Before and after pictures are harmful on so many levels.
Firstly you see the diet industry, so called “wellness” industry’s using pictures to market their false products.
The premise of the so called before and after picture in this setting, suggests that image and weight is the marker of health. Which people, if you have read any of my blogs or IG posts you know this is bullshit. Like the Bullshit Mass Index (BMI).
None of these elements reflect a persons health and the idea that manipulating your body, or image is a way to get healthy in most instances is simply ludicrous.
Before and after pictures in the eating disorder community are extremely dangerous. They are often posted on social media. Without a trigger warning, monitoring and to the most vulnerable of audiences. They serve no place in recovery. Why?
1. It promotes the unhelpful myth that eating disorders affect only the emaciated. Sadly this is still the image the media portrays of someone struggling with an eating disorder. Which is not helping to raise awareness, reduce stigma or educate about Health At Every Size.
2. They inadvertently promote ‘thinspiration’. For those of you not familiar with this colloquialism it’s a term well recognized in the eating disorder community that encourages thinness and can lead to very unhealthy comparisons and behaviors. For this reason alone no matter how well intentioned before and after pictures are dangerous.
3. Just because someone has gained some weight, or lost it’s not reflection of health status. You have no idea of the physical or mental state behind the picture.
4. The can invalidate a person’s recovery. Seeing someone’s pictures may make an individual question their recovery and why they haven’t “recovered” like the post. The pictures do not portray the enormous effort, energy and mental struggle involved in recovery. They are not true depictions.
I have written on previous posts, mentally I was at my most screwed up, difficult place when I first weight restored. To show a before and after picture at this point declaring my “recovery” would have been incredibly inaccurate. This is not helping to raise awareness that weight restoration is only part of the recovery process. Mental recovery takes far longer.
When all consumed by my eating disorder there was barely a day went by that I didn’t take a photo to “check” my progress. It was almost a big of an issue as the scales and weighing. People with eating disorders use the camera as a form of body checking. Body checking is not a healthy behavior and does not help in recovery.
Photos-are personal. For some people keeping photos of themself at their sickest can maybe act as a reality check, or reminder of why they recovered. For others I can imagine it would be detrimental, like holding on to “sick clothes” regardless the photos should never be shared to show ‘before and after’.
Social media is a mind field for ‘before and after photos’ and it’s feeding the fat shaming, stigmatizing society we live in. So please if you’re thinking of posting a before and after pic, think before you do.
Why and who are you really doing it for, what message are you really trying to convey? If in doubt don’t share.
Eating disorders are secretive, preoccupying and feel extremely shameful. They are rarely openly discussed and stigmatised.
Below are things I would have never felt able to share with others before I found my voice in recovery. However I wish I had said them sooner to help you understand. Hopefully this might give voice to other’s experiencing recovery and wish they could share some of the things going on in their heads.
1.Weight restoration does not equate to recovered. In fact, this part is probably the toughest, most brittle part of recovery. On the surface I may appear “well, healthy or recovered” but I am just about holding it together. You have no idea based on my appearance how I am. Likely I am fighting strong thoughts and urges to undo this courageous work. Mental recovery takes so much longer than the physical recovery.
My eating disorder was at its loudest when I reached my “target weight” and then exceeded. Regaining weight, gaining weight is harder than you will ever know for someone who is recovering from an eating disorder. They are fighting every thought, every second, every minute of every day waiting for a moment of inner peace. Weight gain is a small part of recovery, but possibly the toughest part. Once we regain weight, (weight we should never have lost) often people assume we are recovered and support lessens. This is arguably the point we need your support the most, please help to encourage us to keep going. And so I implore you, please do not comment on my appearance. Well placed comments can fuel this cruel deceptive eating disorder voice that I am trying so hard to move away from.
Statements, however true and well meaning, such as “you look healthy or better” can really harm someone’s recovery. Comments such as have you lost weight? Can ignite the path to destruction or send my brain into a frenzy that I have failed at recovery. I cannot win when it comes to body shape comments. So please keep them to yourself.
2. Recovery is a choice I have to make, every minute of every day. You cannot make me recover or do it for me, but I value your support. My recovery is my responsibility. My choices, my decisions are what keep me on the path to recovery. It is a full time job. One incorrect decision can set me back. BUT….. If I do slip, please do not give up on me. Recovery is not linear. Hope is a very important value of my recovery. I will very likely get back up again and continue on my journey to recovery. Please help me to see that a small slip does not mean I have failed at recovery but if I need reminding how far I have come, help me to see past this lapse. Hold hope.
3. Things you do not pay any thought to such as trying something new to eat, eating out at restaurants may be very hard for me. People with eating disorders are ridiculously good at hiding what’s going on beneath the surface, but know that just because I appear cool calm and collected there is likely a tornado rushing around in my brain. Sometimes I just want a distraction, I always want to hear you and not what’s going on in my brain and being present with you.
4.Never, ever comment on my food choices, volume or timing of food. You do not know how hard it is for me to eat 5-6 times a day or alongside others. Likely if I am eating with you, I trust you. Comments like, are you really going to eat that?, congratulating me for eating, Don’t you like XYZ?, are only going to feed unhelpful thoughts and make eating and decision making more uncomfortable than it likely already is.
5. I do not ever want to hear about your “weight loss attempt, diet”. If you are someone close to me, know that sharing this with me is insensitive, unhelpful and extremely triggering. I have worked incredibly hard to reframe my implicit biases and unlearn this detrimental cognition.
6. I do not want my eating disorder to be an elephant in the room. I want to be able to be open with you. Talking about it as you would any other medical problem will help break the shame cycle. I do not wish to be defined by my eating disorder, there is so much more to me than this, however my recovery is an important part of my life. I want you to be part of my life, my authentic life.
7. Shame is something I feel very deeply, it fuels my problem. I feel frustrated and angry I am in this position and it makes it hard for me to ask for help and talk openly as much as I wish I could. I am grateful that you show up for me especially when I am finding it hard to show up for myself.
8. I do not think everyone else is fat. I do not see myself how you see me. Regardless of how much weight I lose I will never feel satisfied. But it is not about weight and food. The sicker I became the more warped my view of myself became, making it really hard to see myself and the crazier and more lost I felt. We are fully aware of the self destruction but that makes it harder to think rationally because we do not understand why we cannot stop. The impossible standards my eating disorder held for me, are not the same standards I hold for everyone else, so no I do not see everyone else as “overweight, or fat” I just simply cannot see myself.
9. No one would choose to have an eating disorder, Choosing a life of rules, unhappiness, isolation and emptiness is not a choice anyone would make. I did not choose to develop an eating disorder, I didn’t wake up one day and decide to have anorexia it’s not how it works.
