10 Things My Eating Disorder Taught Me, and What Helped Me Recover
I’ve thought long and hard about what to post for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, also known as NEDA Week. One thing my dietician and I have been talking about recently is viewing the eating disorder as something that was protective and actually served an important purpose in my life, rather than viewing it as the enemy. Because, throughout my long battle with an eating disorder, I have actually grown and learned more about myself than I ever would have without it. While I would not wish anorexia nervosa on my worst enemy, I am actually profoundly grateful for my struggle, because I would never be where I am today without it and without the people who have helped me through it.
So, I thought for NEDA Week I’d do a list of the top 10 things I have learned from my eating disorder, and a top five things that helped me recover. I hope this is helpful to somebody out there!
What my eating disorder has taught me, in no particular order:
1. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help and support. In fact, it is a sign of strength to admit you need help and to access and allow yourself that help.
2. Weight is not an indicator of the severity of an eating disorder.
3. Diet culture is pervasive, damaging and oppressive.
4. My choices about my food and well-being belong to me and me alone and have no moral weight attached.
5. Prioritizing self-care is not selfish; in fact, it helps me to be a better mother, friend, daughter, teacher and person.
6. There is goodness, light and love inside of me, even when I can’t feel it or see it.
7. My eating disorder was there for me during really hard times, especially the illness and death of my mother when I was in my late teens and early 20s. It helped me survive by releasing anxiety, giving me a sense of control, and feeling like I had a purpose. I no longer need it because I have other ways to access these feelings.
8. It is not my “fault” I developed an eating disorder. There is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. Biological, personality, environmental and cultural factors all came together in a perfect storm for me; I developed anorexia nervosa and sought treatment and help to recover.
9. My worth is not tied to a number. It feels like a cliché, but releasing the power of the scale, my clothing size and the number of calories eaten or burned has been absolutely essential to my recovery.
10. I am stronger than I think.
Five things that helped me to recover, in random order:
1. When things get really bad, know it’s OK to seek help.
Despite hating the idea of inpatient/residential treatment, I credit Walden, CEDC, Laurel Hill Inn and Beth Israel Hospital for saving my life during my darkest days. I will be forever grateful.
2. Find ways to be grateful to your body.
For me, that meant becoming a mother. Watching my body change throughout pregnancy and after childbirth was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, recovery-wise. However, knowing this body was able, after so many years of abuse, to give birth to a healthy, beautiful child makes me feel gratitude to my former enemy. My son gives me joy every day and reminds me of the importance of taking care of myself so I can be present and available for him.
3. Find a good outpatient treatment team.
Not all therapists are the same, and not all nutritionists are the same. I am so lucky and thankful I have found wonderful, caring, smart, progressive therapists, dietitians and medication providers who have stood by me for years. Recovery is not over when you gain back the weight; in fact, it is just beginning. I am lucky my treatment team knows this and is there for the whole me, not just my symptoms.
4. Access your creativity.
Art journaling, knitting/crocheting, paper crafts and coloring have all been crucial to my recovery. At the height of my eating disorder, I thought nothing I did was ever good enough and therefore never allowed myself to tap into my creative side. Through recovery, I have learned that art and creating things is a wonderful outlet for me and allows me a different way to express myself.
5. Open up to trusted family and friends.
I could not have come so far without the help and support of family and friends — a father who is there for me unconditionally, an understanding boss who allowed me to take the time I needed to heal, friends who are always available to lend an ear or laugh with, strong and powerful women I’ve met in treatment who continue to inspire me… I could go on and on, but connection and support is key to recovery. The eating disorder wants you to restrict everything, not just food. It tells you to restrict your relationships, your friends, your family — to isolate and hide myself away. Like an abusive partner, it wants you for itself. Don’t listen. It’s important to find your tribe.
So, in the words of Ariana Grande, I say to my eating disorder this NEDA Week: “thank you, next!” Onto bigger and better things.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash