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If you're reading this, chances are you or someone you love has an eating disorder and you are looking to find some secret formula for a lasting recovery. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no set formula because every single person's journey is different and unique. That being said, there are some consistent markers that must be seen in someone's recovery to give them a fighting chance at complete freedom from their eating disorder. Here are a few things I've learned that helped me during the process of my recovery:
1. Find a competent treatment team that specializes in eating disorders.
It is very important to make sure the team you compile is not going to be ignorant about your eating disorder because even though you may feel very motivated right NOW, soon ED (eating disorder) will rear his ugly head and try to manipulate the people who are trying to help you.
2. If offered the opportunity to go to a residential treatment center... GO!
Seriously, I have been in and out of various outpatient treatments for over a decade and until I went to residential treatment, I didn't have a chance against my eating disorder. You see, fighting your eating disorder is HARD WORK and your body and mind is already compromised, so having 24/7 support and accountability (though scary) is much easier and more effective. It gives you the boost you need to get on the right track to recovery and helps you regain some power over ED.
3. Surrender to the process COMPLETELY
Yeah, I know... It's freaking terrifying to even think about giving up the control we crave more than life itself, but trust me, jumping in with two feet and giving 110 percent of your efforts to recovering is what it takes. When you get into a program that says it can help you recover, TRUST THEM. It's a hard pill to swallow, but I promise that you can trust your team more than yourself at this point because your thinking and reality is completely distorted due to physical and mental depletion. Just give everything you have as if your life depends on it... because it does.
4. Be open with your team and others.
There is so much shame associated with eating disorders that we try to pretend everything is fine and keep any struggles or slip ups a secret. That is ED trying to control you by not telling the people who can help. The sooner you can open up and share your inner most feelings and fears with trusted professionals, the sooner you can learn the tools to be able to fight for freedom yourself.
5. Eat the food.
Yep, I said it... You have to eat your meal plan 100 percent consistently. It doesn't matter what your BMI is or what kind of eating disorder you're diagnosed with, just follow the plan your dietitian has given you. Don't skimp, don't lie, and don't barter with your eating disorder; you'll only hurt yourself and make the process take more time and energy.
6. Let your body get to it's "set point" weight.
Our bodies are incredibly smart and if treated with respect and love they will recover beautifully from the hell we've put them through. It may be alarming to not micro-manage your weight via exercise or other behaviors, but your body has to learn to trust you again and that takes quite some time. Everyone is different and how your body reacts to re-feeding will vary depending on various factors. Just give the reigns to your team and know that they are not going to let you get obese. They are going to help you get healthy, mentally and physically. We cannot even begin to tackle the mental side of eating disorder recovery until we get our bodies to a healthy enough place to not think they are dying.
7. Realize that body image is the last thing to improve.
You are not going to suddenly see yourself accurately just because you are eating or have gotten to your set weight goal. Body positivity is a very VERY long journey all in itself and I tell you this so you won't get discouraged and think you've made no progress. Going from hating your body and mistreating it to LOVING your body is a big jump. If you try to make that leap you won't make it... simple as that. However, if you look at the journey as separate phases then you will feel small doses of satisfaction along the way. I like to view them as such:
- "I hate my body but I don't want to die."
- "I hate the way my body looks, but I'm not going to fight it anymore."
- "I don't like the way my body looks, but I can appreciate what it does."
- "My body isn't perfect and I still dislike certain things, but I am working on accepting it in nonjudgmental ways."
- "Most days I like my body and don't wish to change it and I can treat it with respect and love simply for being my body."
Obviously, this progression may look different for you, but know that it takes time and you will have good days and bad days but this does not mean you are failing.
8. It will get worse before it gets better.
I know, I'm a ray of sunshine with all this good news, huh? My eating disorder felt like having a super power. I didn't eat, I could exercise insane amounts without getting tired, I didn't need sleep, I was calm and collected all the time... or so it seemed. You see when I began recovery and started eating normal amounts, not exercising, talking about my issues openly, unpacking my past, learning new coping skills, and ditching unhealthy behaviors... All hell broke loose. My body revolted in epic proportions with the amount of food it was getting and that looked like GI pain, abnormal blood pressure, discombobulated heartbeats, dizziness, fainting, metabolism weirdness (including sweating through 3-5 t-shirts every night, no joke) and suddenly my super powers such as not feeling physical discomfort and having never ending endurance was GONE. Emotionally, I was a wreck... I fluctuated all over the place and often times I couldn't even name the emotion (thankfully I had an amazing therapist who would pull out the "emotion wheel" when needed). It turns out that without my eating disorder... I WAS HUMAN. Go figure.
9. You may lose people... and that's ok.
You are becoming a new person and some friends (and even family) may not understand that the "old you" wasn't you at all. They may have liked the OCD, people pleasing, perfectionist who had no boundaries better than the recovering, assertive, centered, confident person you're becoming. However, look at it as a blessing because your vibe attracts your tribe and who do you REALLY want to be in your inner circle? People like the eating disordered you, or the FREE you?
10. Don't fear relapse... FIGHT IT.
The opportunity to slide back into old behaviors and thought patterns is going to present themselves when you least expect it. Don't live in constant fear and expectation of a relapse, just know that it CAN happen and you CAN prevent it or at the very least get back on track quickly. Have a large support system in place to encourage you but also keep you accountable. Practice the skills you are taught so that they become your go-to coping mechanism instead of your ED. Be honest with yourself when you're struggling or if you think something is coming up that may cause you to slip. Don't be ashamed to seek help; get some back up before things escalate. Remember... starting this process over would not be pleasant.
So, I hope this honest list helps you examine your recovery process and aids in a lasting freedom from ED. You can do this! I once believed recovery was a myth, but I promise you that if your resolve and determination you used in your eating disorder is turned AGAINST the eating disorder... recovery is on the horizon. Wonderful things are often the most difficult.