10. It’s not as simple as eating and that being the end of the story. I have many neural pathways and thought processes I have to unlearn. I believe in full recovery. I need to believe in full recovery. But I do not know how long it will take. Right now I see myself in recovery, meaning for me I have “disordered thoughts” which can disappear for days and then return out of the blue. In certain situations, I can still feel extremely distressed at times.
I’m not sure that recovery is a destination, I think it’s a process where these thoughts and associated emotions do disappear with time and effort. But likely remaining “recovered” and preventing the cognitions from returning will require much less energy. I believe this effort becomes like second nature, similar to riding a bike. Once you’ve learned you don’t forget, its more like protecting yourself from falling off at times of risk.
During recovery from an eating disorder you require at times “abnormally” large amounts of food.
Makes sense when we have deprived ourselves for so long. When you start to eat again and repair the damage it requires energy. Food is that energy.
I’m writing this because fullness was something I avoided at all cost in my eating disorder. I feared it. I felt “cleanest, euphoric” when I was empty. But that’s not clean and it’s not healthy.
I’ve talked about extreme hunger on previous posts. But I think it’s something that is really feared because as a society that breeds “clean eating or orthorexia” as normal eating it makes the process of nutritional rehabilitation even more frightening and shameful. It’s harder to learn to eat intuitively when “wellness blogs”, magazines, platforms are subtly promoting orthorexia. Orthorexia is not healthy. It’s a disorder in itself. Obsessing about eating cleanly and healthily will not help you to recover from a restrictive eating disorder.
I am wary of any social media platform or magazine that calls itself “wellness or healthy living” because they focus on eating and exercise as if they are the only things that factor into a person’s health. I feel anyone from an eating disorder background should steer clear of the information from these types of platforms because it’s 1. Not helpful to our recovery, 2. Feeds the obsession with numbers, 3. Reinforces false beliefs that you have to micromanage your body and lastly they promote the societal stigma around shape.
I have just come off a set of nights. Nights have always been a playground for my eating disorder behaviors. The altered routine, long hours and busyness has allowed my “HH” to justify restriction, skipping meals, compulsive movement. This set of nights I was adamant “HH” would not get to dictate.
Knowing that old situations tend to stir up old pathways I wasn’t surprised I suddenly felt I was wading upstream and the “HH” voice became louder. But I was better equipped to deal with the bullshit.
The old voices of “walk the long way, count your steps, you don’t need to eat, are you seriously gonna eat that?, that’s disgusting” played like a broken record.
I made myself a contingency plan: I took in lots and lots of snacks meaning I could not be in a place without food.
I ate between walking to cases.
I knew the days after nights would be a bit trickier because of the old neural pathways. Therefore I enlisted support early. I told my husband. We planned out our meals, my snacks. I think this is helpful because in the midst of my ED, I wouldn’t have shared, I would have struggled on and likely engaged in the behaviors ending up deeper.
Therefore identifying potential triggers is a big thing in recovery. Something that deserves a post in itself. It’s unsurprising old memories, situations activate entrenched pathways. We are creatures of habit. Most of recovery is unlearning old habits. Exposure to old situations, places that are tied to unhealthy behaviours has been an integral part of my recovery.
My nights finished yesterday and last night we had takeout. I felt full, uncomfortably full. This caused a few moments of turmoil. However I know having eaten “a lot” of food in the early stages of recovery, fullness settles on its own. You do not need to do anything, it passes. It is normal. My fullness last night was just because I had eaten a little extra. Big deal. Don’t judge your fullness. In the early phases of recovery, fullness can be excruciating because of the gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is basically where your gut is so out of practice at digesting and undernourished the emptying is really slow. Often your gut can’t keep up with your mouth and brain, but like all things in recovery it gets better. Eating is the medicine.
You eat, repeat and move on.
Normal eating is sometimes over eating, sometimes eating slightly less. Fullness is not something to fear or avoid.
Giving less f*cks has been very important in my recovery. I feel giving less f*cks is liberating.
I do not mean, I don’t care about anything. Far from. I have learned that giving too many f*cks is part of my problem. So learning what to get rid of in my giving a f*ck bucket has been energy freeing. Freeing up the genuine give a “f*cks” like my family, friends, career, running, sketching, my cat, helping others.
I care a lot about my job, my career and everything it represents. However my profession is a breeding ground for perfectionism and comparison. Both things I have had to work very hard at challenging for my eating disorder recovery. Right now recovering from my eating disorder is priority so that my future self can be my best version in all areas of my life including my career. That has meant some things I have given too many f*cks about previously I simply cannot afford to anymore.
As part of my core values and self worth it is important to me to work hard, be good at what I do. But how that’s defined does not have to rely on single peer comments or being aware of every statistic from every journal ever. It comes from so much more holistically.
Another thing I have found to help me in recovery is to “let go of comparison”
There is a popular phrase, “compare and despair” which I believe is very relatable.
I believe it is innate in us all to compare ourselves to our peers. But what we compare is what I believe causes us harm and dis-regulation. It can come at a huge detriment in recovery.
Body comparison is common and meaningless. For instance, I recall early on in my recovery my therapist at the time challenging this very process. I used to compare my body to other people’s bodies all the time. She explained, that we carry biases. We tend to only see what our brain filters and we have a very selective attention. Therefore I remember one of my challenges was to walk through a crowded street, take notice of the diversity. Sure enough we all come in many shapes and sizes and our appearance is irrelevant.
This exercise made this particular comparison easier to stop. Knowing the bias I harboured meant I could be accountable and when I found myself comparing, I could call myself out on it. Additionally challenging why I was trying to compare. Realising that what you see externally does not translate to what’s beneath the surface and so we are comparing to a false ideal we have created. How do we know the richer, slimmer person is any happier than ourselves.
Your eating disorder will never tell you you are as good as the person you are comparing to. Importantly, why would we want to be anyone other than ourselves?
Getting out of other people’s business..
I had a massive problem with comparing what I was eating to what everyone else was eating. I was in everyone’s business. But just as what I am eating is no body else’s business, it is of no relevance to me what anyone else is eating. I no longer could tell you what every single person at a social gathering did or didn’t eat because it doesn’t matter!!!
Comparing your eating disorder to someone else’s, completely futile and not comparable even within the same diagnostic label. Comparing others’ recovery and feeling you’re doing it wrong or not as deserving or vice versa. Just stop it, this is the eating disorder. Your recovery is your own. Your body is your own with it’s own requirements. Letting go of this has made recovery much more free.
There are many situations we can find ourselves drawing comparisons, status, aesthetics, character traits, possessions, families, sporting prowess, holidays, weddings, education, careers the list is endless when you think about it. It’s problematic when it’s black and white and impacts upon our thinking style. I’m not saying you will never compare yourself to someone again, I believe it’s ingrained in us all from an evolutional perspective, where historically it would have been a survival advantage. However there are ways I have learnt to lessen the unhelpful comparisons.
