Recently I have had some people ask me about the logistics of recovery. For many individuals, eating disorder recovery is like walking into uncharted territory. I know for my family and I, we honestly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and how up-and-down the recovery and healing process is. This list is far from comprehensive, however, I think that some of my experiences with recovery may be helpful for those who are thinking about seeking help, have just started treatment, or are in a difficult place in his or her recovery. Recovery can seem impossible, overwhelming, and out of reach. I am not yet “fully recovered” but I genuinely believe that one day I will be and that I am on a path that will eventually lead me to that. With that being said, here are some essentials that have laid the foundation for my recovery, and are still a big reason why I am able to continue to make progress each day. Check out my 10 essentials to recovery!
- Coordinated Care: Eating Disorders cannot be fought alone; not now, or ever. They are extremely complex psychological disorders that are best treated through a team of healthcare professional who specialize in treating eating disorders. My recovery consists of a registered dietician, medical physician, and therapist, two of which have fully recovered from an eating disorder of their own many years ago. They have walked though the journey I am facing (although everyone’s is different), and their full recoveries give them credibility, compassion, and understanding that can’t be taught in a textbook. There are many factors in an individual’s biological, psychological, social, and spiritual make-up that contribute to an eating disorder, which is why simply gaining weight, going to the doctor, or going to therapy alone cannot correctly initiate the healing process. If a person needs to restore weight or lose weight, this is best done with the assistance and close monitoring of a registered dietician and medical physician. Once a person becomes somewhat medically stable, they are hopefully consuming enough energy to fuel their brain. Once the mind begins to come back to life, therapy can help identify, improve, and change any of the psychiatric abnormalities that could be contributing to an individual’s eating disorder. SSRI’s (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are often helpful in bridging the gap between the healing of the body and the healing of the mind. My medical physician and therapist collaborated to determine the proper dosage amount that I needed. Long story short, you can’t fight your eating disorder alone. If you are able to find/afford treatment, no matter how many sacrifices you must make, it’s worth it. At the end of the day, recovery is always worth it.
- Safe people: Recovery can be a very isolating season of life. I quickly learned that there would be people who would get it, and people who didn’t. The people who get it don’t have to perfectly understand the complexity of my eating disorder. They simply understand what its like to walk through a difficult season. They listen, understand, end empathize without judgement. They speak truth and encourage. Find those people and don’t be afraid to distance yourself from people who aren’t healthy for your recovery.
- Journaling: Journaling through my frustrations and victories in recovery has been a very helpful. It has enabled me to sit with my emotions rather than numb myself with eating disorder behaviors. It’s also helpful to look back and see the progress I have made on more difficult days.
- Spending time with other people: Eating disorders can be very isolating illnesses. The more time I spent sharing meals with other people, studying with my friends, and hanging out with my friends and family, the easier recovery is. When you are engaging and interacting with other people you have less time to worry about recovery/overthink. In addition, when you are around other people who have a healthy relationship with food, their body, or exercise, it is easier to take steps towards recovery and away from your eating disorder. There are sometimes that it took everything in me to get out of bed, get dressed, and spend time with other people, but it was always worth it. When you take small steps of faith, situations such as going out to eat with friends, getting ice-cream with your family, or going to see a new movie coming out become less daunting & more enjoyable each time. Anxiety about food gradually decreases and your ability to connect and engage with the people around you will become easier and easier.
- Eating: Eating disorders are not about food, however, food is a vital part of recovery. Eating disorders have many, many serious and fatal physical complications, which is why developing a healthy relationship with food is so important. I have often complained that I wished that I didn’t have to eat ever again and that I wish I didn’t need food to survive. I can wish that and desire that all I want, but the fact of the matter is that we all need food to survive. It is important to work with a registered dietician to help establish balanced eating patterns that enhance your physical, social, and psychological health.
- Shattering my Scale: Perhaps one of the most helpful things that I have done in recovery was the decision to stop weighing myself. For many individual’s with an eating disorder, weight restoration is a necessity in recovery. Anxiety can rise as clothes start to get tighter and fit differently than they did a few weeks or months ago. The scale adds more fuel to the fire. It is common for individuals with eating disorders to constantly weigh themselves, and use their current weight to determine what they are “aloud” to eat that day, and whether or not they have to work out. I’ve been there. Some people can step on a scale, glance at their weight, and be completely fine knowing their weight. Most people who are in ED recovery (at least in the early stages) cannot handle the anxiety that comes with stepping on the scale. The scale promotes eating disorder behaviors, followed by shameful and condemning accusations about your body, diet, and over-all health. In mid-August I decided to shatter my scale (read more here!). I wanted more than anything to fully recover, and I knew that the scale was holding me back, stealing my joy, and wasting precious time and energy worrying about something that is out of my control. There are many, many, different weight ranges that are healthy for people based on his or her height, body composition, genetics, and other factors. BMI isn’t even always the best indicator for a person’s overall health. In my worst days in recovery, my BMI was technically in the normal range, despite the fact that my health was declining rapidly. Even if you don’t feel comfortable shattering your scale with a sledge hammer, I would encourage you to trash it, give it to a trusted friend, or simply find a way to get rid of it.
