For a quick overview of my recovery coaching service, see the PDF factsheet here.
What kind of coaching is this?
Coaching with me is about you (re)learning to live your life on your own terms. However many decisions or defaults have been getting determined by your eating problems, by other people, by inherited notions of should and shouldn’t, and however many years all this accumulation of stuff that doesn’t really work for you has been going on, it is possible to turn it around and start designing and living a life that is really yours. I love helping people do this, by helping them initiate kinds of change that might seem small and prosaic but are actually a major part of the holding pattern, and seeing scepticism give way to delight.
Having an eating disorder is crap in almost all ways. In one way, however, it’s a blessing: Like any other problem that has got pathological, it prevents you from drifting your whole life, pretending that everything is fine when it clearly isn’t. Of course, people with eating disorders aren’t immune from this kind of denial/procrastination: They often do this for years (I kept it up for 10). But at some point, it tends to be the case that a feeling is reached: Enough is enough.
And that conclusion is powerful. In it, you have a starting point (this is not working for me) that can take you anywhere. It can lead to a truly beautiful reconstruction of the days you spend, the weeks they coalesce into, and the months and years that flow from the small beginnings of how well you slept or what you have for breakfast or what exactly you‘re doing between dinner and bed.
Of course, for this reconstruction to mean anything, you need to accept that you don’t know quite where it’s going to take you. You may have some completely explicit ambitions for it—and I will help you tell me, and yourself, precisely what they are, and will do everything in my power to help them come true for you. But you must also know that the method for getting what you want must always be openness to the fact that you may also get outcomes you thought you really didn’t want, and/or outcomes that never even crossed your mind as possibilities. It is not possible to recover fully from something as life-wrecking as an eating disorder without putting everything up for grabs—without accepting just how much you don’t know about how your future could be without it. That is terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating.
I see one of my most important roles as helping you feel enough exhilaration to deal with the terror when it comes. I do this by helping you make a habit of one of the most fundamental recovery practices there is, zooming out. Other ways of describing this habit are “standing back”, “taking the long view”, countering “can’t see the woods for the trees” syndrome. In other words, it’s the structural opposite of the kind of blinkers an eating disorder tends to impose on your mind and actions.
How does it work?
The coaching I offer is designed, down to its tiniest detail, to help you achieve the definition of recovered that you create for yourself.
First we have a free half-hour consultation in which we establish what you want and need and whether my approach is right for you. Then, if we you decide you’d like to work with me (and I am confident that I can help you achieve your aims), you’ll commit to a 4-week block of coaching—or more, if you prefer to have a longer span of support mapped out from the beginning. I ask for a commitment of at least 4 weeks, because 4 weeks is long enough to make changes that are both meaningful and sustainable; anything less than that doesn’t tend to be.
Before our first session, you’ll complete an activity that invites you to think about your past, present, and future, to get clear on what exactly you’re doing here and why. We spend our first session digging into the details of your life right now, in order to work out which specific changes that you could make would do the most good (in terms of kicking off sustainable progress towards your end goals) and which would actually be feasible for you. By the end of our first session, you will know what you want to be different by the end of this week and this month, and you will know exactly what you are going to do this afternoon, or tomorrow, to start making these desires a reality.
This is not the kind of coaching that relies on weekly conversations with nothing in between. That kind of structure is much less likely to get your eating disorder out of your life forever than a structure that involves us being in touch between sessions in ways tailored to help you translate wanting to do things (eating more, eating at different times, not compensating for eating, doing things differently at the supermarket or the gym, or whatever else we’ve decided is the most important change you could make this week) into doing them. It’s in the nature of an eating disorder that you don’t wholeheartedly long for its nonexistence all the time, let alone long to do the things that will make it stop existing. So I’m here for at the times that count, in the ways you’d like—anything from a daily email back and forth about how your day went, to a journaling document or planning/tracking spreadsheet I check in with twice a week, to a habit-change app you update in real time with whichever habits you’re currently focusing on, to additional short phone calls, or whatever we feel is going to give you the best possible chance of turning intentions into actions, and actions into transformations.
This structure creates momentum and overview for you, it gives you confidence that what you’re doing makes sense and is achievable for you, and it allows you to devote your energy and attention to the everyday changes that need making.