We live in a competitive society
We are told on a daily basis on many platforms to be the “healthiest’, richest, most successful. Women are made to compare themselves to other women constantly. It’s all external measures and rewards. Competition can be healthy, but recognising when it’s a problem is important.
For me, as long as I know am performing at my best, whether it’s at work or any other aspect of my life, I do not need to compare myself to my peers.
I know when I’m doing ok in this, because I don’t feel like I’m constantly striving and never achieving, I can feel grateful in little wins. This is not the case when perfectionism is in the foreground and unhealthy competition, then I never feel satisfied or recognise achievements big or small.
Practising daily gratitude has really helped with this mindset shift. Seeing celebrations in the small things, there is something to be grateful every day, even on days where it’s hard to feel gratitude. This helps me filter my ‘Give a f*ck bucket”.
In my profession, I am yet to meet someone who in their final moments, talks about how much money they made, or how gorgeous they were in their youth. No they always talk about what matters, family, friendships and experiences.
Stop basing how you see yourself by comparing yourself to others. One thing is guaranteed is there will ALWAYS be someone who appears to be ranking better than you on some standard. You are good enough just as you.
Iv’e been in recovery some time now, I can’t have a bad day right? Sound like a familiar thought? Bad days happen, shit happens.
Today, I was caught off guard. So I wanted to share for anyone else who had found themselves, feeling they “should be further than they are in recovery or should not have a bad day”
It was at a colleague’s farewell lunch which was a buffet to celebrate and wish her well.
But as I sat amongst my peers, the familiar thoughts and noise returned to, how am I back here again? How can it be so hard to put a piece of damn food in my mouth.
Panic swept over me, as the noise got louder and louder. The harder it became for me to pick up the single piece of sushi I had put in front of myself. Why couldn’t I just eat? “Seriously are we really back here after all this time? You should not be finding it this hard.”
Willing myself to pick it up and take a freaking bite. It became a battle. A battle I was all too familiar with but had felt very distant. I had almost forgotten what this absolute feeling of being overwhelmed and petrified of food was like. It was a battle.
The thoughts, “how are you suddenly paralyzed by a simple buffet? You look crazy, people are going to notice, you can’t eat that now it will look even weirder, pick something up, hide something”. JUST NOISE.
Everyone else had finished.
I realized if I was going to win this battle I needed to find and-listen to my healthy voice, the kind voice that was thinking about our future, where my life won’t be defined by moments like these, but what I will gain from listening to this voice. Not this “HH”.
Through the time in recovery, my voice is much stronger now than the noise of “HH” and can be found if I listen.
Another thing that has helped me move through today has been, accepting ok, I’m here today. It’s not where I want to be but it’s not where I was either. Before that I was criticizing myself for having “a moment of weakness”, feeling overwhelmed, but I realised, that’s not helpful or what got me moving forward and in tune with my healthy voice. This has taken practice and perseverance but it’s why I am here, now.
Finally, as we were clearing up I took some deep soothing breaths and I shoved the piece of sushi into my mouth. I picked up another piece and I repeated.
Beating myself up blaming myself for “not being further than I should” in recovery, is not serving my recovery. Some of life’s greatest lessons come from experiences and slips like this. So I am grateful for constant learning and growth.
Struggling is a standard part of recovery. I felt crushed when I was in that moment, it felt too acute and raw. I was terrified I was back to square one. Experiencing challenging moments doesn’t mean my recovery is “failing”. When we look past a particularly difficult experience, we can see actually how far we have come. We tend to focus on the negatives, what we do “wrong” and often get swept away in our unrealistic expectations. But if we take a step back and show ourselves kindness there’s something positive to be taken from every experience good or bad.
I have felt like I have been running along, but when we are running we often trip/ stumble at some point and that is normal. Recovery is no different.
I am grateful for this reminder how far I have come, but also that recovery really is a process of ups and downs.
So for anyone feeling they are failing at recovery for having a bad day, or should be further along, give yourself a break and see how far you have come. It’s ok to not be where you want to be yet.
Not playing the blame game is a game changer.
It’s been a shit day. I haven’t failed because tomorrow I get back up and carry on with recovery having gotten through a bad day, that much stronger.
Being unproductive is productive in eating disorder recovery
“I have achieved nothing this weekend”
This would have been completely unacceptable to me a few months ago. But learning being unproductive is actually productive to our mental health and recovery. This nuance has been a huge step forwards for me.
I still found it uncomfortable i’m not going to lie, the idea of sitting and literally doing nothing but listening to a podcast or watching a video is not something that has ever come easy to me.
In the depths of my anorexia I had to be “constantly productive”, driving my perfectionism to extremes. Often it led me to my becoming more unproductive because I couldn’t focus on a single task and the thoughts were constant and in conflict. Which led to exhaustion and frustration.
But, this weekend, I felt a bit off. I tried to do some work, I attempted to write a blog, but I just couldn’t. I felt so tired and I ended up doing, nothing. The ‘HH’ thoughts were there in the background, “this is so lazy, such a waste of time” However, I ignored them and did what my body was telling me to do and that was, nap and eat! I realized after I stopped fighting myself, that this is actually another recovery lesson. This is productive for recovery. And the most productive thing I can do for my future is to recover fully.
Being “unproductive or lazy and doing things without an end result, is near impossible and like torture for some of us with eating disorders, especially with a strong perfectionism component.
What do I mean by this?
When I was in my eating disorder, everything I did had to have a purpose, an end result, a target. If it didn’t it wasn’t worth expenditure of time or energy (even if it was something I wanted to do) I just couldn’t give myself permission. Things like reading a non work related book, or watching a movie etc
Now, sure the voice was there muttering away that I’m lazy bla bla but I don’t have to engage. I don’t ignore it, but I choose to not participate and try to reframe my thoughts.
This is where self compassion comes in.
Self compassion is integral to our mental health.
I like to think of it as, treating ourselves how we would treat a friend if they were suffering.
Why is it relevant in eating disorder recovery?
People with a history of eating disorders or living in it, tend to be very self critical and self compassion is not something that comes easily. I have always been hyper-critical of myself. Often we are very compassionate people, but when it comes to ourselves the thought of treating ourselves with a kindness is just simply alien and something that has to be practiced or learned. This is certainly the case for myself, when my therapist introduced the idea of trying to be more self compassionate I scoffed initially. Many times in fact before I became curious and open to exploring.
So what is self compassion really?
It’s a practice, with a ton of research behind showing that treating ourselves and others with kindness allows us to make positive changes in our lives. Pretty important for someone with lots of negative thoughts, distortions and behaviours associated with an ED. Also important in general.
