The Good, The Bad, and The Hungry
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
What I learned in my first six months of recovery.
For me, recovery started when I finally made an appointment with a therapist. I could never forget how nervous I was waiting in that wooden chair outside her office. I had arrived at my appointment 30 minutes early and waited in my car until an appropriate amount of time had passed.
Finally saying "I have been dealing with an eating disorder since I was 15" felt like swallowing a tennis ball. Luckily, she didn't give me a surprised expression because I did not look like the accepted societal standard for someone in that category, but furrowed her brow a little and said "I'm so sorry you've been dealing with that for so long".
Now, fast forward 6 months, I am at the end of summer, in a new relationship and getting ready for the school year to start in the middle of a pandemic. Needless to say, it had been a busy 6 months. I would love to say that after those first 6 months I am fully loving my body, meditating every day, and frolicking in a field of sunflowers...but not so much. If I had to wrap up this time in an understandable post to read, I would say there are 5 things that I learned.
It takes a village..truly.
For the first 3 months or so I only saw a therapist. I worked with her weekly for an hour about all the stressors and life events that had influenced my eating disorder and made it become an 11 year battle. Eventually tho, it was recommended that I see a dietitian to support my relationship with food and to relearn what I actually needed to eat in order to not only survive but thrive in my body.
My village included:
Therapist who specializes in eating disorders
Your village may look different than mine, and that's okay. I think the most important part is finding people who understand eating disorders and the many underlying issues that can influence them. For me, seeing a dietician was crucial because food had always been a coping strategy used in times of distress or loneliness. Following a meal plan was difficult at first, but became more natural as time went on. Don't get me wrong, the work is not done, I still have days where following my plan feels impossible. This brings me to the next point.
2. Food will still be on your mind.
Unfortunately, in society today, especially in the US, food and exercise have become moral issues. The battle between "good" and "evil" foods are everywhere and the blame is fully on our shoulders when we can't eat "clean". Can I just say, I hate that phrase, "clean eating". I wash my food, I'm not eating it off the ground, so my food is clean. Anyway, avoiding any food thoughts are impossible so attempting that is just wasted effort. Seeing a dietitian really helped me to begin to think of food as a fuel for my body so that I can go where I want to go. *insert car metaphor here*
During this stage of recovery, there usually is a point at which you begin to introduce foods back in your life that you may have been excluding or limiting for a long time. Christy Harrison calls it the "honeymoon phase" and I can't agree with that name more. It feels like a liberating yet terrifying adventure into food where you give your body what it wants. As I went through that phase I realized it was my body trying to make up for what it had lost, and trying to control it would ultimately increase the amount I was eating and in turn become a binge. It doesn't last forever, I swear, but everyone has a different timeline.
Things to remember:
Foods should not be categorized as good or bad; food is not a moral construct.
3. Recovery is not linear.
THIS. This right here is the one thing I want you to take away from this post if there's nothing else.
Recovery is a constant fluctuation of emotions and behaviors, but it's all recovery.
Let me say that again, all emotions and behaviors are part of recovery. I am not going to pretend that I know everything about recovery, and I certainly only have my own experience with my eating disorder, but what I do know is that every step I took in those first 6 months were part of my recovery process.
It's okay to feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sometimes.
Remember, eating disorders are often not the only mental hurtle you are dealing with; whether it be anxiety, depression, PTSD or other traumas, there are multiple layers to recovery. I had convinced myself that each step I took had to be a step forward toward full liberation from my disorder. Spoiler alert!
I was sadly mistaken. The back and forth was completely exhausting, but therapy helped me to realize that I can't get better in six months, even if I wanted to. Snapping out of it was not an option and everything I am experience is part of my recovery.
4. Recovery Exhaustion is REAL
That split personality situation that I explained above is a process that everyone goes through and it is so very tiring. Going through daily activities can be extremely time consuming and can feel like you can't ever relax. You are constantly thinking about your behaviors and actively trying to incorporate coping strategies learned in therapy that are absolutely not intuitive yet.
Remember, this is the time where everything that we have been silencing is no longer contained and we are processing it all in real time. Your support system doesn't have to be large, it can be a family member, a friend, and significant other or your support professionals, but it is important to have a support system, someone you can share what this process is like for you and who can be supportive during those times of doubt.
My boyfriend grew up in a relatively emotionally healthy family, where eating disorders were not in the forefront, so for him, he wanted to learn everything there was about my disorder. For me, this was super helpful because I was able to explicitly tell him what things trigger my ED and what I needed from him in this time. He encouraged me to continue my work with my therapist and always was there to support the messages that she was giving to me.
When I would have a hard day, unable to shake anxiety or depression, that support system was essential. Somedays, I just needed to be in bed, watching Netflix and nothing else. Other days, I felt energized and ready to take on my day. More often than not, Netflix was my only activity and I had to accept that sometimes our bodies need that hibernation time. We have spent tons of energy chasing an unrealistic ideal, and in recovery, our bodies need to do just that; recover.
Whether you are in your first 6 months, 6 weeks or even 6 days of recovery; you deserve the freedom of silencing your eating disorder.
Eat and Live Well.