All coaching programmes with me include:
- Structured assessment of your current recovery status
- Reflection on your reasons for bothering with recovery, and how you want to be thinking and feeling and what you want to be doing when this is all over
- Laser-focused identification of where and how we can most powerfully intervene, right now, to get powerful cascades of change in motion
- Tailored experiments for changing behaviours that are preventing your full recovery
- Targeted deconstruction of problematic cognitive distortions, attitudes, and other patterns of thought, where they are interfering with you making progress or feeling good about dong so
- Tailored weekly reviews to reflect, plan, learn, and so get positive change as fast and reliable as it can be
- Contact in between sessions of whatever type and frequency we agree makes most sense, e.g. via video or phone call, email, shared docs, shared meals or shopping expeditions, and/or the (nice simple non-ED specific) HabitShare app
- Clear and timely discussion of your options for continuing or concluding coaching after the programme you have booked comes to an end, including (if you want to continue) suggestions for any changes in intensity and/or structured breaks that might serve you and your recovery best
- A structured wrapping-up process that equips you with a clear set of guiding principles to maintain and build on your progress independently, and a toolbox of resources to help you do so
- 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month check-in emails/calls as standard after we end our work together, to address any questions that may come up
- Optional follow-up questionnaires at intervals up to 5 years after our work together ends, to generating objective outcomes data, to help you reflect on your experiences and identify any remaining work to be done, and to help me learn from your post-coaching trajectory to improve the service I offer
None of this is an end in itself. I’ll never push activities on you just for the sake of keeping ourselves busy. The times when your recovery needs nothing complicated are precious: We’ll make sure not to get in the way of those phases of greater ease. And then, when we hit a sticking point, uncover a factor in your day or your thinking that is blocking the next step, we’ll get creative. Here are some of the tasks, templates, and activities I’ve created for clients, and co-created with them, so far:
- Full-day menus. I design a day’s worth of eating for you, for you to make at home or eat out locally, sending the instructions all at once in the morning or dripfed across the day. This can be great for expanding your comfort zone, introducing you to things you’d never have thought of, and relinquishing control over your foody decisions to someone else.
- Shared meals. We eat together, whatever you like. It can be something you haven’t done for ages and feel nervous about, like spreading butter nice and thickly on bread, or something that has difficult associations or is just brand new. Or it can have a focus on eating pace, so you can practice what it’s like to eat at a normal speed, if you’re in the habit of very slow or fast. I show you what I’m doing, you do the same, we eat and chat.
- Food photo and video reviews. You share photos of everything you eat and drink in a day, we explore our observations. Or you share a video of you eating a meal and we see what we can learn from that (usually a lot!).
- Spreadsheets! I love them, and I’ve designed them to track all kinds of things, from where liking gets dissociated from enjoyment to how often you rifle through dustbins or what factors are contributing to you feeling full right now.
- Mirror gazing. A 3-part activity for taking stick of uour mirror habits, gathering strcutrues data on the details, and then transforming any that are unhelpful into alternatives that serve you better.
- Gym mindfulness. Tailored tips for helping you attend to what’s really going on with your body (and mind) as you move in structured ways in the gym (if you’re in a recovery phase where that’s good for you), to help you accept and appreciate the miracle that is your body, in this phase of significant growth, repair, and many other kinds of change.
- Freezer/cupboard clear-out. Eating disorders often bring hoarding along with them, and I can help you empty out that bottomless freezer or kitchen cupboard (and then not refill it) and deal with any of the other home-cluttering paraphernalia of an eating disorder, foody or otherwise, at whatever time in your recovery is right for you.
My approach is centred on the reality that your mind cannot be well if your body is malnourished. So if you are underweight, weight restoration via concerted changes to your eating and/or exercise habits will be central to what we do (and we will track the changes in your bodyweight together), and if you are at a healthy weight for your body, we will make sure you stay that way. If you are currently working with a doctor, therapist, counsellor, or dietician, your coaching programme will reflect this as appropriate. And I always welcome, and regularly invite, your suggestions and feedback on how things are going and anything you want or need to add or change. If it’s not working for you, I want to know asap!
My coaching methods are shaped by four main influences:
- I would never have become a coach if not for my own experience of a decade of anorexia, including two failed recovery attempts, and then my final successful recovery process, which I embarked on in 2008, aged 26, and which I would say was completed 2-3 years later. Full recovery gave me nothing less than my life back. Trying and failing to do it twice, and on the third time succeeding, made almost everything I have done since possible, and taught me a hundred life lessons great and small.
- I started thinking seriously about establishing a coaching business thanks to correspondence with blog readers over 12 years from 2009 (when I launched my Psychology Today blog) to 2021 (when PT sadly stopped hosting comments on any of their blogs). I’ve learned a vast amount from writing blog posts and interacting with thousands of readers ever since the summer of 2009, once the weight-restoration phase of recovery was complete but much more of the less tangible work of recovery was still to come, and the blog began life as mostly a personal chronicle of the recovery process, before later growing to link up the scientific evidence with personal experience, my own and my readers’.
