What we want to tell you about our eating disorders, but find hard…

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.

See a post I recently wrote for recovery warriors magazine: https://www.recoverywarriors.com/how-i-broke-the-rules-by-ordering-movie-popcorn/

If you find this helpful, feel free to share!

Fullness. Is not the enemy.

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.

Rant over.

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.