What It Means to 'Maintain' Eating Disorder Recovery

At the eating disorder program I was in summer of 2014 between my sophomore and junior year of college because I’d insisted (and suffered for extra months for) I not take off any school, the program heads preached they were unique in that they believed full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. This is unique because most other programs/psychologists/research studies suggest that eating disorders are like addictions — you will always be afflicted and as a consequence will always need to be active in your recovery.

I was enchanted, of course, by the idea of full recovery. This was at a time when I was suffering extensively and could feel the eating disorder killing me. During my program my therapist had to continually remind me to be active in my recovery — that I wasn’t as recovered as I thought I was, though I was happy. After I left treatment I felt eating disordered behaviors returning within a few months. It didn’t help I was living with someone who herself acknowledged she did not eat enough, and I felt the need to eat either as much as her or less (which itself is an eating disordered mindset). This time, however, I was better at recognizing the warning signs before they developed into full-blown behaviors. I was better at asking for help. I made another roommate awkwardly sit across from me while I ate once to make sure I didn’t peel the cheese off of my pizza. I tried “opposite actions” for behaviors I’d performed such as forcing myself to eat another bite of something after I’d spit out the first one in the trash.

But I’ve been committed to maintenance, not recovery. Maintenance means I don’t have to go back into an expensive, intensive program. Maintenance means I don’t look sickly and overly thin to anyone except my mom and dad, who know what I looked like before my eating disorder. Maintenance means I’m as close to the bottom of the healthy range of weight for my height as possible. Maintenance is not being recovered, but it’s not nothing either.

I remind myself every day I want recovery and I convince myself of this every day. I want a family one day. I want to be a therapist one day. I can’t have either of those unless I have recovery and so I fight every day for it.

I don’t know if my program directors were right in believing that full recovery is possible. I still struggle every day with my food consumption. I still look at my body in the mirror and target my stomach instead of seeing myself as a whole person. I still use its size to determine if it’s OK for me to keep eating the “large” (in quotations because apparently my version of large is distorted and therefore not actually that large) amount of food I’ve been eating. I’m still afflicted with an eating disorder and I may always be. But being in recovery, even if I’m not recovered, is still better than before I sought help. Having support has been essential to my recovery and I remind myself to be vocal and ask for help with my struggles. 

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