Mentorship in Eating Disorder Treatment

Why mentorship? Understanding the role of mentors in recovery

When you’re in the thick of eating disorder recovery, it can be easy to lose motivation. Amid frustrations and setbacks, patients and their loved ones might start to wonder, is recovery even possible? And if so, is it worth all of this? The answer to both of those questions is yes—but it can be hard for those struggling to see that in the moment. That’s where mentors come in. 

In eating disorder treatment, mentorship involves connecting patients to those who have been in their shoes and made it to the other side of recovery. Mentors provide support, advice, and a listening ear through the ups and downs of treatment. They’re a living, breathing example that recovery is 100% possible and 100% worth it. 

Speaking about the role of the mentor, Equip Director of Peer Mentorship Maris Degener said:

“Recovery can be so lonely and hard to describe at times, that to just have someone to walk alongside you can be incredibly meaningful.”

Eating disorder treatment that works—delivered at home

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In eating disorder treatment, patients can be matched with a peer who has recovered from an eating disorder, and families can be matched with someone who has supported a loved one through recovery. Both of these pairings can be tremendously powerful.

Some of the benefits of mentorship include:

Illustrating that recovery is possible

There’s a common myth that you can’t fully recover from an eating disorder, and this belief can be deeply demotivating for patients and families in treatment. Mentors show that recovery is, indeed, possible—and that once you achieve it, you can go on to build a full and meaningful life.

Making treatment less alienating for underrepresented groups

Media depictions continue to promote the idea that eating disorders only affect thin, white, affluent girls, leaving those who don’t fit the mold feeling alienated and maybe even unwilling to seek help. Having a mentor who looks like them or shares elements of their background can be hugely important in helping patients feel seen and motivating them to engage with treatment.

Reducing shame

Eating disorders are often fueled by shame, which makes it difficult for those who are struggling to reach out for help or open up. Mentorship helps reduce shame by showing patients that they’re not alone, that others have felt similarly and engaged in similar behaviors. Mentors listen with non-judgment and compassion, providing a true safe space.

What the research says about mentorship
in eating disorder treatment

Mentorship doesn’t just feel good—it works. There is a growing body of research supporting the idea that mentorship is an effective way to address not only mental health issues generally, but eating disorders in particular.

Discussion and Informational graphic
Discussion and Informational graphic

What mentorship looks like

The specifics of mentorship will vary depending on how you connect with a mentor (is it through a nonprofit? A treatment provider? A one-on-one connection from real life?), but the basic goals and methods will look similar. On the most general level, mentors help support the recovery process by discussing and working through whatever issues are most pressing to the patient or family at that moment. That might mean:

For Patients

For Caregivers

Speaking to how mentors can help families and caregivers, Equip’s Director of Lived Experience, J.D. Ouellette, says:

“The reality is that unless you’ve supported a loved one in your own home and kitchen, it's impossible to truly understand this experience. Mentorship is a bridge between theory and practice that enables treatment to be more effective and improves outcomes."

While you can certainly connect with a mentor in-person, virtual mentorship is becoming increasingly common. Virtual mentorship works the exact same way as in-person mentorship, except the meetings happen virtually. This can make it easier for some people to find mentors and fit meetings into their schedules. In either case, patients and families work with their mentors to decide how frequently they’ll meet, how long their sessions will be, and how best to communicate, among other logistics.

Want to see what mentorship can look like in action?

Here are some examples:

Brainstorming Support
(Ally & Maris)

Practicing Building Communication Skills
(Ally & Maris)

Interested in finding a mentor?

If you’re navigating eating disorder recovery and think a mentor could be helpful for you or a loved one (or both of you), you have several options for getting started.

Some organizations that can help match you with a mentor or direct you to mentorship programs include:

Learn more about

Some eating disorder treatment providers also incorporate mentorship into their treatment program. Equip, for instance, matches each patient and their family with both a peer mentor and a family mentor. When you’re making the choice about which mentorship route to pursue, it’s important to get all the information you need. Good questions to ask include:

How will I be matched to my mentor?

What sort of training will my mentor have?

How often will I meet with my mentor?

How reachable will my mentor be?

Can I text them for in-the-moment support or will we only connect during scheduled meetings?

Mentorship may not currently be thought of as a core part of eating disorder treatment, but both research and anecdote suggest that it can be the missing piece that leads to lasting recovery. When thinking about treatment options for yourself or your loved one, we recommend considering the ways in which mentorship might help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

A mentor is someone who has made it to the other side of eating disorder recovery and can support you in doing the same. For patients, this means a peer who has recovered from an eating disorder; for family members and other supports, this means someone who has helped a loved one through recovery.

How mentorship fits into treatment depends on a patient’s particular treatment program. At Equip, mentors are part of each patient’s multidisciplinary care team, and coordinate regularly with other treatment providers to best support the patient and their recovery process. For instance, a dietitian may share with a mentor that the patient is struggling with social eating, and so during the next mentorship session, the mentor may share their own experience with eating in social settings.

Yes. Mounting research suggests that mentorship is an effective and powerful supplement to eating disorder treatment. Studies show that mentorship can decrease body dissatisfaction and other mental health symptoms, and both patients and families report getting significant value out of connecting with a mentor.

In general, the only requirement for a mentor is that they’ve experienced eating disorder recovery themselves—either firsthand, or by supporting a loved one. However, different treatment programs and organizations may have their own specific requirements. At Equip, mentors received specialized training before working with patients.

There are several options for finding a mentor for yourself or your loved one. Some organizations that can help match you with a mentor or direct you to mentorship programs include ANAD, F.E.A.S.T., and Project HEAL. Mentorship may also be a component of an eating disorder treatment program. For instance, at Equip, each patient and their support network are matched with both a peer mentor and a family mentor.