What is recovery coaching?
Recovery coaching, as I practise it, is practical support designed to help the client towards full recovery from an eating disorder (formally diagnosed or not), or from disordered eating habits or attitudes to food, exercise or their body.
What is recovery coaching not?
It is not counselling. It is not psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy. It is not nutritional guidance or medical support.
Who is recovery coaching for?
Recovery coaching may be for you if difficulties with eating or your body are preventing you from being happy or healthy. It may be for you if you have a past or present diagnosis of an eating disorder and have embarked on recovery, or have attempted recovery in the past but not managed to recover fully. It may be for you if you can’t quite bring yourself to take the leap of faith (and evidence) required to commit to recovery and start acting differently in the first place. The services I offer are more directly targeted at restrictive eating disorders like anorexia, but I may also be able to help if you have problems with bingeing and purging (e.g. in bulimia) or overeating; there are no hard-and-fast divides between these different manifestations of eating problems. Coaching may also be for you if you don’t have an eating disorder but find that problems with food and your body are preventing you from living the way you want to.
Who is coaching not for?
I do all I can to make the support I offer as relevant as possible to anyone who wants to be fully recovered from an eating disorder or other food- or body-related difficulties. However, I have to balance my desire to help with the risk of doing you harm, or delaying you in seeking more specialist support. I therefore probably can’t help you if you are
- under 18,
- pregnant, or
- actively suicidal.
I may also be unable to help you if you are suffering from other health problems alongside your body/food-related problems. If you suffer from the forms of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive habits, and perfectionism that often accompany eating disorders, I may still be able to help you, but their severity will be a crucial consideration here.
How are you qualified to be a recovery coach?
I have no healthcare qualifications. I have no life-coaching qualifications. I have personal past experience of anorexia, which I suffered from between the ages of about 16 and 26. My recovery and post-recovery took a good few years, and there was no magic morning when I woke up and realised they were complete, but I would say that since around 2012 (four years after I started my final recovery effort) I have been fully recovered. My experience of illness and recovery will not have been the same as your experience, but it will not have been completely different either. I take your illness seriously, and I believe in your capacity to recover fully.
I have a DPhil (PhD) in German literature from the University of Oxford. Since my PhD, which focused on the psychological effects of reading fiction (specifically mental imagery and emotional responses), my research has moved increasingly towards the intersection of literary studies, experimental psychology, and psychiatry, and my current work investigates the helpful and harmful potential of fiction-reading for eating disorders. Alongside my academic research, I have been running a Psychology Today blog on eating disorders, A Hunger Artist, since 2009. When I started the blog I had been recovering from anorexia for just over a year, and was fully weight-restored but psychologically still had a lot of work to do. Writing the blog (which has attracted over 2 million total views to date) involves extensive reading in eating-disorder research, as well as responding to comments and questions from readers on a near-daily basis. This has taught me a vast amount about how eating difficulties arise, affect people’s lives, and are successfully overcome.
How does it work?
Through a mixture of Skype conversations, emails, shared Skype meals, and structured tasks, we establish together which aspects of your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and physical state that are preventing full recovery from your eating disorder, and tackle them together, systematically and sensitively.
How individually tailored is the support?
I offer a programme template which covers four key elements that tend to need addressing: food, your body, work and play, and you and other people. But I also adapt all the provision to your specific circumstances, especially your stage of recovery or post-recovery. To do this effectively, I will ask you questions during an initial Skype consultation, and ask you to complete a questionnaire before the start of coaching. We can also decide together on the most suitable type and amount of contact at different phases in the process, and I will make sure the coaching concludes with a constructive perspective on what you’ve achieved and will treasure and build on in the months and years to come.
How do we get started?
If you’re interested in coaching, get in touch via the contact form or by email and we can set a time for an initial Skype consultation (free of charge). You should ask any questions you have that aren’t addressed in this document either during our Skype call or by email before you commit to starting coaching. At this point, if you have medical or other professional support, I also recommend that you inform your doctor/physician/therapist/counsellor that you’re considering coaching. You may find it helpful to show them this document as well as the page ‘Recovery coaching: For professionals’ (also available as a PDF). This will allow us to address any potential concerns or conflicts of interest before any problems arise.
If you decide you want to proceed, and I feel confident that I can help you, I will ask you to sign a binding agreement which covers the terms of the coaching relationship, payment terms, and your consumer rights. I ask for payment before we begin. You may cancel the programme up to 72 hours after the first Skype conversation (not including the initial consultation), in which case I will refund you the full fee minus £100 to cover the time I gave to the first session and creating your coaching plan. I don’t offer refunds after this period, and hope you will challenge yourself and me to make the remaining time as beneficial for you as it can be.
