How Food Loses Its Power in Long-Term Eating Disorder Recovery
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 741741.
In the throes of my eating disorder, I (like so many other women) would pick up books or watch movies where there was some kind of eating disorder storyline. All of the books and movies I would watch always stopped at the same point though. It was a person who was clearly struggling with what we see as “textbook” anorexia or bulimia, and there would be a huge build up to the point where the person would finally go and get help. They would either end at the point where they’re off to treatment or take you through treatment with them and end with them going home.
But what about the part where they go home? What about what their life is like six months from treatment? A year? Two years? Why are we not excited or curious to know this person without an eating disorder? I’ll tell you. Long-term recovery from anorexia is boring. I know this sounds like an encouragement to not get better, but keep reading.
Your life goes from being consumed with behaviors to new healthy behaviors learned from treatment that are as regulated and scheduled as your harmful behaviors, because at first you need structure to force yourself to try and build up these behaviors as an everyday thing. Then you move onto the eventual habit of implementing healthy eating patterns, coping skills and physical health without explicitly trying to do so. If you were wrapped up in your eating disorder for years and years there can be a torturous comfort that comes with compulsive tracking, being triggered by everything, being self-conscious about anything pertaining to your body and getting through the days by being occupied by your nutrition and exercise goals. Each day is something new and interesting as you navigate what needs to be done around your behaviors. You know these thoughts are driving you “crazy,” but you don’t know yet that without them there is a lot more space in your brain to just be… human.
So about that long-term recovery: after seeking intense treatment for an eating disorder that had been a companion for over 10 years, I can tell you it gets boring. Hear me out; food becomes boring, not life. Food just becomes food. That’s it. I wake up and I eat when I’m hungry now. Sometimes I eat just because I want to and without any physical hunger from my body. Sometimes I overeat just because I do and there isn’t a rhyme or reason to any of it. My body craves food whether physically or emotionally and I eat.
I see a therapist when I need to. Check in with a psychiatrist every couple of months for routine medication management and see my family practitioner every couple of months. I don’t stand out from my peers for being exceptionally thin or exceptionally overweight. I’m just average. I can say with little to no feeling that someone is smaller than me or I’m built bigger than her and it’s not insult to myself, it just is what it is.
I listen to my friends talk about wanting to lose weight and it gives me about as much stimulation as checking the weather. No longer are everyday topics of conversation a catalyst to spiral into behaviors. It’s just a topic that a few people are going to talk about for a few minutes and then move on from. Now even though I choose not to vocally participate in these conversations (a coping skill learned in treatment that I just do now without having to think about), I too move on when topic changes and continue through my “boring,” and “average” days working as a nursing assistant and getting ready to graduate from grad school.
Did I ever think I would reach a point where I would look at food and eating habits as boring? No. Even discharging from treatment a few years ago I never thought I would be a woman who just ate and didn’t track it in some form, but slowly and carefully and through an amazing therapist, psychiatrist and nutritionist I’m now one of those people who just… eats.
Photo of contributor by Nicholas Lewandowski