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Finding My 'Real Recovery' as Someone With an Eating Disorder

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In a literal sense, I wake up every day. Whether I want to face the day or not. But in a psychological sense, everything changed for me a few months ago.

In 2017, I did an online course for bulimia recovery. One of the girls was a recovered anorexic/bulimic and was doing the course for maintenance – she had most of the stuff nailed already.

Eating disorder (ED) behavior isn’t about ignorance — we all know how to eat properly. Rather, it’s a coping mechanism that is extremely hard to let go of, and the thought of not using ED behaviors is, quite frankly, terrifying. If I’m not numb, what will happen? But this girl had transformed from full-on eating disorder patient to completely recovered.

I Wanted to Know How That Happened

All the logic in the world cannot make you recover — whatever it is you need to recover from. If you know you need recovery, you know what you need to do. But there’s a mental block that just stops you crossing over that line. I wanted to know how to cross that block. What was her inspiration for taking that step?

This beautiful red-headed girl in bare feet and a flowing orange skirt was so comfortable in her own skin. She gently embraced who she was. I wanted to know how she moved from body obsession to body acceptance. I wanted what she had. So I asked her how it happened.

“I just woke up one day and decided to change”

I found that to be perfectly useless information. Just waking up and being different was not something I could consciously control. I can research and learn and find out all the tips and tricks and tools of the trade. I can control my thoughts to some degree. But changing my heart is not a controlled process.

I don’t know about your coping mechanisms. How you work through great distress and small emotional challenges. Perhaps you were taught these skills as a child. Perhaps you’re not highly sensitive to your physical and psychological environment. But imagine just for a moment, that you have to give up the only thing that helps you cope with the ebbs and flows of life. How do you do it? How do you consistently learn to live a new life without your coping strategy?

Photo of sunset at the beach

You Just Wake Up One Day

That’s what has happened to me. I’ve struggled with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors my entire life. But the rapid escalation began in 2015. For five years I’ve been knee-deep in self-destructive, numbing, obliterating behaviors. I had three stints in psychiatric hospitals. I’ve damaged relationships and lost my career. I’m not the same person I was and I never will be.

But I kept trying to rally and do all the things my support network gently urged me to do. My hands were often willing, but my heart was not. So for every two steps forward, there was at least one step back. But one day — not so long ago — I woke up and felt, enough. This is enough. I concede defeat.

  • I will eat whatever I like, whenever I like, without guilt or shame
  • I will stop trying to lose weight
  • I will accept how I look, even when I don’t like it
  • I will not compensate for anything I’ve eaten
  • I will care about my health and nutrition
  • I will move my body for physical health and enjoyment
  • I will let people see me eat

This isn’t rocket science. I always knew what I needed to do. I just couldn’t feel it. Now I do. I wake up every morning and when my belly starts to rumble, I eat breakfast. Three or four hours later I notice a bit of emptiness so I make lunch. In the afternoon I get bored and procrastinate so I cook a piece of toast. In the evening I share a meal with my husband. I eat two pieces of chocolate after dinner every night. I’m never really hungry and I’m rarely really full.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Recovery Warriors group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Recovery Warriors is a safe space for anyone who's in the process of mental or physical healing. Lean on others for support and celebrate your recovery milestones here. Click to join.

They Call It Intuitive Eating

Follow your body’s cues. Accept that some days there is more nutritional content than others. Eat for pleasure and leisure with friends and family. Perhaps these are things you naturally do. They probably are — most people don’t have an eating disorder. But for me, they’re miraculous concepts and just a couple of months back the miracle struck me and here I am — feeling like I’m firmly treading the recovery path in a way I’ve never done before.

It’s not perfect. While I no longer purge or self-harm or restrict or try to work off calories, I also eat when I’m bored or choose delicious over nutritious sometimes. But now I allow myself to eat whatever and whenever most of the time I want to eat food that satisfies both hunger and health. Of course, I was told this would happen, but you have to be ready. Some things can’t be forced. I have learned a lot in five years.

So what my gentle, peace-loving red-headed friend in the long flowing skirt taught me is that continuing to pursue recovery is always worthwhile. It may be frustrating to spend years accruing all the knowledge with little result, but when the day comes that your heart catches up, you’re well equipped to make the change.

In 2020 I sunk to my lowest low, and six months later I found my real recovery. I will still never be the person I was, but that’s OK.

Getty image by Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: December 18, 2020
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