- My academic research on eating disorders is the third context in which I’ve deepened and broadened my understanding of disordered eating. My research activity has two main strands: the first focused squarely on what eating disorders are and why standard treatments so often fail, with a particular interest in feedback dynamics (I introduced my major publication so far in this strand here); the second mapping out the connections between narrative reading and mental health (here’s an overview of the findings so far).
- My academic training more generally—from undergrad studying French and German to a PhD and postdoc in cognitive literary studies and health humanities—has taught me how to read, listen, speak, and write with precision; how to analyse and generate logical arguments; and all kinds of specifics about how mind, bodies, and texts interact. All of this has proven useful in direct and oblique ways in my coaching practice.
- And then, there’s all that I’ve learned and continue to learn from the coaching clients I work with, whose determination and wisdom repeatedly move and inspire me and make me happy to be doing the work I do.
If I could sum up my approach to pretty much everything in a single phrase, it would be one used by a close friend: “finding practical solutions to existential problems”. I have no interest in your nonexistent id or superego, and not much in your former therapist’s elaborate theories on the origins of your eating problems. I am fascinated, on the other hand, by what the first thing you do is when you wake up in the morning, and by how you decide how much butter to spread on your lunchtime bread, and by how long it is since you planned a weekend away just for you, and whether changing any of these things could help your day go better tomorrow (or make tomorrow difficult but help next week be better).
What makes this different?
I’ve had various forms of therapy, counselling, and coaching myself over the years. When I compare the processes involved in those forms of support with what I now offer to others, there are clear contrasts. Many of them revolve aroundc how it feels to have a regular session with no follow-up versus regular sessions plus all the extras that make up the coaching programmes I offer. As noted above, these include phone calls, email updates, and/or check-ins with shared docs or a habit tracking app. If, as inevitably happens sometimes, plans get derailed or don’t work as intended from the outset, any of these can make the difference between solving the problem efficiently versus wasting days trying and failing—or just giving up.
All these options are negotiable, though it’s rare that no between-session contact seems called for. But the one add-on that isn’t negotiable is the session recap email. When I think about all the support I’ve had in the past or have now, this is the difference I find most striking. With one excellent therapist I saw for relationship difficulties (now no longer practising, else I’d link to him here), he sent brief recaps including points covered and action points, and I found these extremely helpful but also not nearly as detailed as I’d have liked. With everyone else, there’s been nothing by way of follow-up after our sessions, and a session never ends without me wishing there were. I’ve been grateful, ever since becoming a coach myself, to have got so good at high-speed note-taking, because I now take notes myself from the other side too, and type them up later as an aid to reflection and planning. But it’s hard, making notes when the conversation is personal and emotional; I find my handwriting is much messier and the amount I managed to capture much sketchier when taking notes on my own process than on someone else’s.
I’ve occasionally tried giving coaching sessions without sending a summary afterwards, and it just doesn’t work. These are what I think are the main reasons why:
- A post-session summary means you and I both know exactly a) what you are going to do until next session and b) why. Without this, I find, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll actually do it—and doing is what counts when it comes to getting an eating disorder out of your life.
- It’s a way for us to quickly identify any misunderstandings that have crept in, whether as regards the immediate plan or any broader aspects of context or justification.
- You get to read back at your leisure the ideas and often specific phrases you expressed during our talk, to help you see your own perspectives more clearly and enhance your understanding in ways that would be much more difficult otherwise. There’s all kinds of power in reading your own words reflected back to you, and I encourage you to harness this power by taking a good amount of uninterrupted time to read (and quite likely reread) the summaries to gain all you can from them.
- Through these emails, we have a shared record of what exactly changes when as the recovery process unfolds. This is useful in many ways, from countering the sense that nothing is changing at all (common when the changes are slow or nonlinear) to charting exactly what things get easier in what order and in what relation to other deliberate or circumstantial changes. This gives us both massively improved insight into what the process consists of and how to keep it going at good pace and in the right direction.
- You have documents you can share (in part or in full) with other people. You may want or need to help some people in your life understand what’s going on better—or even just take seriously what you’re doing and why. Some people may need to know for practical reasons, whether that’s so they can help you carry out a plan we agree on, or just know how not to hinder you.
In all these ways, the post-session summaries are crucial to how I work and how I help you succeed. They are a major part of the investment of time, energy, and concentration I make in your recovery.
One of my clients very kindly agreed to let me share one of the session summaries from our coaching work together on this page. I hope you’ll find it a useful example of what you can expect.
