The Fact Everyone Needs to Hear About Anorexia Recovery
Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.
Here’s a story about how one sentence from my eating disorder (ED) nurse helped me to challenge the way I measure my progress in anorexia nervosa recovery, and hopefully it can help you too (whether you’re a fellow fighter, carer or a member of the general public).
It was one of those difficult days; a day where nothing felt like it was going right. I had sat and ate lunch in the daycare lounge, and every mouthful had felt like a mountain to climb. Having had a couple of really motivational and ass-kicking days with lots of challenges, I felt more disheartened than ever before.
“Why do I still have the deadly nostalgia for my disordered body?”
“I’ve done this before. Why do things feel so difficult?”
“I’m nearing weight restored; why am I struggling so much?”
Judgments, judgments, judgments. It’s a well-known fact that my healthy brain and my disordered brain have absolutely no empathy for one another. I couldn’t participate fully in relaxation after lunch; I had a hard time keeping myself present as I tried to contend with the war in my head. I looked up at the clock; it was 1 p.m. I had 30 minutes until I was meeting with my ED nurse. So I busied myself with trying to complete our latest puzzle, which is a surprisingly good distraction as it involves active engagement.
When 1:30 p.m. came, I started by telling her how I was upset and angry at myself — that I felt like I was failing at everything, failing at recovery because I was still struggling despite gaining the majority of my weight back.
What she said next I would never forget: “You need to remember that anorexia (and any ED for that matter) is in your head and not in your weight.”
This may seem like a really obvious statement. Anorexia is, after all, a psychiatric illness and not a physical one. However, this really hit home. With the general public and the media often focusing on weight as the main aspect of eating disorder recovery, I found myself getting caught up in their frankly narrow-minded view of what recovery is. After all, if gaining weight were the magic cure, I wouldn’t have ever relapsed.
Weight loss is simply a side effect of an illness rooted much deeper — an illness that finds its origins in trauma and faulty cognitions as maladaptive mechanisms develop as a way of survival. Therefore it would be naïve to think that after using this way of coping for so long, the simple act of gaining weight would magically fix things.
The scales cannot quantify your progress, and the much-needed raise in BMI isn’t “value added.” Your recovery involves both physical and mental recovery and these don’t always happen simultaneously. More often than not, one will come before the other. For me, the mental side of being recovered still has a lot of catching up to do to match my physical recovery. I constantly remind myself that it’s OK whenever I start to feel that self-criticism voice start to barge its way in, telling me I’m a failure, weak and just generally a rubbish person.
I use the “anorexia is in your head and not your weight” as my mantra to reassure myself that it’s OK to still struggle, and it’s OK to feel hurt and discouraged. The struggles I face show me that some of my wounds need more care. It reminds me I am sick, and I’m also enough, and I don’t have to use my body in an effort to validate these feelings of struggle.
I simply have to use my words.
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 berdsigns