The truth about eating disorders and recovery, as seen through my eyes. Through my recovery journey I have come to realize a few truths about eating disorders and recovery from them that I wish I had known years ago.
Truths about Eating Disorders
You will never be thin enough: Your disorder will always say you can recover when you’re thin enough. “I’ll stop when I get to x pounds or x size”, “I’m not even thin!”, “I’m still too fat to give up now”, “If I’m going to gain x pounds in recovery, I need to lose x amount more”, “I need to have a buffer in case I gain a little bit of weight so I’m still under my goal” . Any of that sound familiar? The more weight I lost, the more weight I would give myself to lose. You reach your first goal and it’s not enough so you move the goal. This process will continue until you commit to recovery, the length of time is completely up to you. My process lasted 10 years, I can only hope that you interrupt your process sooner.
You will never be sick enough: Your disorder will tell you that you’re not sick enough to recover, or that you may not even be that ill! It will tell you that it’s not bad enough for treatment, everyone else will be so much sicker. “I’m not perfect yet”, “I’ve never passed out”, “I still have my period”, “I still eat too much”, “I don’t purge that often”, “I still have a job and can work full days”. These and MANY other excuses will enter your mind. The truth is that until you are dead there will always be a way you can be sicker, and your disorder will not let you stop.
You don’t NEED your disorder: Your disorder is like a parasite, almost like another entity, trying to convince you that you need it. It will tell all sorts of lies convincing you that you still need it to survive and cannot live without it’s help and guidance. The truth is that it needs YOU to survive, not the other way around. Without you following it’s demands the disorder has no power. If you stop playing along, the disorder cannot survive and it will do ANYTHING to keep you in it’s grip.
You cannot have symptoms “safely”: Often times when I was sick I would keep an eye out for signs of serious health complications and side effects of my disorder. I figured that as long as I knew about the potential for problems and caught them before they became real issues. I believed that I could have symptoms safely and prevent a lot of the serious issues I knew could occur. The truth is that even though I was watching for blood in my vomit, ate when I felt faint before I passed out, never purged after excessive exercise, drank just enough to avoid dehydration and kept a close watch for chest pains didn’t make my symptoms any safer for my body, in fact they may have made things worse because I felt a false sense of security.
You don’t need to have significant side effects to be seriously ill: Sadly, the first sign of something being seriously wrong is the last sign. With heart attacks and other cardiac events, often the event itself is the first symptom, and it can occur at any point during your disorder. You may rupture your esophagus the first time you purge or the 50th. You may enter a hypoglycemic coma the first time you fast or the 100th. You may have a heart attack during your first month of illness or your 8th year. Don’t wait for chills, lanugo, missed periods, chest pains, bad blood tests, EKGs, fainting or severe dehydration to tell you to get into recovery.
You don’t need to be underweight to have a serious disorder: Many sufferers of eating disorders feel that they are not sick because they are not underweight or may even be overweight. Your body does not need to be under a certain weight in order for you to have a serious problem. If you are using eating disordered behaviours to control your body weight or shape you have a legitimate problem and need to seek help. Don’t wait until you fit into a category or pants size.
Truths about Recovery
There is a grieving process: you will have a transitional period as you try to figure out who you are without your disorder. You will yearn for and miss the comfort of your disorder, this is all normal. I often considered my disorder my one true friend and moral compass – letting go of it was hard and I still continue to grieve at times. It’s important to realize that you will have these feelings but they will pass.
You will be uncomfortable: Physically, emotionally, socially you will be the image of discomfort, but that will pass too. As your body learns how to digest food properly again your body will have less gastrointestinal issues. Your body will feel completely foreign as you gain weight, but as you experience life in this new body it starts to feel more normal. Your emotions will be all over the place as you learn to navigate life without the crutch of your disorder. Your hormones will also be sorting themselves out which causes different physical and emotional issues. Socially you will feel strange, especially around those you havn’t seen in a long time or who do not know about your disorder.
You will survive: At times you will not know how you will get through situations without your disorder – “I need to restrict or I don’t know HOW I’ll get through this!”, “I need to purge or I won’t survive!”. You will survive, you just never had to before! You don’t know how to survive Christmas or Thanksgiving without your disorder but you CAN do it! You just need practice.
It takes longer than you think it will: I thought that it would take maybe a few months of being symptom free for my body to sort itself out, BOY was I wrong. It took months of normal eating and not purging for my body to figure out it’s own rhythms. And only now, almost a year later am I able to really see through the fog of the disorder and recognize the lies that it has been telling me. Be patient, it will come but give it TIME, at least a year.
It takes TREMENDOUS willpower and strength to recover: You may feel like recovery is “giving up” on yourself or “undoing” all that hard work you did – I know that’s how I felt! But I’m starting to realize that I’m not being weak by stopping my symptoms and sticking with recovery, I’m being INCREDIBLY strong – stronger than I EVER had to be maintaining my disorder.
It’s not about food or your body: I know it sounds counterintuitive but food and body image issues are symptoms of much larger issues. These issues are different for everyone and you can only truly explore them once you are well on your way into recovery and symptoms have ceased. As focused as you are on your food and body, it is just a distraction and way of coping with whatever else is happening behind the scenes.
You cannot benefit from therapy fully until your body is healed: Although therapy is an important part of eating disorder recovery, and a very useful part of it, your brain is unable to benefit from it unless you are properly fed. When your body is being nourished you will be able to take part and benefit from therapy that helps stop your symptoms and interrupt the disorder. The real emotional healing happens after your body has been healed and you start to see behind the smoke screen of your disorder. I didn’t realize this until very recently when I noticed that I was seeing the truth of my disorder, and not just what my eating disorder wanted me to see. My psychiatrist put it perfectly, if your house is on fire are you going to sit around and try to figure out the cause as there are flames all around you? Or are you going to get the heck out of the fire and figure out the cause once you and your loved ones are safe? Your body is the house and your eating disorder is the fire. Forget what caused the disorder until you get the heck out of the fire!