5 Things I Wish People Understood About My Eating Disorder Recovery
I have been in recovery for nearly 10 years. The people in my life who matter most already know this about me. Many of them are understanding and supportive, but even the most supportive people will still make insensitive remarks simply because they don’t realize what they are saying.
I believe they want to be supportive, and if I told them their comment was triggering I believe they would be embarrassed and apologetic, but I do not want to make them uncomfortable any more than they want me to feel uncomfortable. I would rather educate people so these comments could be avoided in the first place.
What I wish others could understand about eating disorder recovery:
1. Our brains are different.
Everything I want to say could be summed up simply: my brain does not think the same way yours does. When you talk about foods being “healthy” or “unhealthy,” I don’t hear you talking about food; I hear you talking about me and my life choices. I hear judgment. I get defensive. I feel shame. I start to feel fear. I am afraid to put food in my mouth afterward.
Intellectually, I understand you may share these remarks in a self-deprecating manner, and most likely you are just as confused as I am with all the information out there about certain foods or ingredients, what is “good for you” and what is “bad for you,” but my eating disorder hears every word as a reminder of my personal “failings.”
2. It wasn’t about beauty for me.
Speaking of personal failings, my eating disorder was not about being thin for beauty’s sake; it was driven by intense perfectionism and fear of failure. Not being the “perfect” weight made me not just unattractive; it made me an utter failure, unworthy as a human being. I truly believed other people would think this of me. I believed if I weighed too much, people would think less of me.
Growing up, I was the kid who always had the right answer. I aced the tests, I had the highest GPA in the class, I never broke the rules and I did everything right. I took that same standard with my body. I had to be right. I had to be perfect. It wasn’t about being beautiful; it was about not failing.
3. I can’t control my emotions.
I have emotional reactions to feeling hungry or feeling like I overate. I have no control over those emotions. Sometimes, I start to cry for no apparent reason, but then I realize I am just hungry. After I nourish myself, the urge to cry is gone. It is different from the “hangry” feeling people talk about. I know that feeling too — when it’s mealtime but things keep happening to delay your access to food, and you get more and more irritated while you wait.
These tears come to me before I realize what my body is telling me. My body remembers those days of having an eating disorder. It remembers the pain, the desperation, the feelings of utter worthlessness, and the familiar sensation of hunger is all it takes to trigger those same emotions.
On the other end of the spectrum, if I eat a large meal, I do not simply groan and say “I ate too much.” When you overeat, you say you feel miserable and make a joke about starting to work out tomorrow; I go into a near-panic. Years ago, I would have taken drastic measures when I had that feeling. My brain remembers that, and I still have to fight those urges. Please don’t tell me it will be OK or I should, “Go on, have a little more.” I know my limits.
4. You can talk about your weight loss plans, but…
You can talk about your diet or your workout if you wish. If you are happy with yourself and your results, I am happy for you. It will only become a problem for me if you start to tell me I should take up this diet too. I cannot consider any diet that means altering my usual eating habits, even for a day. I cannot think about how much weight I might lose. Those are the thoughts that will send me into a tailspin. If the conversation is strictly about you and how you feel, I am OK with that because I want to support you as much as you support me.
5. I’m not trying to control our relationship.
I am not trying to set a bunch of rules about what we can or cannot talk about. I do not want the eating disorder to be front and center in my life, and I don’t want anyone to feel they have to walk on eggshells so you do not trigger me. It is only one request I make: when it comes to food or weight, let’s not talk about the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” If we talk about food, let’s only talk about what tastes good or doesn’t taste good. We may have different dietary preferences and needs; let us simply acknowledge them without judging ourselves or anyone else.
I would really prefer not to talk about weight at all, but if you must, be equally objective. Your weight, my weight — they do not measure our value as humans. Let us treat our bodies as they deserve and accept our uniqueness. I am working on it with myself every day, and I want you to do the same.
Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash