I wasn’t always this way.
I didn’t always have to tell myself to stop counting calories, to put fats back in my diet or to stop running. I didn’t always ignore the scale every day, or have to force myself not to go to the gym.
But, that’s how I am today — I’m recovering from anorexia.
The recovery looks different to everyone who has struggled with an eating disorder, and everyone has different goals in recovery — once they realize how sick they are. But see, that’s the hard part: realizing you’re sick.
Anorexia becomes a lifestyle, a mentality and a way of being. Recognizing that is as painful as it is demoralizing, and seeking help usually requires a push. I can remember sitting in my eating disorder doctor’s office, 10 years ago. She sat me down and said: “Elissa, you’re sick. You have to eat, or we will hospitalize you. You have to eat or you will die.” But it didn’t register. I was so sick I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to die. I was so convinced I was living and eating correctly, her words didn’t faze me.
It wasn’t until she told me that, unless I ate, my recent major knee injury would never heal and I’d never play soccer again, it clicked. I was about to lose soccer — the one thing that kept me somewhat attached to this world. I started the recovery, and 10 years later here I am.
Looking back, I can group the phases of my recovery into three parts:
- Starting to eat again.
- Limiting my workouts.
- Learning to love again.
#1. Eating Again
My recovery started with eating. I was asked to eat something small every three hours from the moment I woke up until I went to bed.
Every. Three. Hours.
To this day, I do this. Now, I don’t eat a huge cheeseburger every three hours, but I do eat a significant snack or a meal. If I don’t, the result it chaos. That chaos will crawl into my brain and infect my psyche. It will flow into my veins and cloud my vision. I get angry, I get teary, I get mean. I start reverting into my old eating mentalities. And yes, it happens as soon as I go very far past three hours between meals or snacking. Every time.
This seems like a lot of food, especially is you’ve been stuck in today’s “dieting” fads or had an eating disorder of your own. But, it really isn’t too much food. And, as long as you’re staying active and not eating straight bacon grease, it is a healthy way to eat. And it is OK to eat — that was a huge part of recovery… being OK with eating again.
The most helpful advice for the eating part that I received was this: “Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.” Don’t stop before that, and don’t continue to eat after that. Your body will tell you when it’s hungry… listen.
#2. Limiting Workouts
This was a hard one — probably the hardest part of all: making myself stop working out. Now, I don’t mean stop completely. Working out is great for you. But, in moderation. Especially for someone with a history of an eating disorder and workout addiction, limiting yourself in the gym or on the track is very important, because even if you get the eating part of the recovery down, if you continue to burn way more calories than you’re eating, and you can’t get out of the mindset that you must run, then it’s hard to be healthy again – mentally or physically.
The workout addiction was the hardest to break, for me. I literally had to force myself to be lazy, watch a movie or simply not go bonkers in my own head trying to sit still. It was so hard, so unbearable not going to the gym every day, when I had gotten to accustomed to going two or three times a day. It is an addiction, and the only way you can break it is to remove yourself from it completely. Now, it has been a while, but I am back in the gym, slowly doing this and that. I go on walks and kayak. But I set timers for myself, I don’t stay as long as I want, or I know I will never leave. It’s a tight balancing act, but it is possible.
I can’t say I’ve mastered this part yet. It is a work in progress, even 10 years later. I’m still fighting the addiction. But I am proud to say I can go into a gym and leave 45 minutes later without overdoing it every time, and without the compulsive feelings coming back. I am a work in progress, and you know what? It’s working.
But, the most exciting part of recovery, and one that has led to many wonderful memories, is listed next…
#3. Learning to Love Again
Learning to love, to actually love food and love myself, was the part of my recovery that made the biggest impact as far as healing goes. My husband helped with that.
My husband grew up in a home centered around the kitchen. And he brought a love for food into our relationship when we started dating. In fact, the night he asked me out was the first time we made spaghetti together (well, let’s be honest, he cooked all of it and I handed him ingredients).
Steven slowly gave me a love for cooking, which to be honest makes food even easier to eat. Putting love into something makes it so much better, and now I can say I love cooking. And, even more than that. I am starting to love myself again.
Part of an eating disorder is that it distorts your ability to see things clearly — especially yourself. I had held my self-image in such a negative light, I thought there was nothing good about me — physically or otherwise. I was always hard on myself. I was never good enough. But through Steven, and surprisingly through loving cooking, I have grown to accept myself just as I am.
I am a work in progress, and a recovery in the making. But, I’m getting there. I don’t know how long it will take before I consider myself healed from the eating disorder, but I know I will get there. With Steven’s help, and my new found joy in cooking, I’m leaning to live and love again — one day at a time.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.