unit will increase the likelihood of success and also take the responsibility of managing the team out of the patient's hands. 

From a biological perspective, a treatment team needs to mimic the effectiveness of antiviral medications. Viruses are highly adaptable organisms which can mutate in the blink of an eye to a new environment or to new medications. Any success treating viral infections stems from anticipating the likely responses of the virus to new treatment and blocking off all avenues of escape. 

The analogy is very similar for eating disorder treatment. If a clinical team can block off ways the disorder mutates, the person has a real chance of recovery. This level of success may scare some patients who aren't psychological ready for such a big step in recovery, but realizing recovery is possible can have a profound effect on even the sickest patients. 

A patient can identify a team working this well when it appears the clinicians work together fluidly and seamlessly. If a patient needs to manage the team, then there is a problem. If the team members need to spend lot of time getting on the same page, then that is also an issue which detracts from recovery and opens the door for the eating disorder to flourish. 

A treatment team is a crucial part of recovery. But finding any team isn't enough. Cohesive support aimed at cornering an eating disorder can make all the difference in true recovery.

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