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After living with an undiagnosed eating disorder for years, I finally reached out and sought help ten years ago. I had no idea what the recovery process would be like.
I have learned many lessons during eating disorders recovery and hope some of them may be helpful to others just starting their recovery journey.
These lessons may also prove useful for fighting the constant barrage of diet culture messages we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Things I’ve Learned from Eating Disorder Recovery
1. Recovery is a long process.
When I first sought help for my eating disorder, I thought I’d be fine in a few months.
I thought getting help would magically cure whatever it was that was wrong with me. I was absolutely not prepared for the long road ahead.
It took me over a year to even find a therapist that was a good match. I very slowly made progress toward being recovered. Each step forward was often accompanied by a step back or a long plateau.
I often got stuck for long periods of time with no progress forward. I spent years wondering if I would ever get well or if I would always be in this place of sort of recovered. I never could have imagined how long it would take, but I eventually got to the place of no longer being controlled by the angry eating disorder (ED) voice in my head.
I feel like I lost so much of my life to my eating disorder, but I now realize that I needed that time to truly heal.
2. Bodies are supposed to change.
I didn’t really understand that adult bodies are supposed to change and shift over time. People are not meant to stay the same throughout their lives.
It’s okay to need different sized pants than last year. It’s okay to look different than you did before. This was a hard lesson for me to learn.
People whose bodies never seem to change size or shape may be going to extreme measures to ensure that they stay the same. Age, pregnancy, hormones and life circumstances can all impact our bodies. And it’s okay.
My body changed drastically as I healed from anorexia. But I find my body changing and shifting now as I navigate recovered life, too. It’s not always easy to accept, but reminding myself that it’s normal definitely helps.
You are not a failure if your body has changed. You’re simply human!
3. Feeling full is normal.
I also realized that it is normal for bodies to change throughout the day! My body in the morning does not look or feel the same after a full day of eating and living my life. I used to think that a rounded belly and a feeling of fullness meant that I had eaten “too much.”
I never wanted to feel full when I was in my eating disorder. I thought that meant that I had failed. I now realize that feeling full after a decent meal is totally normal.
I had to learn to be comfortable with feeling full.
Satisfaction goes along with this. When you feed your body what and how much it desires, you can move on to other things and stop thinking about food for a while.
I am working to normalize this for my kids so they know it’s normal to feel different and look different after eating. They now notice and comment on their rounded bellies after a good meal and they think it’s great. I hope they always think so!
4. Secrecy and shame inhibit eating disorder recovery.
When I was sick, I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on. Outside of my husband and immediate family, I didn’t tell anyone that I was being treated for anorexia and I definitely didn’t ask anyone for support.
It was obvious to everyone around me that there was something going on with me, but I didn’t talk about it. I was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know that there was something wrong. I didn’t want to be treated differently or judged.
I wish I had opened up and allowed people in. I now know that eating disorders thrive on secrecy and shame.
I lost friendships because of the isolation that came along with my ED. I spent all of my free time at the gym or obsessively planning every second of my day. I didn’t have time for friends anymore nor did I want to do anything socially that took me out of my rigid routine.
I now wish I had reached out to my friends and let them know what was going on. I have a strong feeling they would have supported me.
This doesn’t mean you need to share your personal information with everyone you meet. But hiding who you are and what you’re going through will not help you to get better.
Be honest with the people who love you and who you trust. You might be surprised by who steps up for you when you need it the most.
5. My body is smart.
My body will take care of itself if I give it the chance.
If I nourish myself, get enough sleep, move in a mindful way and make sure I take care of my mental health, my body knows what to do.
I have learned that if I’m taking care of myself, my body will settle at a weight that makes it happy and healthy.
When I restricted my food intake and exercised to an extreme, my body began to shut down. I didn’t realize at the time how much excess pressure and stress I was putting on my body through my ED behaviours.
While I may not always like the size or appearance of my body, I appreciate everything my body has done for me. I’ve learned that I am more than a body, yet need to remind myself at times of all the amazing things my body allows me to do.
My goal is body neutrality. Thinking about my body all day does not serve me. I don’t need to love everything about my body, but I need to take care of it.
6. Diet culture is everywhere!
It is nearly impossible to avoid the constant messages in our society that bodies are supposed to look a certain way and that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t fit the mould of the “perfect” body.
We also receive messages that if we just eat and exercise a certain way, all of our problems will be solved. This made eating disorder recovery really difficult at the beginning.
As I was trying to eat more, exercise less and gain weight, I was bombarded with headlines and ads for losing weight like it was a given that everyone must want to change their body in that way.
At the same time, I felt mad that everyone else was allowed to lose weight, but I wasn’t. It is really, really hard to go against diet culture when it is EVERYWHERE. Magazines, social media, commercials on television, people chatting at the gym…everyone is touting the best way to lose weight or sharing their theories on how to be “healthy.” It’s a lot to contend with.
Now, I just get frustrated and angry with all the messaging.
Shutting down diet culture was key to my recovery.
I worry about this with my own kids and hope that my knowledge of diet culture and the harm it does will help me prepare them with the armour they need against these dangerous messages.
7. Eating Disorder recovery doesn’t mean life is perfect.
Life is not perfect.
I still deal with anxiety and perfectionism on a daily basis. But it’s calmer now and my brain is nourished enough to work through issues more rationally. I have strategies that allow me to deal with my anxiety in a more productive way. I don’t need to control my body or my food in order to feel in control of my life.
Recovery means that I have the means to deal with life in a healthy way. It means that I can have a bad day and still eat dinner. Recovery means that I have the brainpower to deal with all the unexpected things that come my way.
I have learned to take care of my introverted self and have learned to ask for time alone when the chaos of two young kids has my mind on overload.
You are not alone. There are people who have walked this path before you and we are ready to cheer you on.
Eating disorder recovery may be nothing like what you expected, but you are creating your own path and your own story as you go.
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Amy is a full time mom and former teacher living in Massachusetts. She enjoys reading, running and playing with her kids. She strives to use her story of recovery to help others suffering with eating disorders.
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