Sample coaching session summary
Today we reviewed your progress relative to your three goals for the month—making progress towards landing (some progress), converting five fear foods into not-feared foods (3 out of 5 achieved!), and feeling less tied to movement / more relaxed about not moving (some progress)—and discussed strategies for achieving your goals for the coming month. I suggested that it might be helpful to articulate each of them in two parts: as a global recovery aspiration (e.g. not fearing food) and a concrete, yes/no aim for these four weeks (e.g. stopping fearing 5 specific foods). I’ve outlined at the bottom of this email some more thoughts on writing for you to do on this.
You’ve had some striking successes on this front, e.g. the cookie not fed to seagulls, and some strikingly difficult moments, e.g. the butter meltdown. Salad dressing remains stubbornly hard, as does dietary fat overall. (Reread my posts on why it matters that you eat more of it, if you like.) You observed that you don’t particularly like salad at the moment, and that it’s one of the old anorexic default foods, which may also make it hard for you to like dressing. We agreed that for this month you’ll keep salad dressing in the rotation, but not make it one of your five target foods. I suggest you have it just when salad is made for you by someone else or you’re getting food somewhere where you know you like the salad, and maybe where there’s an opportunity to try a creamy one, and forget about it the rest of the time. There are lots of other things to eat.
The tuna sandwich with lots of butter was a classic case of being paralysed by fear of future pain: the desire to pre-empt that conflicted with the knowledge that you should just eat the thing because it’s just food and who cares. The pain you feared was the pain of guilt, of not being able to let it go, of the day being ruined by this. One consideration I suggested is that you are going to need to ruin a good few days to get over this illness of yours. It’s up to you whether you ruin them this month or next year sometime: the pain is going to have to be sat through. The only reliable way that feared things stop inducing fear is by being done, and being survived. The other angle on this I’d like to raise is that this is what the mindfulness practice is for: if you want an incentive to get cracking with it, here’s your reason. Being mindful is accepting the feelings of now for what they are, not trying to push them away or replace them with something nicer or judge them in any way. This will be an invaluable skill for you both in the moment of deciding what to do with the butter and, once that has helped you do the right thing and eat the butter, in the hours afterwards: OK, here I am, feeling this old mixture of feelings again. I hope you’ll find the course helps you with this. For in the end, I believe that there is nothing that can really be awful enough, in that late-afternoon low or at any other time of day, to justify you keeping yourself ill to avoid it.
The guilt about eating things that are nutritionally dense has a lot to do with fear of gaining weight, even though you have direct recent evidence that eating more and exercising less doesn’t actually result in weight gain, suggesting that your body is fighting pretty hard to sustain your current weight by metabolic depression that would be lifted once you stopped waging your half of the battle. There are three possibilities from here: 1) you relax your rules, don’t gain weight, and get fully recovered, 2) you relax your rules, gain a little or a lot of weight, and get fully recovered, 3) you relax your rules, gain a little or a lot of weight, and don’t get fully recovered, and 4) you don’t relax your rules and don’t get fully recovered. The third option, or some specific variant of it (see below), is the one that scares you, and that fear has so far legitimised your partial upholding of the anorexic rules. It’s epitomised for you in the “fat and miserable” forum users Jane reported on. But remember that those reports are filtered through layers of unreliability that you can guess at but never subtract. Their questionable, unknowable degree of reality is a crap reason for you to stay a bit thin and somewhat miserable for the rest of your life.
The point of the no/low walking days is twofold: 1) to learn to relax without guilt (be able to stay home cosily in a snowstorm, go to a cottage and enjoy it, look after a sick child and focus on the child), and 2) to break the link between movement and your body (stopping trying to control your size/weight/shape through movement). You feel that the <15 km and the <5ish km days at the moment are furthering both aims. Your ultimate goal is to have a week or two with all low/no walking days—or rather, I guess that’s your best guess as to what will help you reach your ultimate goal, which is not counting or caring much at all? We talked about the concept of the “contrived walk”, and whether that’s a robust enough category to be directly targetable: probably not right now, but something to bear in mind. I suggested that doing some motivation tracking for your walking over the next few days could be helpful here; see below. We also agreed that this coming week, you won’t check your step counter during the day any more; once a day in the evening to do the HabitShare record is all you’ll do. We don’t want this to become another problem. And remember too: all steps count, because all can easily be co-opted by your exercise addiction. This week you’ll be doing four low-walking days. Make them count: make them make it easier for you to do the full week or two sooner rather than later. This is your life that’s ticking past.
So, these are the main candidates for your recovery hour writing in the coming days:
- What exactly are your goals for these four weeks? What are the two parts of each of your goals, if they can be split into two parts (ultimate aim v reasonable yes/no target for 18 August)? If not, can you say anything more about what will constitute definable progress towards the ultimate goal, e.g. milestones you predict will be meaningful, indicators that you have or haven’t got closer, etc.?
- Could weight gain be a useful part of your goal-setting for this month, either as a goal in its own right or as an adjunct to any of the others? If so, in what way might it be most likely to help? What would a weight-related goal actually look like? Do you think you could take it seriously as a personal aim, and what might help you do so?
- Guilt: what is it about? You said, for instance: getting fat eating things you don’t even like, having cookies when you don’t need them. You said that if you definitively knew you couldn’t gain weight whatever you ate, it’d probably be fine. What more is going on here? Why are you still bound by this?
- What does possibility 3) above really look like? How plausible really is it, for you? What would be its consequences? Is your attitude towards it essentially pre-emption of late-afternoon guilt writ large? If so, what does it mean to spare this future self the possible pain by not doing the difficult things now? How might you reduce your inclination to keep doing this? Can you learn from the micro-examples for the macro one?
- Set up a template for tracking walking motivations, e.g. spreadsheet columns for the standard candidates, and rate them 0-10 for the intensity of the contribution each makes your desire to walk on a given occasion. A few days of this should be enough to let patterns become visible.
Other things we mentioned, routines-wise:
- Allocate 30 minutes a day to mindfulness practice and 30 to other recovery-related activities, e.g. writing, and do the videos, reading, etc. for the course at weekends.
- Take short chunks of time for your personal writing in whatever ways you can, including giving the children TV to watch.
- Try writing by hand if you get stuck with any kind of writing. Or speaking aloud and recording can also work interestingly well (and differently). The typing-up stage can be useful in itself too.
- If you need to write something new every time you need help not walking, do that. The effort put into this, in strategically directed ways informed by what you observe works and doesn’t, will repay itself in countless ways by the freedom it opens up to you to not walk.
In global terms, I’d invite you to remember that if your life feels like there’s never any time for you and what you really want to be doing, getting rid of your eating disorder and exercise addiction is the single best thing you can do to change that. They are a fucking huge time sink. Unfortunately undoing them requires significant time and effort, maybe sometimes more time than not undoing them. (Though sometimes the change is directly towards wasting less time, especially with walking versus not going out, or versus cycling, say.) But in general every pro-recovery change you’re making is a change towards greater efficiency, towards a smoother-oiled machine. Everything from the 12 km not walked to the dressing bottle lid not poured into is time not lost to obsessions that have never made you happy. Think of all the minutes and hours in your days that will be liberated when this is done—and seize every chance you see to make that unforfeited time come sooner.
1-time recovery reset
As well as a range of 4-week and longer options, I also offer a recovery reset package that compresses into one session our process of identifying the real problems, pinpointing the best ways to intervene, and drawing up a detailed plan for how you’re going to do so. This package may be suitable for you if you’re in recovery but it’s not going brilliantly, or your recovery has stalled and you want to get it effectively restarted, and if you are confident in your ability to follow through on what we agree. You get:
- a 90-minute Zoom conversation;
- a detailed PDF including an outline of your aspirations (e.g. why it matters to you to achieve full recovery) and a recap of the plans we generated for the specific next steps in your recovery, plus any other suggestions or perspectives I think may be useful to you;
- 2 templates designed to help you zoom out on the process and your goals and stay on track, with detailed instructions for making best use of them;
- and a follow-up email exchange after 2-4 weeks, so you can share your progress and any difficulties and I can offer further guidance helping these first weeks translate into sustained progress.
NB: This is not a “lite” option! It will work for you only if you know how to endure discomfort and ambivalence and problem-solve despite them. Our careful planning will help a lot, but you will need to follow through with a lot of determined prioritization of this over everything else going in your life.
Of course, even if you’re a good way through your recovery, completing the process may still take many months. There can be great benefits in terms of commitment and confidence to knowing that a longer stretch of support is already mapped out in advance. If you’d like to construct a longer-term coaching programme upfront, I’m happy to discuss possible progression structures during our consult and to outline options for you in the proposal I’ll send over after we talk. I offer discounts of 10% or more for any booking of 12 weeks (3 coaching blocks) or longer. Progressions that work well often start with high-intensity support before tapering towards less frequent contact as you gain confidence in making and maintaining changes independently. They usually also incorporate structured breaks of between 2 and 4 weeks to help test out the strengths and vulnerabilities in your recovery status so far, and make a confident transition to your post-coaching life.
Who is this for?
I work mostly with people who have (or had in the past and got only partially recovered from) restrictive eating disorders, but I also have some experience in helping clients stop binge-eating, purging, overeating, and eating badly in other ways.
I really don’t care whether you feel you fit the anorexic stereotypes—if you’re an older woman, or a man, or your weight has never been drastically low, or your difficulties are more about obsessive exercise than about food, for instance. I work with individuals not diagnostic categories.
