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What Does Recovery From an Eating Disorder Really Mean?

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It took me a long time to be able to claim the words, “I am a recovered anorexic.” Much longer than it took the world to see me that way,

There are so many measures of recovery. The medical world will look to tangible physical improvements, primarily weight gain. And yes, part of recovery means reaching a healthy weight and struggling with the devastating physical symptoms of anorexia.

But I would argue that recovery is far more than numbers on a scale. It is quite possible to be a healthy weight but still have food rule your life, haunt your dreams, poison your relationships and destroy your sense of self.

I was healthy physically a long time before I was at peace with my illness. I had been judged by my weight for so long that even when the worst aspects of my anorexia had diminished, my shame remained.

Putting on weight wasn’t enough; I wanted so much to be the person I was before I got sick. It was only then, I believed, I could see myself as “better.”

The reality is, I can never again be the carefree young girl I was before I got sick. I can never be the person I was before the ravages of my disease, my brutal medical treatment, the loss of important relationships or the stigma of mental illness.

I hope it is these very things that have made an empathetic person who doesn’t judge anyone, and yet the truth was for many years I felt diminished in a way that made me believe I would never reclaim my essence.

At times I thought I should view my anorexia like other addictions, that it would always be present and I should just learn to manage it on a daily basis. That type of personal responsibility is certainly part of recovery, but somehow it didn’t seem enough. I wanted to be “cured.”

I wished for a miracle cure – to wake up one day and have the burden of my struggle gone. It didn’t happen. But guess what? That didn’t mean I didn’t recover.

It is true I will never have the same relationship with food or with my body that I once had. Even so, I fought against the notion that managing my illness one meal at a time was the best I could hope for.

What I have learned is recovery takes as long as it takes. For a lucky few, that is a quick process. For me it was a long one. There were times – years in fact – when I was so closed off physically, emotionally and socially that it seemed like I was making no progress. But in retrospect I can see I was working toward reclaiming my life even when it appeared I was standing still.

Looking back I can see my recovery gained momentum at a certain indefinable point, reinforced by the pleasures of life that at last I was experiencing. I began to believe I deserved the things my illness had robbed me of.

My recovery is not perfect. I have moments when I find myself in a hard situation, and momentarily it throws me. At these times it is hard not to judge myself.

But I no longer cower. Food doesn’t dictate what I do or how I do it. The fact that I once had anorexia does not define who I am or what I have to offer the world. For me, that is recovery.

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.

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Thinkstock photo by Lucid Surf

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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What My Friend Didn't Know When He Said I Was 'One of the Healthiest People' He Knew

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Contrary to my typical school days, I had several good guy friends while in college. These enthusiastic guys were genuinely smart, humorous, truthful and tended to make certain group gatherings more fun. They were a lively asset to football-watching parties, board game playing potlucks and recreational sporting scrimmages on campus. They were pros at crafting a clever joke, willingly contributed to thought-provoking conversations and were never dramatic. Needless to say, I greatly valued their friendship, encouragement and personal opinions.

One afternoon after a routine ultimate frisbee session, one of my guy friends, Ken, mentioned that he had seen me running around campus earlier that week – a daily activity for which I quickly became known. Attempting to compliment my physically active lifestyle, he said: “Amanda, you’re one of the healthiest people I know.”

Conflicted by his politely intended comment, I remember thinking sadly to myself, If only you knew, Ken…if only you knew the truth.

The truth was that back in college I did know — I knew all about my history and knew I was still regretfully hanging on to painful pieces of my past. With my academic major of choice being Exercise Science, I had acquired a substantial amount of insight on how the magnificent human body operates. From my own experience and educational influences, I knew all about the foundational idiosyncrasies of my specific condition and was highly aware of what I should be doing to combat it. I knew about many intensive biological processes and detailed components pertaining to anatomy and physiology. I was well versed in the guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, and was well trained on how to properly lead others towards adapting healthy choices and developing a balanced lifestyle.

I knew all of these concepts like the back of my hand… I just frankly wasn’t applying them to myself. On the outside I may have appeared fit and healthy, but on the inside, I was deniably still struggling beneath my protective fitness persona.

But my ignorant 13-year-old self didn’t know. I didn’t know the difference between carbs, fats and proteins. I didn’t know there was such a thing as too much exercise or nutritional control. I didn’t know how foods were broken down in our bodies or that words like “calories” and “metabolism” even existed. I didn’t know anything about nutrient timing or hormones. And of course I didn’t know at the time that all of my intentional efforts to improve my athletic ability and conscious focus on physical enhancement were unintentionally eating up my body. Literally.

Yet instead of translating this lack of knowledge into a prime teaching opportunity, the majority of what I absorbed went to labeling foods and habits as either “good” or “bad.” Despite my attempts to facilitate healthy living, everything suddenly added on to my pre-existing set of rules.

This observant, reserved, intuitive young girl only wanted to become the best all-star athlete out there and instead accidentally took her competitive, perfectionist personality overboard. I “learned” by my own observation and perceived judgment that I was losing the very control I set out to attain in the beginning.

I wanted to get things right. I didn’t mean to cause my body harm, but at the same time I also wanted to understand why I was suddenly being forced by doctors into a new strict and monitored lifestyle. In spite of my inner will to improve myself, I was constantly overpowered by the regulations of my treatment team and my own eating disorder voice telling me everyone else was wrong.

Thankfully now, I know. I now know the severity of the disease that consistently won the battle for nearly 10 years of my life. I know the mental and emotional toll that tags alongside the obvious physical toll. I know the meaning behind terms like “triggers” and “tendencies,” and how to monitor them.

I know now if I want to be able to continue the physical activities that bring me so much joy, I have to strategically fuel my body with the right sources. I know that food is my muscle’s best friend because it provides substance, energy and natural healing remedies.

I know truthfully just how vital it is to have loving moral support during dark times. Additionally, I have no doubt that with my passion for learning, this large knowledge base will only continue to grow. And with this knowledge, I know deep down that recovery is possible.

I can now live a life of vibrancy, contentment and peace.

In times of confusion, discouragement and affliction, I remind myself of the gift of the present. In all circumstances, it helps to know there is someone right there on your side. Someone rooting for you each step of the way. Someone who will walk with you, cry with you and stand strong with you. Someone who values you, admires you and cares deeply for you. Someone who would drop everything just to sit quietly with you, to patiently wait in silence with you, aspiring to bring comfort and assurance in reminding you to simply:

”be still and know.”

Be still, be calm and be brave. Be still and know that there is such a thing as hope. Be still and know that it can indeed get better. I know, because I’ve been there. I know, because I’m here.

Psalm 46:10

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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.

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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Goodbye to Anorexia, Hello to a Better Life

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I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 17, and I had body image and self-esteem issues for long before that. Now, at 21 years old, I really can’t remember ever living a life that wasn’t controlled by anorexia. Currently, I am in the middle of yet another intense battle with it.

Anorexia is a life-threatening illness. It’s scary. It’s lonely. It’s pure agony.

I often lie awake in bed scared because my heart is barely beating. I get pounding headaches, feel lightheaded and nauseous as a result of malnutrition and dangerously low blood pressure. Yet, instead of eating, I continue restricting, exercising and taking diet pills.

If I don’t fight this eating disorder, then I stop fighting for my life. So, I am proud to say I am in treatment, and I am ready to say goodbye to my eating disorder. I am fighting because I know my life’s worth living, and I have so much potential and so much to live for.

Saying goodbye won’t be easy. It’s going to be the hardest, most grueling and daunting battle I will ever fight. Yet, I am ready to say hello to a better life that isn’t controlled by anorexia. Although I have a long way to go, I’m hopeful I can finally beat anorexia , one day at a time.

One day, I will be a psychiatrist helping those struggling. For now, I am ready to focus on myself and my recovery.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

 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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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Maintaining Anorexia Recovery While in School

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Being in the midst of midterms, with finals just around the corner, my stress levels are extremely high. And when stress is high, I know I am more vulnerable to resort back to eating disorder behaviors to cope. But I’m intent on protecting and prioritizing my recovery! Here are some of the things that are helping me do so:

