6 Habits Someone Might Develop in Eating Disorder Recovery
Eating disorders have plagued my life for as long as I can remember. I am finally in a place where I can call my recovery home, rather than my anorexia nervosa. However, I think a common misconception about those who are in recovery is that they have been “fixed.” We look at someone who has a problem, they take steps to solve that problem, now they are recovering and that is when we like to move on and assume they are now fine. We are in recovery; we are not just “fine.” Every day is an uphill battle to try to stay afloat. One wrong move or thought, and we could easily sink back into despair.
Throughout my recovery, I have found I have developed a number of habits and personality “quirks” that others who are not struggling the same plight cannot always understand. You cannot just go to bed one night deciding life is going to change and wake up the next day miraculously cured. Change takes time. Recovery takes persistence. And sometimes, we do things others do not understand because it is the only way we know how to move forward. This is the only way we know how to survive.
Here are six habits people don’t realize you have because you’re recovering from an eating disorder:
1. Eating the same foods every day.
One of the most difficult parts of recovering from an eating disorder is reintroducing foods back into your regular, healthy diet. We have spent so much time telling ourselves that so many foods are “bad” and to be avoided, so the idea of suddenly having to eat all of those foods again can cause a lot of stress. In my personal recovery, I have found eating consistent foods at consistent times helps me ensure I am actually eating. I know what to expect at each meal, and I know how these foods make me feel. I have been able to successfully reintroduce them into my diet without feeling a sense of panic each and every time I eat them.
The shame of someone constantly questioning what you are eating today when they already know the answer is enough to make me want to skip that meal altogether. Eating causes those of us in recovery enough anxiety already, and the last thing we need is for anyone to condemn us for our meal choices. What you might find odd has become our only way to get back on track, and we just need you to understand that the fact we are eating anything at all is huge. There will come a day when new foods are not so scary to us, but please do not chastise us if today is not that day.
2. Only eating meals around those you know well.
When you have conditioned yourself into believing food is the enemy, you can trigger yourself to feel a lot of shame whenever you do choose to eat. Going from avoiding eating at all costs to trying to accept food back into your life at all times can be extremely scary to those recovering from eating disorders. Even though I now know that no one around me is as tuned into what is on my plate as my brain has made me believe, I cannot help but be paranoid when eating around new acquaintances.
Taking lunch breaks at work has always brought me severe anxiety, as I strongly fear anyone making any commentary over what I may or may not be eating. To me, eating is not a comfortable event; it is still something I am learning to accept as a necessary part of my life. By adding that discomfort into a room full of people I am unfamiliar with, you are basically creating a recipe for disaster.
I have found I am more likely to eat at home before or after a social event so I can avoid the judgment of those around me. If someone you know is recovering from an eating disorder, please be sensitive to their food anxieties and offer to eat somewhere more private rather than at a bustling, public place. We know we need to eat, but sometimes our anxiety triumphs over what we know is right for us.
3. Avoiding the dating scene.
My eating disorder has caused serious issues in my past relationships. I have been broken up with for being anorexic and not wanting to go out to dinner. I have been told I will be left if I do not start taking better care of myself. I have been called disgusting by someone I was in love with for losing too much weight.
In a way, my anorexia was always my partner. Anorexia was there for me when a lot of others were not. Anorexia was truly my first abusive relationship. Now that I have separated myself from it, I am desperate to know what it feels like to love someone who is good to you. I want to know what true love feels like, rather than constantly feeling like I will never be good enough to deserve love at all. However, the emotional trauma I have endured due to my eating disorder hangs heavily over me at all times and has made acclimating back into regular life extremely difficult. I want to go on dates and be carefree, but the idea of going out for dinner with strangers is immobilizing for me. The thought of having to eat a meal in front of someone who does not know the demons I will forever be fighting off is so, so scary. All I can think about is how they must be so disgusted by me, by how I look while I eat, and how they must be judging me for the food choices I have made. My mind can conjure up an endless stream of worries that often causes me to avoid going out to meet someone new. I have had dates get upset with me for not wanting to eat in front of them, for not ordering food or for not drinking my drink at a restaurant.