You may also have problems with eating, your body, and/or exercise that don’t constitute a full-blown eating disorder, but that are affecting your life enough that you want to address them properly. Indeed, I love “not too bad” as a starting point for coaching: You could so easily keep telling myself and other people that it’s all fine, but you’ve chosen not to settle for fine anymore. You want better. What more potent act of self-determination than that?
Most people I work with have tried numerous other ways to get well, spanning years or sometimes decades. The reasons these attempts didn’t work range from the extremely simple (e.g. maintenance diets imposed at arbitrary BMIs by misguided medics) to the more complex (e.g. other life circumstances interfering), but none of them should be used as a reason to despair about the possibility of success now. We use your past recovery efforts as sources of practical knowledge and broader learning, and we keep things focused on what needs doing, right now, to help the beautifully evolved system that you are find its equilibrium again.
Find out more
If you’re considering coaching and are currently working with a doctor, therapist, or counsellor who has questions or concerns about what this kind of coaching is, you may like to direct them to my page for professionals.
You may also like to read a paper I published in Frontiers in Psychology, setting out my perspective on what eating disorders are and how we should be treating them. The clue’s in the name: Eating disorders are disorders of eating, and true recovery never happens except by getting the eating sorted out.
Troscianko, E.T., and Leon, M. (2020). Treating eating: A dynamical systems theory of eating disorders. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1801.
You might also like to take a look at a few of my blog posts that speak to the fundamentals of how I approach my role as your recovery coach. These include:
- The six seductions of anorexia
- Recovering from anorexia: How and why to start
- Recovering from anorexia: How and why not to stop halfway
- Is 100% recovery from an eating disorder possible?
- Questioning medical authority by accident
- 26 ways to be happy about getting fatter
- Who wants to be normal?
You can find the full blog archive organized by theme here.
Please message me via the Contact page or by email (emily [at] hungerartist.org) if you’d like to know more about my methods and fees, or to schedule a free consult to discuss how we can build a coaching programme to get you healthy and happy—or whatever adjectives describe your endpoint, and your jumping-off point into the rest of your life. Alternatively, if you prefer to join my waitlist directly, you can do so here.
A few final thoughts from me
- In most recovery processes, the initial decision is the hardest part. Once it’s been made for real, the rest is not necessarily easy (though some of it can be delightfully so!) but doable.
- The relief that comes from having made the decision to commit to this is second only to the relief that comes from knowing, by the end, that “recovery” is finally off your existential to-do list, because you’ve done it. Now it’s time to start living.
- About half the people I’ve worked with didn’t have an acute eating disorder anymore when we started our work together. And most of those had wasted a lot of time before we got started because of their feeling that they didn’t qualify as having a real eating disorder. One of the very most dangerous tricks eating disorders play is to convince their hosts that life with a low-level eating disorder or disordered eating is as good as it gets. You do not have to be on the brink of death to want something better, and to do what’s needed to get it.
- One of my great professional influences, Ramit Sethi, talks a lot about how hard it is to get from problem-oriented mode to solution-oriented mode. It’s kind of mysterious that it takes us so long to get to the point of being ready to stop complaining about what’s wrong and start putting it right. We all do it. But stopping talking about it and starting doing something about it feels amazing.
What do my clients say?
Some of my clients have kindly given me permission to share reflections on their experiences of our coaching work, to help you understand what working with me is like and what it could do for you. Here are their words:
(Female client, 28)
(Female client, 32)
- Her consistent confidence that doing the things I was so frightened of eg eating more, gaining weight, was the only way to get those fears to dissipate. And the more I did that, the more I could see that happening, which built my trust and confidence that I could do this, that it was worthwhile, and helped me to hold my nerve through the times when it seemed to be getting harder. Alongside this was an emphasis on doing and acting ‘as if’ I didn’t care about weight gain or whatever other fearful consequences seemed real to me. And without that perspective, I honestly don’t know how I would have made progress.
- Her ability to discern the most important things from my mess of thoughts and help me challenge the disordered aspect of them, at first very much guided, and often half heartedly on my part, but by the end she would just say ‘demolish this’, and I would be able to argue back and fully believe my anti ED thoughts.
- One big theme which began early on was treating myself with fairness and acknowledging when I had succeeded according to the terms I had set myself. It was very typical of me to pick up on the one tiny thing that I hadn’t quite done perfectly, and ignore all the big things that I had done well! And she pointed out that wasn’t being fair to myself, which deeply resonated as fairness is an important part of my worldview.