How long does coaching take?
Coaching is neither a magic bullet nor an endless exploration. The point of it is to enhance your life in tangible ways in an efficient and effective way. This requires effort, commitment, and honesty from both of us. Some improvements may be wonderfully rapid; others may take surprisingly (or predictably) sustained work. Typically, I will ask you to commit to a four-week programme in the first instance, with the option to add extensions beyond that point.
How does it end?
I take the end of the coaching process as seriously as the beginning (and the middle). I understand the importance of helping you maintain and build on the changes you have achieved during coaching once it ends, so I offer tapered end-of-coaching support to help you ensure you have all the resources you need to take your next life steps on your own.
Can coaching happen alongside therapy or counselling?
Coaching and therapy or counselling are not incompatible, but it’s important that everyone involved knows what’s going on. If you are working with a doctor, counsellor, therapist, nutritionist, or other healthcare professional(s) and you decide to start coaching, I’ll ask you to tell them about your decision and will suggest that you show them this document and invite them to contact me if they have any questions or concerns. In some cases, conflicts or discrepancies may arise between the coaching work we do and your professional healthcare support. If this happens you should let me know as soon as possible so that together we can clarify and resolve the problem.
Are the prices negotiable?
Coaching takes time and mental effort to do well, and I charge enough to make it financially sustainable for me. If you’re in a financially difficult situation, though, and the standard fees are unmanageable for you, please get in touch and we’ll see whether we can work out a solution.
How can my friends and family help?
If you think it will be helpful to involve anyone else in the coaching process, please let me know. Coaching is about making you healthier and happier, but we are all social creatures, and sometimes personal change can’t happen without specific kinds of involvement from other people in your life. That involvement may be about reducing obstacles to your progress or creating solid support networks, or any number of other things. If it seems there might be a benefit in a conversation involving a third person, we can discuss whether this is something you want to do, and if so, approach the other person. I’ll never have contact with any third party without your consent, except where I have serious and immediate worries about your or someone else’s safety. (These edge cases are described in the contract you’ll sign before coaching begins.)
Why do you offer coaching?
In 2009 I launched my Psychology Today blog, which began as a largely personal account of my experience of anorexia and recovery and gradually became a place where I bring together the personal experience and the science of eating disorders. A significant chunk of my life is now spent replying to blog readers’ comments and questions, many of them specifically about the practicalities of recovery: how to do it, how to cope with how uncomfortable or painful or frightening (or exhilarating!) it feels, how not to stop halfway, how to let the rest of life back in after long absence.
Over the years, I’ve identified many common threads in these questions, but each is also unlike any other. I do all I can to answer every question with care and honesty, and sometimes perhaps my answers are a helpful part of someone’s movement away from illness. Some exchanges continue over months or years; in others, we share just a message each way. Sometimes I hear back years later, whether because life is good now or because it isn’t yet (or again). Quite often I wonder: Did what I say help? Could I have done anything more? Sometimes I feel that with a more sustained kind of contact, more significant and lasting progress could have been made.
And that’s where the idea for coaching came from: to expand that kind of web and email contact into something more substantial. To talk to you face to face (thanks to the magic of video calling). To learn more about what your life is like now, and what you want for your future. To give you precise and practical experiments to challenge your assumptions and your habits and help you see what can be different. To help you persist, or change tack, when success isn’t immediate. To share glimpses of some of the beauty that life and the universe hold when the blinkers of disordered eating are cast aside.
Sadly, one of the reasons why people end up reading my blog and asking questions seems to be a set of profound failings in the way eating disorders are currently treated and understood; I’ve begun to explore these problems, and suggest solutions to them, in my blog posts, and will continue to in my blog posts and in a forthcoming book. In the meantime, coaching is my way of offering something different.
Finally, and pragmatically, coaching is one means by which I earn a living. I work freelance, and I spend a great many hours a week on unpaid work related to eating disorders. I’d love to live in a world where money wasn’t always a question that needed asking about how we decide to spend our short time on this planet, but sadly that world doesn’t exist yet. Until it does, thank you for understanding my need to charge for some of the time I give in trying to help.
If you have any more questions, feel free to write to me via the contact form at https://hungerartist.org/contact/ or by email at hunger.artist.coaching [at] gmail.com. Meanwhile, thanks for your interest.
You can download these questions and answers in PDF form here, if you prefer.