  • Prioritizing eating — literally scheduling meals and snacks into my agenda and my phone to remind myself of their importance and to not let them get pushed aside.
  • Reminding myself of why I am fueling myself: It enables my body to perform its basic functions, to keep my lungs breathing, my heart beating, and my brain thinking. It allows me to get from home, to school, to work. It allows me to write a paper, to create something artistic, to get through a yoga class, to play with my nephews, and to go out and have fun with friends!
  • Doing meal planning in advance can help me ensure my nutritional needs are getting met and to lessen the stress of having to make on-the-spot decisions about what and how much to eat.
  • Having a list of safe foods on hand that I am most comfortable with. These are my fall-back plan, and if I am really struggling I can go back to one of these foods.
  • Regarding food as medicine. I wouldn’t skip my medication, so I shouldn’t skip my meals either!
  • Not comparing what I am doing to what others are doing. Other people might not take a break to have lunch or snack, but that doesn’t mean I have an out to do so too. Different people have different needs, and I know what I need to do for my health and my recovery, which is to eat adequately and on a regular basis.
  • Learning to have some flexibility because sometimes things don’t go to plan. Maybe I planned out that I was going to buy a particular thing for lunch, and it wasn’t available. But that’s OK, because I can pick out something else. Maybe lecture ran late, and I can’t eat at the time I planned to, and that’s OK! Relaxing my rigidity is a process, but it’s one I’m working at daily.
  • Forgiving myself for mistakes. Recovery is not linear, so sometimes slips happen. I try to see slips as isolated incidents and not in an all-or-nothing manner (i.e. “I skipped one meal, therefore I’m a failure at recovery and a failure at life!”). It’s not that cut and dried. Yes, a slip needs to be taken seriously, but if I let it defeat me, I just open the door to more slips which could then spiral into a relapse. So I actively choose to respond to mistakes with kindness and compassion.
  • Finding a recovery community of others who “get it.” For me this is the Instagram ED recovery community. I use this judiciously and recognize what is helpful to me and seek that out, and avoid what is triggering to me. Instagram has allowed me to connect with some truly amazing, encouraging, and supportive individuals.
  • Finding what coping strategies work for me and making a point of utilizing these every day. For me, this means using opposite action, mechanical eating, and reminding myself to treat recovery as an experiment.
  • Making time for self-care. I literally have to schedule this in for myself or I can easily end up neglecting it. It can be hard to allow myself to take a break, but it is needed, and deserved! It will make me more focused, refreshed, and effective when I return to what I was doing.
  • Leaning on my support system and asking for help when I need it! I used to think this would be a burden to others, but in fact, not asking for help can end up being much more of a burden to people because if I don’t let them know how to help me, their hands are tied. Figuring out what I need, and asking for help in getting these needs met is incredibly important and empowering. Anorexia robbed me of my voice, and so learning how to get my autonomy back is really meaningful to me.

So, to everyone else who is stressing about school or work, take a deep breath, re-focus on what is important to you and keep fighting! Recovery is possible, and it is so worth it. Be aware of your vulnerabilities and find ways to skillfully navigate them.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Stock photo by Poike

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When Anorexia Is an Unwelcome Guest in Your Home

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It came into our lives in an instant. At least that is what it felt like six months ago. One instant, and my world was turned upside down.

“Your daughter has anorexia nervosa.”

Of course it wasn’t really an instant. Anorexia had been invading our lives, slowing sneaking in and making himself at home over the course of about eight months. He started simply enough, making my daughter question her choices. Making her seek out information about what is and isn’t healthy. He whispered, hiding in the shadows, not wanting to make himself known. But as he got more comfortable, he began creeping out, joining the family for meals and putting his feet up on the coffee table.

Questions about exercise and healthy living became regular conversation and we began to take notice of my 10-year-old daughter’s anxiety around choices related to healthy living. Our daughter became like a shark, always moving, always questioning and never requesting food.

Then the monster unpacked his suitcases and had his toothbrush in the bathroom. He was there, he was living with us. He was my daughter’s constant companion, but we couldn’t see him. His whispers were now screams in her ear, but we couldn’t hear him. And then one night I caught a glimpse of him. He was a creepy-looking fella who sent shivers down my spine. I questioned if what I had seen was real. But I knew, real or not, I had to make sure that this stranger was nowhere near my daughter.

We made our first appointment to have her evaluated at an Adolescent Eating Disorder Clinic. I tried to convince myself he wasn’t real. I tried to convince myself he wasn’t living with us… but in an instant that all changed.

“Your daughter has anorexia nervosa.”

How could this be? How could this have happened? How could this have happened to my 10-year-old? She is only 10!

But it did happen and there we were, learning all about Family Based Therapy and the Maudsley Method. We learned that if we had allowed this visitor to stay much longer, our daughter would have required inpatient treatment. We learned that getting him to pack up his stuff and move out was going to be hard work. Oh my goodness was it going to be hard work!

Over the course of the last six months we have worked hard. Family Based Therapy is no joke and the name says it all. It was going to take a village to get that monster out of our house.