- Always encouraging me. More than once I found myself reading her emails to me in tears because I had been trying so hard and thinking I wasn’t doing well enough, and she was telling me I was doing brilliantly. Which was such a relief to hear. And it wasn’t just empty words. It was always based in evidence from what I had been doing or what I had said, so that there was no real way of arguing against it, because I guess it was true, I just couldn’t see it for myself.
- She was always very clear and direct about how serious an eating disorder is and therefore how seriously recovery should be taken. Which was very necessary in counteracting the seductions of the eating disorder which became especially strong once I was dealing with weight gain and my body changing and I just wanted to stop those things from happening. And she was always honest in saying that I could get it to stop if I wanted to, but that I knew where that would lead and how horrific the consequences would be, and thus putting the ball back in my court, so I could own the decision that it was worth it to keep going and get rid of this eating disorder once and for all.
- How genuinely holistic the process was. I think I entered it by being quite narrow minded and thinking that all I wanted to be able to do was eat three meals a day. But from the initial questionnaire where goals were set out in the three themes of experience, action and body, it was clear that we would be working towards something that was far wider reaching than I was expecting or imagining. Some unexpected outcomes/by products were: getting new curtains and lamp for my bedroom, a weekend away, clearing out my freezer, a promotion at work.
- How much clarity she brought to the whole process. While there was so much that was scary, confusing, overwhelming, difficult, because of the structures that were put in place, I was always clear as to what I should be doing now. Whether that was through the session summary emails, weekly reviews, update emails throughout the week, planned coaching breaks, extra calls when I needed them, the level of support was so well structured throughout, with a higher intensity at the beginning, then reduced once we both got to know how the other worked, through to a place where I felt confident that I could continue to work on recovery independently almost as my own coach.
- She drew out an ability in coming up with creative solutions that I didn’t know I had in me.
Overall, I have achieved far more than I was able to imagine at the beginning. And while I know I’m not where I want to be yet, I know that if I keep on doing the right thing and putting everything I have learnt into practice, I will get there. I have come too far too go back and I am not going to give up everything I have worked so hard to achieve in recovery so far. And there is a sense of excitement of knowing that I’m on the right path and while I don’t know exactly where it is going, I know that in time, it will be to a place where the eating disorder is firmly in my past, and I will forever be grateful for the part that Emily played in that.
(Sarah, 40, worked with me for 10 months between 2022 and 2023)
Why I sought out coaching: I was desperate.
Why I sought out you: because of that brilliant article you wrote for Psychology Today [Recovering from anorexia: How and why to start.]
I value your approach because you take the whole person into account. Also, in all of our conversations and email exchanges I always had the feeling that you were fully present, were in no rush to be elsewhere or were thinking about something else, and that you really took the time to address everything from the reviews etc. You thereby communicated that this was important to you too.
I learned so many things! Above all, I learned that there is hope, that I might actually be able to do this and be fully anorexia-free one day. Before, I was actually convinced that this wasn’t possible. And you changed that.
On my walk with Artemis just now I also realized how your coaching has helped change my perspective on certain things like “what is healthy?”. I think that’s really significant. I can now think about health in a different, broader way regarding my whole lifestyle (food, exercise, relationships, enjoyment etc.). I think that’s huge.
All this reflecting and thinking is time consuming and sometimes uncomfortable/depressing/revealing/embarrassing. But it’s really worth it. Whenever I felt reluctant to truly address the questions and think about stuff, I reminded myself that this is one of the most important things I’m doing right now (besides parenting Adrian as best I can from afar 🙂)
Because you were anorexic and went through recovery yourself, I know that I can ask you even the most stupid sounding things. And it’s really helpful to know that when I am uncertain about something I can check in with you in one of the many ways that you made available.
It seems to me that you are very flexible and respond to a specific person’s needs. Example: I’m not very techy and the HabitShare app wasn’t user friendly for me, so we didn’t pursue that and instead you made other venues available.
And again, I was surprised and appreciate the fact that you take a whole person approach.
(Gabriela Muller, 53)
Just some wrapping-up comments on our one-off coaching session and subsequent 4-week coaching block. As you know, I was very apprehensive about getting in touch—but I’m very glad we got these sessions arranged. You did much more than I had anticipated and you adapted things as necessary to guide me to getting as much benefit as possible—always with sensitivity, care and wisdom.
Overall, the month was intense (hard but necessary work), but what made me smile most as we progressed was how individual you made it feel—everything was specific and relevant—even though you were starting from little background knowledge of me. I felt able to be honest, albeit with some discomfort, without feeling judged; once in the open, just as matter of fact, then the problems could be addressed.