I like to know things are evidence based, that’s my science brain. Kristen Neff is one of the frontline researchers of this movement and she has essentially outlined 3 major components of self compassion. I’ve linked her YouTube video summarizing below.
1. Self kindness. ( this one is probably the most obvious but also the most difficult for those of us who are very self critical) This is where the friend analogy comes in to play. On a difficult day, it’s listening to ourselves and soothing oneself, recognising difficult feelings or emotions and allowing ourselves what we need in that moment. Whether it’s just acknowledging the feeling, or doing something that we enjoy or is comforting. (This does not include using eating disorder behaviours for comfort because this is not self care).
We can become our own best friend, number one supporter.
2. I am only human. Recognizing common humanity is the second component. Accepting our faults, shortcomings and knowing it is not unique to just ourselves, rather we all suffer, we all have imperfections and that’s what makes us human.
3. Mindfulness: not suppressing or numbing unwanted thoughts or emotions. Listening to thoughts without judgement. In the depths of ED I tended to focus on the negative thoughts, rather than meeting them without judgment and often it led to escalating or destructive thoughts. I’m still working on this, for instance- I find it very difficult to call in sick from work even if I’m really unwell because I criticize myself, judge myself rather than experiencing the discomfort of the thoughts. But this is not how I would treat a friend if they were in the same situation. We all have areas we can work on.
Self compassion is not, judgmental, self indulgent or selfish. It is an important aspect of our well being. Sometimes doing something for the hell of it or enjoyment is good for us. Recovering is the most productive thing we can do and that involves learning to be “unproductive” at times.
For anyone in a relationship with someone with or recovering from an eating disorder it can feel like there’s a third wheel in the relationship.
This is hard. Quite often the person you fell in love with disappears before your eyes. Quite literally at times. Eating disorders change our personality’s. Often we are very good at putting on a facade and this means intimacy and connection can suffer. It’s difficult to let people in.
My eating disorder had a huge impact on the relationship with my husband. I will expand a little on how shortly. However, navigating recovery together has strengthened our relationship.
Relationships are based on trust. They need honesty, vulnerability, availability and intimacy. But eating disorders chip away at each one of these values.
Honesty is important to us both. But eating disorders thrive on secrecy and shame. The longer time went on the more secretive it became and more shame I felt. As I fell deeper, vulnerability was replaced with a false exterior.
For pretty much the entire time my partner has known me, I have had some form of disordered eating. For a very long time I kept it secret. Which is preoccupying in itself. Navigating how to hide this part of me, prevent it being part of our relationship, inevitably meant with time it became the third person in it.
Why do we keep our eating disorder from you?
I hid my disorder, firstly because I thought I was in control and it “wasn’t a big deal” and secondly because I was afraid of his reaction. We often talk about our “disordered eating” to friends or colleagues by that I mean dieting, but it’s boring and so it was also something I didn’t think should be discussed at home. Diet talk is boring, so we probably spare our partners from this, until it escalates. I guess there was a part of me that did not feel open to the kindness he later showed me when I did share. It felt incredibly shameful. The longer it went on, the more shameful it felt and impossible to admit. Externally like many, I felt like I was doing ok until I wasn’t and so to admit “the failure” I was experiencing was too much. I saw myself as a high achiever, my relationship was part of this achievement. And so part of the secrecy is fear, which is complex and deep routed. But he has been patient. So so patient. Like saint status in terms of patience and that has given me space and time to be vulnerable again.
I count myself as incredibly fortunate, that once I shared what was going on with my partner he worked really hard to educate himself about eating disorders . He was so understanding and not once did he use unhelpful terms or statements such as “why can’t you just eat” This helped so much.
Obviously I can’t share his side but I can share what he did that really helped me with the hope it helps others finding themselves in a similar situation.
I think it’s important to know, it was not ever about trying to look good for him.
It is rarely about that, if you are a partner reading this. We are not starving ourselves, or whatever dysfunctional behaviour for anyone else. The never ending strive for perfection is for our own sense of control. If you’ve read my about page you’ll know it was a perfect storm that started my eating disorder and really about ‘control’.
I would compare myself relentlessly to others, colleagues, celebrities, public figures on tv, people in the street, friends or family members and ask him to assess (this was a big telltale of my body dysmorphia and preoccupation). It was infuriating to him, because even when he told me I was perfect, I never measured up to that image internally.
Now comparison is something we do not engage in. He does not entertain it if I ask a stupid question. He has responded with very helpful challenges such as “who am I speaking to, you or HH, what’s driving that” which often diffuses the thought. Helping me to see it’s disordered.
Even at my most resistant times towards treatment or moments where anosagnosia were prevalent, he never judged me. He saw me for me, and that I was being overshadowed. He separated me from my eating disorder which I reckon is hard at times. Not feeling judged is huge fear this. He probably did judge me at times internally but externally he never did.
Living with a partner with an eating disorder, poses many challenges. If I were a child, living with my parents, I would have likely been force fed. This dynamic is very different in an adult setting. Instead I had to be my own parent and he was my biggest support when I was literally shaking putting fork to mouth. He was brilliant at distraction. Distraction is a great tool. He would sit and chat rubbish, or make me watch something to grab my attention. Or just hold my hand.
We have navigated the challenges as a team. So I wanted to share the things that have helped me, because there is a paucity or resources or information for people living with someone as an adult with an eating disorder.
I know, I am lucky with my husband but if you’re reading this as a someone wanting to support someone there are things you can do to help. But also if you are that person, good luck and don’t lose hope.
I cooked with my husband last night, various curry dishes. This in itself for me was a milestone, I have always felt the need to completely take control in the kitchen. This was largely so my eating disorder could make shortcuts or calculate everything that was going in. It normally caused me great anxiety to deviate away from my “known” and safe meal choices. This I know is very disordered. But sometimes behaviours and thoughts are trickier to identify and hide from sight.
Once we plated the dishes we had prepared my husband just mixed all his together. Partly because it was completely underwhelming in terms of taste (which in itself would have been devastating to me not so long ago). What I mean by this, if I had allowed myself to eat and then it did not meet the standards or expectations I had for it, I would truly feel irrationally gutted.
This is disordered. I mostly felt like this when I was deep in restriction and giving myself permission to eat was near impossible. I celebrated last night that this bland food that promised more gave me no more than a mild irritation that it took so long to be boring! But there was no emotional attachment or reaction.
However the biggest thing I recognised for myself, when he mixed everything together, you could pretty much say it blew my mind. When I considered doing it, the ED voice really kicked in. And I realised the reason why it has been hard for me to do this. Eating each food item separately, especially when severely restricting gives a false sense of prolonging eating, savouring the food.
