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!

Things to remember on a bad day in recovery..

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.