Another great way to strengthen your recovery process outside the treatment setting is to attend self-help (support) groups. These can be found on college campuses, as adjuncts to in-patient or out-patient therapy programs, as informal groups of people in varying stages of recovery, or as components of existing Overeaters Anonymous programs, and so on. Self-help groups meet in a variety of settings, including rented space at local churches, hospitals, or members' homes. Typically, participants include people who are in recovery from some form of eating disorder (and perhaps additional psychological or addictive challenges) and their families or friends.
Self-help groups vary dramatically in the ways in which they are run. A trained professional may sit in, but doesn't necessarily lead the group; responsibility for the group's tone and tempo remains with the participants. The therapist's role in that context is as a backup in case of emergency or crisis.
If you choose to attend a self-help group, understand that although it's a great addendum to therapy, it's not a replacement for professional help.
Self-help groups are free or charge a minimal membership fee, publish monthly newsletters, and often have hotlines for you to call when you're feeling disheartened. Sometimes groups function as stable and reliable social networks, but they aren't meant to be a place to find romantic partners. Many self-help groups (for example, Alcoholics Anonymous) discourage private interpersonal contact until the person is free of the disorder or addictive behavior for at least a year.
It might surprise you that many people with anorexia and bulimia attend meetings of Overeaters Anonymous (OA), an organization founded in 1960 for compulsive overeaters and patterned after the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Some bulimics find OA's strict requirements comforting and helpful: you limit yourself to three meals a day, restrict your range of foods at mealtime, avoid sugar and other binge-triggering substances, check in with your sponsor daily by phone, and attend weekly, even daily, OA meetings. Others find this system triggering because it seems to increase an inappropriate focus on food and may escalate the desire to binge. How you respond to a self-help strategy is personal. Not liking one doesn't mean there's something wrong with you or that the program is bad; it just means you must keep searching until you find a group that "fits" your needs and wants.
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