It started out well; he packed his bags, put his toothbrush away and then firmly planted himself on our couch. I got him to take his feet off the coffee table and pretty soon he was in a chair in the corner. He stayed there for a while, shouting out at my daughter. Trying to distract her. Trying to persuade her to bring his bags to the guest room. We fought him. With every meal and every pound gained, we pushed him away. He ended up hiding in corners and peeking out of the shadows and my daughter, my strong and resilient daughter, turned her back on him.

He walked out the door but he’s still on our sidewalk, peering in from the street. His voice is silenced by the love, support, strength and nourishment inside our home. She can’t hear him, but I send him warning glances to stay away.

I have learned more about anorexia in the past six months than one could ever imagine. Everything I thought I knew has been traded in for meaningful and accurate information.

My daughter’s eating disorder did not originate from a desire to be thinner or a dysmorphia that made her believe she was fat. This mental disorder took advantage of my rule-following, Type A daughter and her desire to do “the right thing.”

There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media recently about eating disorders. Many celebrities have come out to admit their own private struggles. I applaud many of these celebrities for sharing what can often be a very isolating and shameful battle.

One particular celebrity — Candace Cameron Bure — has shared her struggle and recently partnered with the Eating Recovery Center as an advocate. While I applaud the Center’s intention of bringing attention to eating disorders through the use of a well-known celebrity advocate, I question what is truly being achieved. There has been very limited mention of the mental health aspect of eating disorders. There has been no mention that eating disorders are the number-one killer among psychiatric illnesses.

A recent episode of Dr. Oz is the perfect example of a missed opportunity for Mrs. Bure to effect true change in the misconceptions that surround eating disorders. In her recent profile piece in the June 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, she squandered an opportunity to be a true advocate and traded it in to share fitness tips and how she eats to make “40 look like 20.”

If the intention of the Eating Recovery Center is to erase the stigmas and misconceptions associated with eating disorders, we must do more than parade a celebrity around to share the simple fact that she, too, has struggled. We must arm advocates with the information to shout to the masses about where eating disorders truly originate.

As a parent, I have been reluctant to share my daughter’s battle with the world, not because I am ashamed but because the task at hand seems so immense. When the mainstream media portrays eating disorders as purely body-image issues or — as in the case of Mrs. Bure — an issue of pure control, they are doing a disservice to all people and their families who are battling this deadly disorder.

I have stayed silent thus far, but feel that I can do so no more. I shoot knowing glances at that monster through our window, warning him to stay away. But now I must also yell from the rooftop to the world for understanding.

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.

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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When You Can't Imagine Having Had an Eating Disorder During Recovery

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Last week, a good friend was visiting from home, and a group of us were hanging out together. When I walked in, my friend laughed and said, “I was just telling them how you ate so many carrots you turned orange!” She’d made these kinds of comments before, and usually I didn’t mind. I laughed it off, but I started to think about the reasons behind it. You see, carrots were my safe food when I was in the throes of my eating disorder. I ate bags and bags to satisfy the hunger pains, knowing exactly how many (or should I say how few) calories they had. My palms and the soles of my feet did indeed turn orange, and I couldn’t eat carrots for a long time. It seems funny in retrospect, but all her comment did was remind me of how far down the rabbit hole of anorexia I had been.

Honestly, it was an intense sort of wake-up call, because lately I’ve been grappling with this idea, this notion in my head that I didn’t have an eating disorder. There’s no way the girl I look at in the mirror who eats dessert every day, who no longer fears pizza and bagels, who accepts her curves and her natural body size could have ever struggled with such a horrific disease. But I did. I was there, in the thick of it, at war with my body and my mind.

It honestly feels like a different life sometimes. I was a shell of a person, a fraction of who I am today. I feel almost detached from that “before” life. Before I knew all foods were good. Before I realized exercise wasn’t just to have abs by a certain time of year. Before I realized there was more to life than the calculator on my phone. I can’t even fathom going back to that place.

Which is why I also can’t imagine ever having an eating disorder. Because how could I have ever sacrificed my freedom for a monster of a disease? How did I find the courage to break free from the crushing hold my disorder had on me? How am I able to be so positive and reassure myself time after time that life with an eating disorder is not worth it? It astonishes me really, this hidden strength and bravery I have. I’m not being sarcastic; I don’t remember where it came from. What motivated me to fight and push and conquer?

All I really know is I’m so grateful I did. I don’t know where I would be without recovery and everything about it — the tears, the arguments in my head. But also, the pure love I was able to build for my body, my mind and my soul. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I embrace all that’s happened on my journey.

Image via Thinkstock.

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.

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