I first developed an eating disorder when I was 13, but it wasn’t until I was half way into my undergraduate degree that I faced the harsh reality of my eating disorder. When I was in my third year of university, I started to cope with stress using very problematic eating disorder behaviours. Things escalated quickly and I had to leave school for treatment. Beginning then, I became aware of how destructive my eating disorder was, and wanted desperately for things to change. However, in the beginning I struggled greatly with having a clear perspective of what was conducive towards my recovery. Today, things have improved immensely and I now wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her what I now know about recovery. Here are the 6 things I wish I knew when I started treatment.
1. Regardless of my weight, my suffering was valid.
After I reached my target healthy weight, I found it extremely difficult to accept I still had an eating disorder. I had the false assumption that the psychological suffering would progressively, and linearly, reduce. In reality, healing the negative relationship I had with food was just beginning once I reached my target weight. Trying to maintain a healthy weight while not engaging in eating disorder symptoms was just as difficult as trying to gain weight.
2. Wanting to be in recovery is not the same as being in recovery.
There were so many times I would tell my psychiatrist “I really want to recover.” However, my actions often conveyed a different message. Being in recovery was much more than wanting change, it was actually putting in the effort to do things that were conducive with letting my eating disorder go.
3. I couldn’t restrict and expect my other symptoms to go away.
During recovery, I had a handful of food items I could eat and long list of items I could not eat. I often binged and purged and wanted those episodes to end, however, I didn’t believe that incorporating foods from a variety of food groups would help end my binging episodes. Surely enough, when I began to incorporate variety into my diet and let go of my restrictions, my binges seldom occur.
4. I couldn’t heal my relationship with exercise by focusing on gaining muscle.
I thought that I could heal my unhealthy relationship with exercise by trying to focus my attention on gaining strength rather than losing weight. However, trading a fixation on weight with a fixation of muscle was not healthy for me. Only when I stopped my rigorous exercise routines and constant scrutiny, did I truly begin to learn how to accept my body without manipulating its shape.
5. I was only hurting myself every time I didn’t follow my meal plan.
In the long run, all the false statements of what I ate only prolonged my suffering. It was difficult, but the times where I was open and honest with my team about my symptoms were much more productive than trying to portray the false image that I was not struggling.
6. I needed to recover for myself, not others.
Recovering for others was a source of motivation for me to start treatment. However, in the long run, I had to recover for myself. Identifying reasons that aligned with my values, helped me to resist the voice of the eating disorder when it was loud.