While 2020 was certainly less than ideal in more than a few ways, I enjoyed a year of mental health and relative happiness. I am endlessly grateful for that fact, and I don’t take it for granted. Especially after a difficult few years prior.
I’m bipolar, and I typically descend into depressions in the fall. I expect it every year, and in October 2019, that’s what happened. Only this time, a fierce anorexia relapse accompanied it.
It was a miserable few months that included not only bipolar mood issues but a whole lot of fighting with myself over meals and conflicting emotions.
I was shocked that my eating disorder came back at me with force I didn’t know it still had.
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Secretly, a part of me was okay with it.
I was hospitalized to get my bipolar episode under control in February, and one of the many happy byproducts of that was getting back some power over my disordered thoughts.
But what are eating disorder thoughts?
When I think of eating disorder thoughts, what comes to mind is obsessively counting calories, needing to get on the scale religiously, or feeling bullied by my brain toward unhealthy beliefs or behaviors.
The thoughts are like intruders that sneak in like ninjas and take over everything else.
Eating disordered thoughts aren’t always about food or body image; they can be those little voices in our heads that hiss negativities, affect our confidence, or make us question our worth.
For example, my 2019 relapse might have seemed to be about my body discomfort, but at its core, it was a result of feeling inadequate and unfulfilled. Funny how brains warp things like that.
Why we shouldn’t act on eating disorder thoughts
I first developed anorexia when I was fourteen, and for almost three years, I didn’t realize there was any other way to exist. I suffered quietly and didn’t know anyone else obsessed with the weird rituals and rules I’d laid out for myself.
Luckily, my loved ones eventually led me into a situation where I discovered something tremendous: recovery.
When I started planning this article, I glossed over this part because, at twenty-nine, I know with lived certainty that recovery is possible (and worth it). But I think it’s important to state clearly for anyone new to the hell that is an eating disorder that we shouldn’t continue to act on disordered thoughts.
We should absolutely fight to kick eating disorder voices out of our heads and lives so we can regain control and enter back into health.
There’s hope. It’s out there. We all deserve to know that.
How I go against eating disorder thoughts
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I’m experiencing a period of stability longer than any I’ve ever had. I didn’t have an episode this summer; I didn’t fall prey to darkness this fall. It’s wonderful, let me tell you.
That doesn’t mean I’m not actively fighting disordered thoughts, though.
It took me a while to get sucked into the anorexia vortex, so I know it will take time and patience to get back out.
1. Stay honest with myself
From the beginning, my eating disorder allowed me to hide behind it instead of facing the more complicated issues at hand. And every time I begin to struggle again, if I’m honest with myself, I can see that the same is true.
I fully believe we all have to start by being honest with ourselves so we can know what we’re facing. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be upset. But no one deserves to suffer from disordered thoughts forever.
2. Name it to tame it
I think I first heard this from my therapist, and it’s remained in my head.
I struggle to name my emotions because they tend to be extreme and overwhelming. But as a result of practicing it (and having a giant list of possible emotions), I’m now able to figure out how I feel. And by giving a negative emotion a name, I’m better equipped to tame and control it.
3. Do the opposite action
Is the eating disorder voice telling you to count calories? Don’t. Is it making you feel like you have to restrict? Treat yourself. Is it saying to compensate? Relax.
Defy your eating disorder. Go ahead. I give you permission. In fact, I beg you to do the opposite of whatever it might be telling you.
I promise you, what the voice says is wrong; it’s a lie, and it’s going to make things worse in the long run. I know from (repeated) experience.
4. Reach out for support (and be open!)
If you’re new to recovery, you might be tentative to talk to someone about the struggles you’re dealing with. For me, my habits involving food and eating felt extremely private. They were mine and mine alone, and I liked it that way.
But there is such power in being out to lunch with friends (pre-covid), feeling anxious about the meal, and talking about it with them. Most of the time, they understand. After all, these are the people I choose to surround myself with. Sometimes they struggle to get it, but they still provide support regardless.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking with people in your life yet, online communities (like the one we have here at Libero!) can provide comfort and understanding when you need it most.
Back in my teen years, when I was first starting recovery, I didn’t understand why everyone was referencing my “eating disorder thoughts” as something separate from my own thoughts. Weren’t they the same thing?
But as I ventured further into my recovery journey, I saw that while these unhealthy thoughts exist in my mind, they aren’t really mine; they originate from something sinister that wants me to remain sick and unwell.
Give that idea a thought. And keep fighting!
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