- Protecting myself: Another helpful key in my recovery is to learn to identify triggering environments, emotions, people, etc. For example, I unfollowed any Pinterest boards that over emphasized eating clean, losing weight, and extreme exercise. I don’t read magazines or watch TV shows that I know are filling my mind with trash. I don’t allow myself to be alone for too long, because I know that it can lead to anxiety and loneliness, which can quickly turn into ED behaviors. I understand that I am more likely to fall into bad habits when I am stressed, tired, or emotional, so I try to recognize these emotions when I am tempted to restrict food and compulsively exercise. I try to be very intentional about sitting down at the table and eating dinner, rather than mindlessly staring at the TV or standing beside my pantry. If there is a certain type of food that I have binged on in the past, I don’t keep it in my house. I believe that one day I will be able to, but right now, it is best for me to reintroduce those foods in meals with “safe” people. When people talk about their new diet, their desire to lose weight, or criticize their own body, I quickly change the subject. I’ve distanced myself from people who are obsessed with clean eating and working out. I try to wear clothes that are comfortable and make me feel good, while also not standing and starring at myself in the mirror for too long. Some of these things may be triggering for you, while others may not be. It is important that once you identify a trigger that you are intentional about recognizing them on a day to day basis and protecting yourself from it.
- Find a hobby: When I became so entrenched with my eating disorder I truly forgot about the things that I was passionate about. I didn’t like reading, I didn’t like listening to music, and I didn’t want to do anything but sleep or exercise. It truly was a miserable way to live. As my body and mind have began to heal, it has been helpful for me to try some new hobbies or activities that remind me that life is a lot more than food and/or exercise. This summer I spend some time painting with my sister, working on DIY projects, and learning how to do a handstand (future cheerleader?). I currently enjoy reading, listening to music, learning, and playing with my dog. Once of the biggest things that I fell in love with during recovery was writing. I have always loved writing and people made fun of me (and still do) for writing a lot. I’ll have to admit, I could definitely be a little more concise, but, it’s easier for me to just let the words flow out of my mind than it is to micromanage every part of my blog. Alright, I am rambling….the point is, find something that you love (or used to love), or have never tried before! It will take your mind of off recovery & you may discover a hidden talent or two. 🙂
- Recovery resources: There are some really great eating disorder resources out there. Life with out ED and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, both written by Jenni Shaefar, are two great resources to start with. These books made me realize that I am not crazy, I am not alone, and that I am not my eating disorder. I highly recommend these two books for individuals who are suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating. NEDA, project heal, the academy for eating disorders, and recovery warriors are also great social media sites that post encouraging and helpful information and helpful articles. Recovery warriors specifically has an app that is FREE (can’t get any better than that) that can be used to track your food intake and emotions surrounding meal times without counting calories. The app also has some helpful cooping activities and other features as well. It is encouraging for me to read things by people who are fully recovered; it gives me hope that full recovery is possible and that there will be one day when my eating disorder doesn’t exist anymore.
- Jesus: Jesus has been my voice of reason when my emotions are high and recovery seems too overwhelming. His word has (and will continue to) show me the ways in which I had strayed from his path. He gave me guidance, wisdom, and understanding, whether that be through his word, my recovery team, my family, or a trusted friend. He has wiped away my guilt and shame about my eating disorder and has replaced it with compassion, love, understanding, and forgiveness. He has been my constant safe haven and refuge. No victory in my recovery has occurred without God standing by my side holding my hand. He is changing me, gradually, each day, by his spirit, in his perfect timing. In him, I have no lack; there is no tool or technique or method that I need for recovery more than him. Every time I fall flat on my face and feel like I am back at square one, Jesus picks me back up and encourages me to keep fighting. When I question his ways and cry out in frustration, he is quick to listen, slow to anger, and relentlessly reminds me that I am his beloved. Jesus has been, and always will be, my biggest essential for not just recovery, but life in general. It is in him that we live and move and have our being.
As I said above, this list is far from comprehensive, but these things have been extremely helpful in my recovery process. There is a lot more in my tool bag that I don’t have time to share here, but! If you have any questions/want encouragement or advice, please don’t hesitate to contact me! I’m an open book and I want my recovery to impact other people for GOOD as much as possible.
Until next time,