*This blog was written by an individual with lived experience with an eating disorder. Content may by triggering for some people and the advice provided is based on the author's experience and should not be taken as professional or medical advice.
I always felt that I couldn’t fight back against my eating disorder unless I had a something specific to fight for. It took me ten years to decide something needed to change and that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. I didn’t know why I suddenly wanted to get better, but I DID know that if recovery was going to stick this time, I needed to do it my way. In the two years since I started my recovery, these were some key things that really stood out for me:
1. I had to use my past failures as lessons. I had gone through every type of program and had made many attempts at getting better, so I knew what worked and what did not. If I had gone to a dietitian and we decided to change everything at once, I knew it wasn’t going to end well. I needed to ease myself into normal eating habits. Recovery isn’t a race. Slowly changing my diet let me adjust and come to terms with what I was eating. If I had not had that time I would have eventually panicked and gone back to my old ways. It worked the same way with gaining weight. I remember crying to my mom in the hospital years ago wishing I could wake up the next day and be at the weight I needed to be. I had always tried the “gain weight as fast as possible to get it over with” method and it never worked in the long-term for me. Weight restoration is a slow process and allowing myself that time helped my mind catch up to my body. Once it became obvious I had gained weight, I had the mental capacity to realize I felt a lot better even though my size changed. I wasn’t jumping for joy about going up in weight, but I also knew I wasn’t as tired, I wasn’t as grumpy and I was having a lot more fun not thinking about food 24/7. It wasn’t about avoiding the inevitable, it was about giving myself time to adjust in order to prevent a complete riot against recovery. I knew too much too soon would result in me seeking out my eating disorder to provide me the comfort and protection I thought it could provide.
2. I let it out. One night my mom had made this chocolate pie. Initially I declined a piece, then went back after everyone left and quickly ate it. My sister happened to walk into the kitchen at that moment. I looked at her and told her how I ate the pie and felt like shit. I ate it and I was pretty much out of control. She looked at me, grabbed a fork, ate the last few bites and said I ate it because it was delicious. It is so easy to get caught up with the voices in my head. At the beginning of recovery, I had no idea what was considered normal eating. For so long I thought my disordered eating WAS normal. In that situation, my sister normalized eating pie. People eat pies, cakes, cookies, fries, and bread all the time and no one judges them. I had to let someone else hear the voices in my head in order to realize they weren’t rational. Just saying them out loud helped me realize that maybe what I was thinking wasn’t always accurate and was usually pretty ridiculous. Every time I was freaking out about my clothes not fitting or something I ate, the best thing I could do was tell someone. It was as if I could pass those feelings onto someone else and move on from the situation. By keeping them inside, I gave them power and strength. Those voices still haven’t gone away but it is much easier to hear, acknowledge and ignore them.
3. Food became more of a friend. This I was not expecting. I had such a terrible relationship with food for so long that I assumed I would have to force myself to keep up with my meal plan until I eventually got used to it. Well, I was wrong. All of the food I had banned for so long I started to crave and it completely freaked me out. There was a period of time I would secretly eat these formerly forbidden foods because I didn’t understand why I was eating it and didn’t want anyone else to see me eat it. I thought I went from one disorder to another. Looking back now, my body was adjusting. It had no idea if I was ever going to let myself eat that cake again so it needed to get its fill in the moment. It was tough in those times not to hate myself or compensate for it by skipping my next meal. The amount of guilt and shame just because I ate something was staggering. The best thing I could do in those times (and still do) was tell someone about it or look around and realize other people were eating it too. Eating dessert or doing something the internet tells you is unhealthy isn’t a crime. You don’t have to feel guilt when eating. Over time, the cravings went away as my body realized I wasn’t going to deprive it anymore. I began to trust myself and my food choices. I absolutely love peanut butter - probably more than the average person and now I realize that’s okay. Just because other people don’t love it as much as I do doesn’t make me unhealthy or a terrible person.
4. Other people need to adjust too. Once my eating habits improved and my energy was back, for the first time in years, I was ready to be social again. The problem was that I wasn’t being invited to events anymore because people were used to me turning them down. It was a tough realization. I had somewhat assumed that eating and gaining weight were the hardest parts about recovery but it was harder to realize that life had gone on without me. People hadn’t stopped having parties – they were just inviting other people. I had to acknowledge that I had pushed people away for so long that there was no way it could be fixed overnight. I had accept that I had missed out on a lot of moments, but I could start making an effort to be part of them again. As an introvert, this was not an easy task. It may have been luck, or perfect timing but I was able to find a group of people that I enjoyed spending time with and who didn’t dwell on the past. Socializing also helped me see how people who didn’t obsess over food could live these very exciting lives and do so many things. It opened my eyes as to how I could live and how I wanted to live as a 26 year old. Plus – life is more fun when you have people to spend it with.
Sometimes when I am stressed I still count calories to calm me down and sometimes I still have to mentally prepare before eating something challenging. However, I go downtown to eat nachos and I can on the whim make dinner plans. I can live by myself, look after myself and live my own life. In my recovery, I found my independence and that is what turned out to be my biggest motivation. It isn’t always easy, but instead of all the bad things I thought would happen without my eating disorder to protect me, I am thriving.