Please keep in mind that not everyone’s brains work the same way and that for some of us, the mundane aspects of life are actually the most terrifying. It isn’t that we do not want to meet you; it’s that our mental illness is trying to tell us we shouldn’t.
4. Repeatedly canceling plans.
Some days, I wake up and I am so disgusted by my body, and by myself, that I can barely get out of bed. Fat is not a feeling, but when you have been under the control of an eating disorder for 15 years, it can be hard to convince yourself otherwise. Sometimes, I have great outfits planned out ahead of time for a social event, and then the day arrives and all I see in the mirror is someone who is too disgusting to even think about going out. I have literally felt I needed to keep myself away from others so they would not have to be subjected to my appearance.
Now that I am in recovery, these days are becoming fewer and fewer, but I still have my moments where all I can think about is going home and crawling into bed until the feeling passes. It is not that we do not want to go out with you, because we do. We so desperately want to go out and laugh and dance and not even think twice about how many calories are in our drink or if our stomachs are poking out just a little too much in our dresses. Unfortunately, our mental illness does not always agree with what our heart desires.
Please know we are trying to come back to the world. We are trying to be the bright, shining stars our hearts can see but our minds cannot. We still just have our days where staying in is what is best for us, and we can only hope you can understand our needs and will be there waiting for us on the other side of this pain.
5. Wearing ill-fitting clothing.
Someone living with an eating disorder is not seeing a true version of themselves whenever they look into the mirror. Even though I have been in a state of recovery for almost 10 years, I still know I will never see myself for who I really am. I will never know the truth of what my body looks like. I will never know if the fat I see and feel is real; I will never truly know myself. I have been able to train myself now to do my best to ignore what I see reflected back at me, but I still have my moments when the mirror wins. Every day, I feel fat. I see myself as fat, and I see that as a bad thing for me personally. I do my best to dress in clothing that fits the body I know I have but cannot actually see, but still, I find myself buying things that are often a little too loose for me. I am still afraid to show off my body even though I know now that I am healthy and strong. I cannot bring myself to wear most jeans, pants and shorts because I cannot stand the way they hug every part of me — parts I still wish I could erase.
Trust me — we know our clothes may be a little too big for us; we know we may look a little frumpy. But what you need to know is that just getting out of bed and putting on those clothes was a huge triumph for us. Just being able to go outside on any given day and not hide from the world is the equivalent to us winning the lottery. The more distance we put between ourselves and our eating disorders, the more we will be able to learn to accept ourselves. Please just know this acceptance cannot and will not happen overnight. All we need is time.
6. Having food rituals.
Another reason I hate eating in public is my fear of the judgment of others for my eating habits. As someone who spent almost half their life strictly regulating their every bite, it really should not come as a surprise that the way in which I eat may be a little bit unique. Back when I was in the worst of my anorexia, I would do whatever I could to eat as little of my meal as possible without anyone catching on to what I was actually doing.
Now that I am doing my best to add healthy eating habits back into my diet, I have found some of the food rituals I developed as an anorexic still make an appearance in my daily life. I still like to organize and section off my food as I eat it. Rarely will I eat a burger as one solid unit; I still find myself separating the bun from the patty and so on and so forth.
What is different now, however, is that I actually eat all of the food on my plate instead of just pretending to. I am lucky enough to eat most of my meals around my family and those who understand my situation, but I know this will not always be the case.
If you know someone who is working to recover from an eating disorder, please be patient with them as they slowly begin to learn how to view food as a necessity instead of the enemy. I hope that one day, I can sit down to enjoy a meal without dissecting everything I am eating, but right now I need to celebrate the fact I am actually eating. Please don’t lose sight of how far we have come.
A version of this article was previously published on Thought Catalog.
Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash