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"If you're going through Hell, keep going" —Winston Churchill
There are many reasons why someone could develop an eating disorder (or ED for short). They could fill books with all the reasons, situations, and psychology behind them. (Actually… I’m pretty sure they have… ). And, as much as I would love to explore those reasons, that’s just too much information to cover here. In fact, I’m not even going to dive too deep into why my ED behaviors started (for personal reasons). But, to put it briefly, when I was a kid I always felt as if I wasn’t enough. With anything I did, I always thought that I was going to do something wrong, that, no matter what I did, I was always going to come up short. That feeling of inadequacy mixed with my anxiety and spiraled me into what I now know as ED behaviors. When I felt I had no control in life, I could control what I ate. But there was no specific moment that made me that way. When I look back, I just remember having these thoughts and rules around my body, what I wore, and what I ate. But that’s kind of how an eating disorder feels. You’re going along in life, thinking that everything is fine, and then one day you look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself anymore.
My ED behaviors stayed pretty low-key up until high school. I was crazy stressed and began to hate my body more and more. (To reference another post I made, "Stop the Stigma," this is around the time my depression started to kick in. So all that self-harm stuff? Yeah, that was happening at the same time.) When I was a sophomore in high school, I started to do regular workouts. I never missed a day. (Like… ever. It took me two years to be OK with taking a rest day.) I stopped eating certain foods. At one point, I was only eating peanut butter toast and Greek yogurt. I tried to find more and more ways to increase my physical activity, even if I had done a workout for that day. I started following Pinterest boards on ED culture. (Yes, they do exist.) I began to withdraw from social events because I didn’t want to eat. I started to literally shrink. At my very lowest I was maybe 105 lbs. But putting the number on the scale aside, I looked sick. I felt sick. My bones were sticking out. I had prominent dark circles under my eyes. My fingernails were turning blue due to poor circulation. I was always cold. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without feeling like I was going to pass out. My heart was having palpitations, which means it was fluttering and skipping beats. My heart was giving out on me, but I was in such deep denial that anything was wrong. And it stayed like this until about two years ago, just before I turned 19.
Everyone has that “Ah-ha” moment at different times. For me, it wasn’t until I was in the middle of recovering that I realized how sick I really was. I came across this photo of me in a bathing suit and I just remember saying, “Wow…was that me?” I never went to a doctor or a treatment facility because of how in-denial I was. My recovery started when I stopped dancing. Once I lowered the amount of exercise I was doing, I began to gain the weight back naturally. Then I started integrating myself into communities that were very body-positive and supportive. If I’m being straight with you guys, recovering really freaked me out. The idea of gaining weight scared the shit out of me. For me, it was relinquishing control. I had gotten so used to behaving a certain way that healthy behaviors gave me so much anxiety. It’s been two years since I stopped classifying myself as “anorexic.”
Recovery is a long process that, to be frank, kind of sucks sometimes. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s not all about affirmations and inspirational quotes. Sometimes it’s literally negotiating with your old ED voice. Sometimes it’s making yourself eat the foods you don’t want to eat. To be honest, even though I am EONS better than I was, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my old habits and thoughts may still pop up from time to time if I am really stressed. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll follow them.
So, for those who may be struggling with the idea of recovery, or are thinking you might need some guidance, I’ve compiled a list of tips I wish someone would have told me before I began my healing.
1) You’re going to gain weight.
Depending on what kind of eating disorder you had, weight gain might be an inevitable part of the process. To give you a little science behind why this happens: Your body was in starvation mode. It learned how to live off of nothing. Now, all of a sudden, there’s more food than it’s used to. So the body stores those extra calories because it doesn’t know when it’s going to go through another “starvation.” Your body is trying to protect you. It’s scary; it sucks feeling like you’re losing control. But I promise that you’re not. Your body will regulate itself. Give it time.
2) People may make comments on how they think your body should look.
When I was at my lowest (and my sickest) I had people telling me that I looked “graceful” and “beautiful.” And, when I got healthy, I had people tell me that I “got kind of thick” or “put on a few pounds.” My point is, people are going to have preconceived notions as to what a healthy body looks like. You are trying to find YOUR healthy, not theirs. Tell them to fuck off. In person is always fun, but in your head is also a good alternative.
3) Recovery is not linear.
You are not going to go from rock bottom to the top of the highest peak in one shot. You’ll fall. You’ll stumble. You’ll have the occasional breakdown. It’s OK. Even if you feel like you’re slipping, keep moving forward. You already know where the past leads you. Try to find out what the future will give you.
4) You are going to feel that you looked better when you were sick.
You might catch a glance of an old photo from when you were deep in your ED. There might be a part of you that wants to look like that again. But I want you to remember all the things that come with that. The physical side effects, the mental and emotional energy spent, the relationships that were strained… None of that is worth having that body.
5) Recovery might be a lifelong thing.
Much like me, you might tend to fall back on old habits in times of stress. There usually isn’t some grand challenge that once you’ve faced: You’ve conquered your ED. That’s not how this works. Recovery is a conscious act. It takes mindfulness. But just because you have to be mindful about it for the rest of your life does not mean you are a failure!
6) You have a choice: to act or not to act.
To play off of the tip above, you have a choice. You can choose whether or not you want to recover. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Just because those old behaviors come bubbling back up to the surface, doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. Yes, acknowledge that they are there. You are human; you have not failed. But tell them to fuck off as well.
7) No one is going to save you.
This one took a while for me to understand. I hate blaming myself. I hate being the one at fault. And, for me, the biggest part of recovery was realizing that I was the one who needed to take responsibility. Were there events and occasions that maybe instilled certain behaviors? Of course there were! But there was no physical person that was taking my food away from me or shouting insults about my body. It was all me. And, alternatively, there isn’t a physical person who is going to heal you. Yes, get support and help from others, but, ultimately, you have to want it.
But after all of this, you are worth it.
Like I said, recovery is not pixie dust and butterfly kisses. Sometimes it feels like a war. But you are not a prisoner in that war. You are the general. You are the soldiers. You are every bullet shot from the guns and every battle cry. And, once you realize that you are not shackled by your eating disorder, you start to win that war.