It gives a sense of enjoyment of each food, feeling more fulfilled. Which I see now is really disordered. And so, I forced myself to mix my food together. This was probably the first time I have done this in nearly two decades. It felt wrong. But enlightening.
It told me, that there are small things, that often go unnoticed and don’t get discussed in ED recovery. Things we can identify ourselves. I feel now once I notice something is disordered I have to do the opposite. Even if it’s a tiny behaviour or “quirk” that to the outside wouldn’t seem like anything. For my ED recovery it’s the difference of staying in the ED vs eventually being out, free.
I can’t tell you what your own weird tiny disordered things will be, but once you do notice something that, either going against, or stopping causes you anxiety then it’s probably disordered and you can work to change it.
Eating disorders pretend to be your friend. They are anything but a friend. The lies an eating disorder tells, or criticism it shouts at you 24/7 are far from what a friend would say. It is a contrast to how you would talk to or treat a friend. In fact you’d probably wind up in prison if you treated a friend how the eating disorder treats yourself.
But yet, they are seductive and mendacious.
Eating disorders are sly and cunning, and often start out with subtle changes “to be more healthy” etc.
But at some point, a switch gets turned. Your healthy voice dissapears and the Hitchhiker that is the eating disorder takes front seat, planting lie after lie in your brain.
Initially your healthy voice challenges this Hitchhiker. But to no avail, and soon this healthy voice gets lost and almost forgotten about after constantly losing the inner battle.
You may not even recognize this is happening until you start recovery, to bring back this healthy voice in an epic battle of the voices. The healthy voice, although silenced is still there.
Instead you have spent so long believing the lies and deceptions of this hitchhiker.
But, your eating disorder will always lie to you. Some lies my eating disorder told me:
1. If I control my intake to the finest detail I will be healthy and clean
2. “You are fat”
Even though at heart I knew this was a lie and didn’t care about size the constant bombardment eventually made me believe it and not see through the distortions. It’s like a smoky mirror. It’s a deception and becomes increasingly distorted . When I used to challenge this lie, I was met with you need to lose more. The “HH was never satisfied. It never will be satisfied not matter how much you lose”. The Eating disorder wants to kill you, that’s it’s end game.
3. “I am not sick enough” to need help/ I do not deserve help.
The eating disorder will never allow you to see how grave things are. Additionally there is no such thing as “sick enough” if thoughts are consumed by rules, obsessions and you are not mentally free you are sick enough. If you do not believe you are sick enough, this is a symptom- you are sick enough and being lied to by your ED. Any disordered behavior or thought is harming your mental health and physical health. “HH” had me believe that because I had gotten through college, Med school and was working I didn’t have a problem, but my life would have been so much easier if I had more brain capacity and stopped believing the deceptions.
4. “Food has to be earned”
Food is a basic human need. No one ever has to earn or compensate for food. But my “HH” told me I could only eat under very strict, rigid circumstances. When I ate I had very explicit rules about compensating. All because I was being LIED to. This still bleeds into my recovery now. I have rid myself of behaviours but periodically the lies creep back about what I should do to “deserve” or make up for. For me this shows up at unknown situations (holidays, Christmas, or trying new things) I have to work hard to challenge this. Otherwise you will never be free of the rules (lies)
5. “Recovery will make you fat
Recovery will make us many things, free and alive being the most pertinent. But the lie that my eating disorder tells me- “your therapist and family will make you fat”.
Now, realistically who gives a shit if this is actually the case? The eating disorder. Fat is a disordered, unkind word. So let’s challenge ourselves. It’s fat phobia and it is wrong. We should be promoting the Health at every size concept.
Aside from this our bodies have a set weight it likes to sit around- we can’t choose it. It is what it is. Some of us may temporarily “overshoot” this set point because it’s necessary to recover. But the body will work shit out when we stop listening to the lies.
6. “Recovery means losing control.”
I believe many people with eating disorders will identify with this fib. And let me affirm it’s a massive lie. It’s a way the eating disorder is trying to hold onto you. Having an eating disorder means you have lost control, it gives you a false sense of control. People don’t lose control when they start to recover. Our eating disorder makes us think that controlling our body shape and intake is a form of control but it’s far from control it’s controlling us. I feel far more in control now than when I was meticulously trying to control everything, because you can’t control everything. My anxiety has never been higher than when my days were led by rules constant lies and trying to see through the fog.
If I had of been in control there’s no way I would have missed out on social engagements for fear of eating or life events to sneak in that extra workout to make up for having to sit an extra 30 seconds in a meeting? No, don’t be fooled the eating disorder has control until we take it back.
7. “Eating in front of people makes me weak”
This is the eating disorder thriving on secrecy and shame. Eating is a normal behaviour and often social building connection. Connection’s something the ED fears.
8. I am a failure if I give in to hunger, break a rule
I doubt in 10 years from now I will give a flying f*ck about the biscuit I just ate, but I will remember the years I missed out on them and the part of my life I gave up for it. Hunger is normal, ignoring it does not make us super human or strong. It made me fucking miserable.
9. “Bad things will happen if I break my rules/ rituals”
I have co-existing OCD. So my eating patterns followed strict rules and breaking these or not carrying out rituals provoked immense anxiety. If I messed my routine up or someone interfered I would go into full blown turmoil. I had specific utensils, cleaning rituals etc. On one occasion my mother in law came to visit, unknowingly used my “special spoon” and I had an absolute shit fit like a crazy person because she had used it. No one could use it except me and I couldn’t eat without it!!
The more lies I heard the more rules I developed. Now in recovery, having broken the rules, nothing bad happened, no one died and I don’t blow up over someone using a spoon! I don’t have to clean the kitchen from top to bottom before every single mouthful.
10. “You look better the thinner you are”
The truth is we are not defined by our appearance or number on the scales. You will never be thin enough for you eating disorder until you’re dead. It would have you to shrink until you don’t exist.
11. Food is either “good or bad”
I had list after list of condemned food. My “good” food list became almost non existent where all good became terrifying. No food is good or bad. It’s just food.
12 “Emotions and feelings should not be felt or shared”
This was a huge one for me and I believed showing emotion or vulnerability was a flaw rather than an attribute. I defined myself by this. Without realizing, for so long I had turned to this destructive force to numb out any difficult emotion as a maladaptive coping mechanism. The eating disorder convinced me this was strong and desirable rather than an avoidance mechanism. But by acting on the lies and behaviors eventually you fall into a trap of further despair living life bound by rules and fear. Everything is numbed. It’s an existence not a life.
13. “All exercise is good for you”
This for the majority of the population is not an unfair statement taken at face value. But when you are lied to by your eating disorder and made to believe that you must exercise to compensate, debt, whether injured, tired, unwell or to punish yourself maybe not so true. I’ve shared previously compulsive exercise is one of the biggest things I am having to over come. I didn’t think this was a problem or real. But compulsive exercise is very common in Eating disorders and very real.