I hoped to come away from the coaching block with practical changes (and I did, thanks!). But actually, the stand-out thing I learned is the need to recognise how much my thinking is hindering recovery. The techniques you suggested to work on this, and all your other notes, will be invaluable. I’m keeping in mind the option for further coaching, but in the meantime your encouragement has given me confidence to tackle more myself.
Many thanks again.
(Female client in her 50s)
It is the most empowering form of recovery, actually enjoyable, having a light in your mind finally turned on, tailored to illuminate your own thoughts, by the most understanding and helpful coach I could have imagined.
(Female client, 24)
The exercises and weekly summaries (which i keep to refer back to) have revealed many thought patterns and behaviors that i never questioned or analyzed before. Not to be dramatic, but I’m living on a deeper level. Physically, i’ve had glimpses of how much better i will feel when i’m recovered – and the glimpses have helped me believe that those changes will happen.
The exercise that changed the way i look at and think about other people has had the greatest impact on how i relate to the world, and how i think about (or stop thinking about) myself. Besides making me feel more open to people and the world in general, it has helped me put aside a lot of shyness.
The coaching was just what i needed – a thoughtful, probing, and especially challenging exploration of what I’m doing and why. You made me think so much!
(Female client, 57)
Personally I couldn’t have asked for someone, or a coaching experience better: sensitive and empathic to my needs, yet critical to some of what I spouted and so gently, encouragingly nudging my thoughts and actions towards better outcomes. I really appreciated the critical thinking, that challenged my own thought patterns (even when I thought mine were rational and cogent, only to realise later they were formed in part by years of disordered thinking). Further to seeing the bigger picture and working with that – be that work, family, relationships. ED infests every aspect of life, and to work with you who was not only acutely aware of that, but was willing to explore other aspects of my life to see how these could be enriched once freed from the grips of ED thinking’s – work, family and a new found love life – I was hugely appreciative of. Finally, that while coaching began with being answerable to you (or, that I felt I needed to be answerable to you, to ensure the best possible chance of recovery) increasingly you enabled me to be answerable to myself in a positive way regarding food, eating, and recovery generally. That, towards the end, I had ownership of this, I could in fact do it. And did.
(Male client, 40)
Honestly Emily, it has been the best thing I have ever done. You have been incredible and I can’t thank you enough. I have learned so much—not just food/exercise related, but also about who I am outside the confines of the roles of wife/mother/daughter/doctor and how I want to live my life.
(Female client, 39)
Working with Emily was one of the best decisions i have made in terms of my recovery. Her advice and guidance really allowed me to progress in my recovery.
(NL, female client)
Given how many years I’d devoted to contemplating my eating disorder, I found it remarkable that through my work with Emily I was able to question my convictions and behaviors around food and body in ways I hadn’t before. She helped me get to a place where I found it difficult to see the eating disorder as meaningful or necessary in my life. It becomes very hard to long for something when it seems totally futile, and I really came to know and accept the futility of the ED.
For years I was able to convince myself that I could still carry out a relatively normal life and achieve what I wanted while living in a disordered way, but via the exercises and reflective tasks I did with Emily, I revealed for myself the fact that this notion was false, and that even if I was able to enjoy periods of success and stability, I would still always be living a half life at best. This was hard to acknowledge but is ultimately what has pushed me into the final stages of recovery, something I doubted I’d ever be capable of accomplishing. Emily’s extensive knowledge, experience and expertise allowed me to trust the process completely, and my immense respect for her as a person, teacher and coach helped me to continue forward when things became difficult. It may sound dramatic, but working with Emily was a life changing experience and I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity.
Following our discussion in which I felt heard and understood, Emily sent a very thorough email, summing up the main points of our discussion, laying out what we agreed upon as steps towards full recovery, and suggestions as to how to achieve them. Broader interests and life goals were also discussed and how the pursuit of full recovery puts these into motion too. The email was so thorough, well-thought-out and clear and the tone was very encouraging and hopeful, which was what I needed. Having a clear plan in place was most helpful, and although it was up to me to do the work, I felt Emily was behind me all the way. Any questions I had after were answered thoughtfully and clearly. Emily helped me put my own review and check-in system in place, empowering me to make small and big changes to my day to day life and to steer my life in the direction I want. This has been so helpful and definitely something I will continue to do.
I would encourage anyone to work with Emily. Her empathic, kind and understanding approach along with her knowledge, experience and clarity about the work of recovery is so evident and really helped and continues to help me in my own life.
(Martha, 39; one-time recovery consult client)
Emily’s insight and experience has been more beneficial than words could ever do justice. Having had many forms of treatment in the past, Emily’s unique approach, support and wisdom, have finally allowed me to develop a life that I look forward to living. Something I had almost given up on after 12 years of Anorexia.
(ES, female client, 29)