“I think a support group could help me but I’m too scared to go” thought I, in the run up to attending my first ever group for support with my eating disorder.
Some friends had told me about this brilliant local charity that helps those with disordered eating so I researched them online and, whilst they looked like exactly what I needed, I still had doubts.
“Will they understand what’s happening to me?”
“Is my problem severe enough for me to go?”
“Will it be like Alcoholics Anonymous?!”
Yes, I genuinely did think that last one! But I needn’t have worried – it was all I could have hoped for and more and remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
As soon as I walked through those magic doors, I felt instantly welcomed and included. I had never been in the company of so many people who not only understand my difficulties with food, but who have actually experienced them first-hand. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Five years on and emerging from Covid restrictions, our face to face groups are gradually returning which is so good to see and incredibly reassuring. Some are still taking place virtually which is helpful as it makes for a good mix and something to please everyone.
Here are my top five reasons to give group support a try if you think you or a loved one could benefit…
Each group I have attended was run by a member of staff who has first-hand experience of eating disorders or caring for somebody with one. Their expertise shines through all they do and they are the best people to listen, understand and advise those in the group. Peer support is incredibly key and visible in this environment and it really helps us to feel less alone.
Each group topic is selected by staff, volunteers or service users themselves and is a relevant, important factor in the eating disorder recovery journey. They focus on goal setting, identity, emotions and relationships amongst other subjects and really help us to understand our situation more deeply. We also do fun activities like crafts and quizzes and occasionally go out to nearby parks and events.
Not only are the staff great empathisers but the other attendees in the group are some of the most understanding and supportive people I have ever met too. We all listen to each other without judgement and offer tips and advice from our experiences. I’ve learnt so much from the people I have met at the support groups and best of all, made friends for life.
You would be forgiven for assuming that an eating disorder support group could be a pretty dismal place but that could not be further from the truth. The staff ensure the mood is light and whilst each topic is delivered sensitively, they appreciate we all need some light relief from our difficulties sometimes. We always leave on a positive note, feeling motivated to try something new and really glad that we came.
Most organisations run regular feedback sessions to make sure the support groups are in line with the service users’ needs and requirements. These can take place in the groups themselves and evaluate everything from the topics covered, the timings, the delivery and format of the groups. The staff leave the room to allow everyone the opportunity to discuss freely and without hesitation, ensuring the true feelings of the service users are aired and acted upon.
It’s completely understandable to feel daunted but I would urge anybody struggling to consider group support as an option for recovery. It may be the most reassuring, heart-warming and inclusive thing you ever do.