There are so many other little lies my eating disorder proclaimed, but I feel these are the biggest and worth sharing. I imagine some of the lies your eating disorder tells you will be similar and there will likely be others. The important thing is knowing they are lies and can be challenged to reclaim your truth.
I love Christmas. I used to start getting excited for Christmas in September. The air smells different, the trees change and nights get shorter and staying in on a cold winter’s night with a festive movie is magical.
I still love Christmas. But Christmas can be a challenging time for many people especially people with eating disorders or recovering from eating disorders. It can invade every waking second, robbing the joy and replacing it with fear and dread. Let me be clear it is NOT just about food. Eating disorders are not just about food. They are so much more complex than this. People with eating disorders feel so much pressure, and that they cannot share this because it’s not festive or worry about disrupting the joy.
It’s a time of year where celebrations continue for most of the month (covid aside). Even in isolation the social media, the promotions during this time and messages about new beginnings in the new year etc.
Eating socially becomes more prominent. But at the same time people start discussing New Years resolutions, which inevitably involves shitty diet talk. This is so hard for people in the midst of their eating disorder or working hard to recover. Where it’s normally easy to excuse yourself from the bull shit diet speak, or judgement around food it’s harder. Often it can include spending time with people you haven’t seen for a long time (probably not so much this year) but that can be daunting and the fear of comments even when well meaning can be hard! If you are in that situation, try and be kind to yourself and see it as a positive. And the comments such as “you look well” probably are genuine and mean you look well and that you just simply no longer look like you’re dying, it’s not saying you look fat or whatever else your stupid ED tells you.
You are bombarded with conflicting messages, unhelpful quips, comments that even for those of us who are solid in recovery can be really fucking hard. The classic I will have to run this off, I’m going to be so fat, is that all you’re eating, you’re eating so much are all likely. Be ready for them and choose to stay on track. How you respond to the comment is up to you.
I have noticed myself this last couple of weeks, I’ve had to work really hard to check myself as thoughts have slowly crept in about ‘how much I should be eating, moving, what’s not “allowed”’ all bullshit and all because of the time of the year and the inevitable society pressures.
In a way it’s helpful, because although frustrating as it is to be experiencing the thoughts and anxiety return, It highlights there’s still work to be done. Clearly I still have a lot of re-wiring to do. I still clearly have an irrational fear of weight gain, which I thought I was passed. But that’s what it is, an irrational fear. It’s a phobia and it’s ingrained through the years and years of inappropriate reinforcement. It’s not surprising that events ignite these brittle pathways. I have not engaged in behaviours for close to 5 months, but it shows how easily old pathways can be re-ignited by old habits, reminders. Which is why it is so vital to continue to recognize triggers and continue the work.
For me, this means, not allowing myself to compensate for the Christmas period/ holiday (event restricting). Not entering into diet behaviour or allowing myself to be drawn into other people’s diet talk, fears and plans. Not engage in ridiculous exercise regimens because society expects it. I love you Joe Wicks BUT please stop the constant before and after pictures!
Not allowing myself to demonize food because other people are. NO FOOD is bad.
You do not have to compensate for food or inactivity ever. People’s biases around food and exercise, new years resolutions are their business and serve no place in recovery no matter how uncomfortable you feel. Be kind to yourself, ask for support and keep talking. If it helps, set boundaries before the event and if it’s too much to be in control yourself ask a support person with decisions etc.
There are tons of resources online that serve as toolkits/ survival guides for holiday.
The purpose of this blog however is not so much to share tips for how I have managed Christmas or will manage Christmas. Although I appreciated podcasts, vlogs, resources myself to help me. Rather this purpose of the blog is for people in the midst of their eating disorder, or recovering and just a simple understanding. That’s what I have found the most useful. So if you are in this situation, I see you I understand.
If you are a friend or a family member of someone with an ED, my thoughts are it’s tough on you too. Please, think about how you talk about diets, your own fear of weight gain in front of the person. Be their advocate as they may not be able to speak up so divert unhelpful conversations where you can. Maybe ditch the unhelpful comments about calories.
Ask the person (if you are in a position where you talk about the eating disorder) what the eating disorder is telling them. What they are thinking. But be warned you might not like or understand the answer. But if someone does feel comfortable to share this with you, show them support without judging them. No one expects you to get it, we don’t get it most of the time ourselves but feeling supported is huge.
My husband and I were hiking yesterday. We had hours of trail ahead and in between goofing around, talking about our plans for the week ahead we talked about the last year, 18months. So much has happened in this time, like for many people. We talked about people missed. Career paths, life plans and we made jokes about previous events. One event, now an often feature of his jovial mockery and light hearted goading is one of our darkest moments. Often making a situation that was once very unfunny can flip it on its head, make it more bearable. You see that a lot in the healthcare setting, jokes that someone from a non healthcare background would shudder at, is often daily practice. Why? because it makes pain and darkness more bearable and shareable.
This situation we were joking about was one of my biggest meltdowns, i’ve ever had. We were in New York exactly a year ago. I wasn’t really in recovery at this point, although I was fooling myself I was. We had been taking in sights all day, darting all over the place. I had done, what I did a lot at this time. Bargained with myself. I was “allowed” to eat whatever I wanted in the evening because I had been so active during the day. Fucked up beyond all reasoning, but this is how the eating disorder often works. Often that bargaining never actually leads to “eating whatever you want’ but we were looking for a restaurant that would suit us both. I didn’t have much input in restaurants at this point, so it was usually down to my husband to select somewhere. He talks about how incredibly stressful this was. I have no doubt, it must have felt like he was checking for poison for some medieval royalty. I would quash most selections before they had left his lips. However this particular day, it was 1 week from Christmas, we hadn’t booked. So the stress for him was ridiculous. Before he found a place, we spent an hour with us scanning menus, me rejecting. It got to the point where we retraced our steps and chose one at random that would allow us without a reservation. What came next, I don’t really remember. But he does very clearly.
It was a steak & lobster restaurant. There were no other options. There were chips and meat. That was it. After looking at the menu for all of 30 seconds, I burst into full blown tears, sobbing in a packed restaurant. I cannot describe what was going through my mind at this point. Except it was like the world had just ended. I had built the meal up, I was going to eat. Then I was presented with two things I hate, red meat and shellfish. I was petrified of chips at this point. A menu had reduced a 30 something to full blown tears. Inconsolable, snotty ugly tears. We stayed. ‘HH’ screamed that my opportunity had been ruined bla bla. I struggled through the dinner eating chips. Both of us shocked at how irrational I was. I had had moments like this at home but this was in the middle of New York. It’s obvious now, this was plain and simple fear.
