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9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Eating Disorder Recovery

Many of my favorite posts on The Mighty and other blogs start with a number. Such as “36 Things People With Anxiety Want Their Friends to Know” Or “40 Things People With Eating Disorders Wish Others Understood” I love them because with a simple copy and paste of the link, I can often communicate things to people in my support system that I previously hadn’t had the words for. What’s ironic though, is that one the hallmarks of an eating disorder can be a lack of insight about your own condition, and I am no exception to that. Sometimes it’s easy for me to see how something applies to someone else, but I struggle to see  how it applies to me.

So this is a piece for me and for all of you out there fighting the same battle. While that lack of insight can look different for all of us, here are nine things I wish I had known about my own eating disorders.

1. Eating disorders are serious. 

They are not something to mess around with. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Every day I engage in eating disorder behavior, I am doing harm to my body and I never know what harm will be irreparable. Despite what I may occasionally think, I am not the exception to the rule. There are real, potentially fatal consequences to continuing to deprive my body of the fuel it needs.

2. I do not need my eating disorder to be OK. 

There was life before the eating disorder (a life that was much more vibrant than life with my eating disorder) and there will be life after it. My eating disorder is not the glue that holds the pieces of my shattered life together. It’s the hammer that’s trying to break those pieces in my life into even smaller pieces.

3. I cannot hold onto a “little bit” of my eating disorder. 

Sometime I have this illusion that I can just give up my “worst” behaviors and still use my “smaller” behaviors and everything will be fine and dandy. However, that is far from the truth.  If I want to be out of my eating disorder, I have to commit to being all out. As one friend told me, “The thing is,  you cannot have a little bit of an eating disorder and reach full recovery. That little bit will always be a hot coal waiting for something to light a match and reignite the inferno.” While it’s not going to happen overnight, I have to be all out.

4. I am not my eating disorder. 

While it’s part of my story, it is not who I am. While sometimes the thoughts, the behaviors and the anxiety may feel all consuming, I am more than this disorder. I am more than my copays, my quirky eating habits, my myriad of regular appointments. I am a person with hopes and dreams. I have people in my life I love and who love me. Remembering I am more than this disorder is a small victory in and of itself. The eating disorder tries to make you forget who you really are.

5. Engaging in my eating disorder behaviors makes me less rational.

My eating disorder also makes me less myself. I know this. My treatment team certainly knows this. When I start using my behaviors, my body starts to panic and go into survival mode. This impacts the way I think, the way I communicate and makes my anxiety skyrocket. This means I’m physically less able to make good decisions.

6. There are times others have more insight into my eating disorder than I do. 

When someone on my team tells me I’m starting to slip in my recovery, they’re probably right. If I immediately become defensive, they’re definitely right. Eating disorders can be sneaky, and sometimes I don’t even realize how much control mine currently has. There is no reason people who care about me would tell me I’m getting more sucked into my eating disorder if that’s not what they’re seeing.

7. My eating disorder is not my fault.

It’s an illness and I did not bring it on myself or choose to have it.

8. My eating disorder is not my fault, but I have to make an active effort to engage in treatment. 

While my eating disorder did just sort of happen, recovery will not just magically happen. It takes willingness and hard work every single day. Any day I do not follow my team’s recommendation is an opportunity for my illness to get worse.  

9. Recovery is possible. 

One of my biggest barriers to seeking treatment was my misconception that my eating disorder was a lifetime sentence. What I know now is not only that recovery is possible, it’s really likely if I’m honest and engaged in treatment. In the two years since I was first diagnosed and entered treatment, my life already has improved dramatically. I know recovery is possible because I’m experiencing a little more of it each day. There is hope.

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 via AnkDesign.