But whilst cringing at this event, we chatted about the narrative now.
My world didn’t end. I didn’t die. I just looked totally mental. Now after lots and lots of little moments, challenges, meltdowns I can laugh at how absurd this moment was.
The point of this, recovery doesn’t happen over night. Recovery isn’t a case of going to bed one night and waking up recovered. It’s full of obstacles and challenges. If it’s not challenging it’s probably not recovery and doing jack shit.
Today, he asked me if I wanted an Ice cream. I heard myself say ‘no thanks’. This is a response ‘HH’ has trained to become my default. I am changing this narrative to ‘Yes, please’. Some days yes please is easier than others. But it felt uncomfortable, spontaneously having an ice cream. ‘HH’ certainly did not approve. This is another moment, challenge towards recovery. It was a world apart to the lobster joint. I felt uncomfortable, I got on with it and used to distraction techniques I’ve learnt along the way after. ( Today was repotting some of my veggies, other times breathing techniques can help) But if I’d said no thanks, it would have been a missed opportunity. Without challenges, nothing changes. In recovery discomfort is action. I don’t think I would sob in a restaurant now, unless the world genuinely was ending. I don’t bargain with ‘HH’ any more. There is no bargaining with an eating disorder, that’s an argument you won’t win unless you decide to do the complete opposite of what it’s telling you.
I believe there are many milestones in eating disorder recovery. For starters the first day of entering recovery, this is always going to be the biggest. Monumental. Then after that there are thousands of milestones (some more like marathon check-points). Like the first time we conquer a fear food, and then reach the check point of there not being fear foods. So many. Getting your first period (if you lost it/never had), then its recurrence becoming so normal and boring and moaning about it like the general population. But what about when ‘our formal support’ becomes less required?
For those of us fortunate enough to have quidance, follow a treatment plan or having a coach etc, maybe it helps path the way. But, regardless for the most part, your recovery belongs to you. Own it!
I graduated from “regular recovery support” today. Feel like I have my big girl pants (pun very much intended). I have completed CBT-E, MANTRA and have now reached a point with my therapist (OT) to move to “check-ins” rather than scheduled, regular sessions or following some kind of plan.
I know for some people navigating the world beyond regular support, is scary and daunting. I get it, it means YOU are accountable for the ongoing recovery process. But that’s pretty cool right? You have gotten far enough into recovery to be able to make healthy decisions for your recovery. You’re moving towards full recovery and this is another check-point smashed!! That’s the way I’m viewing it. Part of recovery is learning to “cope” in an informal way, that’s life.
Just because my ‘regular’ sessions are finished does not mean I can’t continue growing my support network or learning. One of the things I’ve recently found to be instrumental to my mental shift is connecting with others who have had similar struggles, are struggling or recovered. There is tons of support, whether it’s real connection, following people’s blogs, podcasts or joining a support group, they all help to validate how we feel and strengthen our healthy self. So I’m not nervous about not having regular appointments. I’m proud I’ve gotten here. I’m grateful. If I can get here, I believe anyone can, because I never believed it at the start.
However, I am anxious regarding the next challenge in my life. Something I think for anyone who hasn’t had an eating disorder finds challenging anyway. That’s getting pregnant, becoming a parent. This is another area I think in medicine that doesn’t get spoken about or shared much. What happens when someone in recovery gets pregnant? Is it wise? Should O&G teams be aware? Do they ask or look for history of eating disorders?
I wanted to wait until I was solid into my recovery and even still I worry. I worry if the child will be small, pre-term, miscarry. Will I stay on track?
For my partner and me, having a family has been something we have always wanted. For reasons not related to my eating disorder, fertility is a difficult issue which I won’t go in to.
We are about to embark on IVF. This is something I haven’t entered into lightly, I’m all too aware of what’s required in the IVF process, the follicle stimulation, multiple hormones. This I’m sure is hard in a normal setting, but for those of us with significant body image issues to begin with, these issues need to be factored into planning. Hopefully help prepare the person for the changes and enable them to remain accountable. Support, hopefully can help to prevent slips.
Next issue, if we are fortunate enough to get pregnant… avoiding energy deficit. Some people experience nausea (both during fertility treatment and then in pregnancy). Hyperemesis gravidarum (aka morning sickness) this is not a good situation for someone with a restrictive eating disorder. Breast feeding post-partum.
Our bodies change throughout pregnancy. This is a fact. Something I am trying hard to prepare for. I feel going through the weight-restoration phase of recovery helps this, perhaps. My body has changed beyond any prior recognition and that’s ok, and I don’t even have a baby to care for and love. Or to explain my pregnant looking belly, aka recovery belly. I like to think that having a child will mean that none of the ‘HH’ thoughts will matter, because that child will be the most important, most amazing achievement I will ever have. But I wanted to share this because people with eating disorders go through pregnancy. It never gets spoken about and I don’t know whether we look for it in medicine. I think people could have help and support. I expect there are many people with eating disorders too afraid to share their struggle with the medical team, for fear of judgement, lack of understanding. What will I do?
Not really sure what the point of this post is, other than I’m happy to be here. I hope if you’re reading this and perhaps your treatment has just ended and you’re freaking out, or you’re starting recovery alone or with help, you can just know that there’s support available. Support doesn’t have to be formal or structured and remember celebrate the milestones. Navigating this is like an ultra-marathon but with no clear finish line.
Should has no place in most daily language, but especially not in eating disorder recovery
Should implies rules, an obligation. That word is the reason I’m sat on my ass writing this. I was looking forward to going for a run, or joining my husband at boxfit tonight. However throughout the day at work I started to feel tired and that what I probably needed was to chill out with the cat.
Then that sneaky SHOULD word crept into the foreground. I heard my thoughts say “you should go tonight, you’ve not done anything all week”
That was the point I decided I will not exercise today. Exercise should be a priveledge/ pleasure, not a punishment.
This “SHOULD” demand was from my eating disorder, “HH” thinks I should exercise today, but that’s the very reason why not. A few months ago, I would have acted on this demand, the next day I would find it harder to eat or I’d feel more anxious about what I was eating.
Now I move my body because I want to, because it feels good, not because I feel I have to. The discomfort I used to feel if I missed a day of exercise was insurmountable before. I have to really listen to where the intent is from, whether it’s my voice, or ’HH’s.
I’m feeling proud, I can sit here and write this, instead of dragging my butt out to torture myself without enjoyment. Because I know when I truly want to move/ exercise it’s for me and not for the service of ‘HH’.
I have been a runner all my life. One of my favourite things even a a tiny child, before the days of my eating disorder was to go outside in the rain. As I got a bit older, if my athletics session was a wet session it was like Christmas for me! I loved the feel of the rain and being hot and the smell of it on the track or grass. Then ’HH’ showed up some years later. And my running, exercise was no longer for me, for the fun. It was all about targets, shifting goal posts that I would never be satisfied with.
It would be like the world ended if I had to miss a day, or I’d exercise when I was injured, sick and obviously that’s not fun. I’ve had to work really hard in my recovery to re-kindle my healthy relationship with movement, channeling that child who loved running in the rain and not the crazy person running in gale force winds/ all weathers all hours.
I took a period of abstinence, but not an extended period. I had a good support to help me workout where the intent was from. Some days I had meltdowns when I knew it wasn’t my healthy self and had to abstain. But doing that has got me here. If it feels wrong it is wrong. Exercise/movement is never meant to feel shameful, guilt driven (pre or post), like a chore. It’s a pleasure/ priveledge. Today was a day I know it was not for me, rather for ‘HH’. One day by continuing to listen to my healthy voice over and over, ‘HH’ won’t suggest I move when I don’t want to. The voice will be gone.
Challenge, Practice, Repeat…..Recover I hope.
Today was definitely helped by ‘Recovery Warriors” resources. Check out The Recovery Warriors app, website. They are currently holding a ‘holiday special” with lots of useful resources and videos etc. https://www.truewarrior.me/holiday-support
Phases of clothes shopping through recovery is Like “the origins of man” demonstrated by this spongebob gif!
I went clothes shopping last week. No one tells you how hard this experience is in recovery.
I decided to charity shop my “skinny” clothes. I will never need them again. It’s almost like a grieving process. I never liked how I looked at my lowest weight. I was self conscious. But buying small clothes was something my ED used as targets. Although I never felt better when I met them. I actually felt worse and worse, especially when nothing actually fit. When I started gaining weight, “HH” freaked out. Suddenly nothing fit and I felt self conscious all over again.
EDs will try and make you hold on to old behaviors or reminders of it. For me it was keeping these clothes “just in case” but they were holding me back. How can you recover with the thought you might one day fit in the clothes that fit when you are nowhere near your natural body shape or size. You can’t stay there. Not healthily anyway.
Buying clothes throughout the “weight restoration phase” is traumatic. I would recommend if you’re going through it, you don’t do it alone. It’s triggering no matter how far in you are or how committed. I would say this corresponds to the third picture in the gif. You are in no mans land. You’re not in the emaciated shell, you have fat in weird places so it’s hard to find things that fit and feel comfortable.
I went with a friend I could trust and my husband. I asked them to ask me questions like, how I felt in the clothes rather than making comments about appearance or fit. I looked for clothes I’d feel comfortable in at this stage in my recovery where my weight isn’t evenly distributed. Clothes that would accentuate other features that I’m less insecure with. For me this was flowy dresses. I have spent a long time in clothes hiding my weight for the other reason. I don’t want to hide my shape at all now, but I do want to feel comfortable. ‘HH’ longs for the old clothes but healthy me sees it a triumph of how far I’ve come.
You don’t have to like your body, I have become relatively neutral towards it. However uneven distribution, clothes shopping with size tags, mirrors is not fun. I also only bought a few things I really needed rather than a whole new wardrobe.
I didn’t do it all at once and checked in regularly. I talked through my HH thoughts with my psychologist.
Last week I went shopping on my own. It wasn’t that hard. It doesn’t need to be hard. Plan what you need, check in with your support and look after yourself.
Reckon this stage 4th sponge bob on the gif. Powering through, accepting the changes. Grateful for what you can do in your body and with your recovered body. Don’t think it’s necessary to love your body but if you do that’s a win and definitely the last sponge bob on the gif.
If you’ve read my “About page” you know how my eating disorder started.
Let’s get real about some things I wish I’d known when I started recovery. I hope being for-warned is forearmed.
When I finally sought help, I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge or repeat the diagnosis I was given Anorexia nervosa, restrictive type. My therapist was patient, despite my denial. She normalised the name, she used the term anorexia as if it was as routine to her as me diagnosing my patients with asthma, diabetes- no judgement. And really why should it be any different. But still, It felt dirty and shameful, I know now this was the ED talking. The ED does that, makes you think it’s your fault that your eating disorder does not deserve the same care or compassion any other diagnosis would. It’s a choice right? You can stop anytime. If you could- it’s not an eating disorder, eating disorders lull you into a false state of security and control. You think you are in control. But when asked to stop, why can’t you? Because you are unwell, you are not in control, it’s not your fault and it’s not a choice. Recovery is a choice. It is the best choice you will ever make.
After I was officially diagnosed with anorexia, orthorexia, perfectionism and over exercising my first question was; if what you say is true, when will I be done?
SO WHEN WILL I BE DONE?
This is a common question I’ve come to learn many of us ask. You will be done when you are done. Some people’s recovery takes months, some much longer, years. BUT I think the most important take home from this is, this is your journey, no one can tell you “when you’ll be done”
“your worst day in recovery is never as bad as your worst day in the ED” .
If I think I’m having a bad day, be it loud “HH” thoughts, criticism or self image, I remind myself of how far I’ve come and repeat this phrase. Thankfully the “HH” thoughts are now just a mere fleeting whisper in the wind.
Who knows how much healing you have to do, physically & mentally. The years, months of damage you’ve done by going into war with your body. But one thing is true…each step towards recovery gets easier, each step outside of the grips of your ED. Each positive step is a little bit further than the day before. I heard this phrase early in my recovery and I think there is nothing more true:
The next thing that I wish I knew when I first started recovery…
RECOVERY IS NOT LINEAR, it is NOT PERFECT
Since then I’ve had some pretty big lapses and one full relapse. But I learnt from them. I feel stronger for them.
Slips happen. It’s how you get over them that counts.
3. Recovery is hard.
There are many things we are told about when starting recovery, looking out for signs of refeeding syndrome ( metabolic disruption when nutrition is reinstated, can be life-threatening), but no one tells you: Healing is painful. It will always get worse before it gets better. But it does get better. Stick with it.
The oedema, the irratic bowels, bloating, nausea, fluid retention, acne, night sweats, second puberty, growing pains, awakening of your numbed emotions ( often leading to a clusterfuck of emotions all at once without warning), the changing body shape, uneven weight distribution. I will write a seperate post on this. I think this is a blog in itself. It takes strength to recover, it is easy to continue in what comes easily and takes a lot of unlearning of many beliefs and behaviours. It’s exhausting. BUT IT GETS better. It’s also not complicated. Food is medicine. Resting is healing. These are just a few things I wish I’d known early on in the recovery process. There’s many more thing’s iv’e learnt along the way that have been helpful, some not so much. I intend to share these on this blog, hopefully by sharing my experience you may find something to help you in your recovery.
Sharing is promoting awareness and I hope changing the stigma.