Between Instagram and real life, I have befriended and followed hundreds of girls who
have eating disorders (EDs). If you don’t have an ED, you might be surprised to hear about this; but there are thousands of “recovery accounts” on Instagram, where people document their journeys and support one-another. It’s a beautiful “recovery community” that has supported me in significant ways. At this point in my recovery process, I’m probably giving support more than I’m receiving it; and that’s just where I’m at right now! Recently, though, my heart has been breaking for some of my friends who are struggling to recover.
In the past month, I’ve watched as a lot of sweet girls have been admitting that they want to give up: Their hope is lost. Eating seems impossible. Food creates instant anxiety. Social fears and body image are crippling. Laxatives are being abused. Purging and exercising addictions are keeping them trapped. Insomnia or extreme fatigue are taking over. Joy is lost…My dear sisters are sacrificing almost anything, in order to maintain this perceived control. When it comes down to it, nothing seems more appealing and desirable than being thin and in control. I’m not passing judgement, because I used to be entrenched in that lifestyle, too. I understand how we get to that point.
Now that I’m in a stable recovery, seeing my friends struggle in their EDs makes my heart ache. I know the pain. But, I have discovered that it can get better, and recovery is possible. I’m going to share with you why I believe recovery is worth more than an ideal body and having a feeling of constant control. I hope that sharing about the freedom I feel encourages my recovery sisters to keep walking towards the light at the end of the dark tunnel. If you don’t have an eating disorder, I hope this brings awareness to the experience of this mental disorder.
- Meals & Hard Choices
I used to wake up, lay in bed for a long time, and contemplate whether or not I was going to have breakfast that day. Questions would go through my mind, like: Was I “too bloated” that morning? “What did I eat yesterday, and am I allowed to eat breakfast now?” “If I do eat breakfast, what’s my calorie limit?”
These thoughts didn’t stop after breakfast, though. Similar thoughts would cycle through my brain all day and before other meals and snacks. It was truly exhausting and no fun! I thought that my strict rules and self-regulations would achieve ultimate satisfaction, because they would somehow get me to the body that I wanted. In reality, these thoughts and choices left little room for me to think about more important matters in my life. They also made food a scary thing that I felt the need to control and watch out for.
Now, meals are non-negotiable for me. I rarely ruminate on food thoughts, and I have way more brain space for my other priorities! It feels so good to just eat, move on, and focus on relationships, school, work, fun, hobbies, and my faith in God!
2. Anxiety Level
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve found out that my anxiety disorder was largely linked to my eating disorder. I can speak for everyone by saying that eating disorders create anxiety. One reason for this is that our nervous system becomes negativly affected and less effective when we’re constantly worrying about food, planning workouts, and obsessing over calories and changes in our bodies. Also, when our bodies are depleted of nourishment, they send us signals to tell us something is wrong. Those signals feel a lot like anxiety!
Once we feed our body and brain, though, they begin to trust us, heal, improve the nervous system, and even lighten our moods! My panic attacks have almost entirely disappeared since being healthy and in a stable phase of recovery. Little moments of food and body related anxiety have also stopped hindering me in large ways. It feels so much nicer to be able to finally relax and rest! I save my worries for school stress. 😉
3. Guilt & Shame
I’m gonna enter some uncomfortable territory for a second. I think that deep down inside of everyone, whether we have a set of religious morals or not, there is a feeling of guilt created by our disordered behaviors and thoughts. Even when we have convinced ourselves that maybe we need these behaviors, we’re trapped by them, they’re safe, nobody will find out, there’s nothing wrong, or that they’re just part of our life now…No matter what we tell ourselves, I believe that deep down we all know and feel there’s something wrong about our mindset and rebellious behaviors. We tiptoe around our families and make up all kinds of excuses to our friends. We feel unsettled. We feel the barriers that our Eating Disorder sets up between us and other things.
I always felt so conflicted about my Eating Disorder. I wanted to engage in it; yet it went against so much of what I believed. It put barriers between me and other people, my health, life experiences, my spiritual life, my academic success, my energy, and so much more. Since letting go of so many of the behaviors and doing the hard work of therapy, I can tell you that it feels awesome to no longer carry the weight of guilt on my shoulders!
4. Digestive Problems
I remember when I was in the beginning steps of recovery and the re-feeding process. It’s brutal…Introducing so much food to the body again wreaks havoc on the G.I. system. So much stomach pain…Bloat for days…Constipation…It’s very unpleasant; and to make matters worse, it creates anxiety. But our bodies need time to adjust to the changes. My friend once told me, “it’s one of the necessary evils of recovery,” and she was right.
If you fight through that stage, though, it can get so much better! I know it’s difficult and requires patience, but you just have to trust the process. Our bodies were born with this complex digestive system, and they know what to do with food. Eventually, you might not suffer with all of those symptoms I listed above. Which, in turn, creates less anxiety and bloat! Yay!
5. Passion, Interests, Hobbies, & Potential
With an Eating Disorder, I think we lose sight of what matters most in life. I think we become so focused on achieving this one goal within ourself that we actually forget about everything else we enjoy about life. Even our dreams from childhood – of who we wanted to become and what we wanted to accomplish– disappear.
I had once convinced myself that I “liked to run,” and I was “interested in nutrition.” In reality, those things aren’t my calling in life or what I enjoy most. I spent time pursuing my disorder, partially because it felt like the only thing I was good at.
I also convinced myself that “I didn’t want to go to college,” “I was not talented or passionate about anything,” “People were annoying to spend time with,” and so many other things like this. The general theme here is that my eating disorder distracted me from so much goodness; and it convinced me that I was worth nothing if I didn’t have the ideal body.
Through recovery, I’ve discovered so many things that I like more than my disorder! I have healthy, real goals and hope for the future. I try new things, enjoy having fun with people, and care more about things that matter to me.
6. Exercise & Movement
I think that when we’re in an eating disorder, its’s basically impossible to exercise with a 100% healthy mindset. I tried it for a long time, but I always felt wrong about it. I felt the rebellious side of me mistreating my body and ignoring my intuition and energy level. So, one of my favorite things about recovering is being able to finally move my body in a respectful and fun way!
When I do go to the gym, I try really hard to tune out other people and focus on me. I stay mindful of the clock and don’t make myself stay longer than I should. I fuel up before and after, so that I know I’m taking care of myself. I do the kind of workouts that I like, instead of what I think I “should” do. I also listen to podcasts and music that make me happy; and I’ll even watch Netflix on my phone while doing cardio. It has become a time for me to stop thinking about school and focus my mind on other things. It’s way more fun to move my body now that my conscious is clear and I respect myself!
7. Social Life
Before recovery, my social life was different. It’s hard to explain, but I always felt like I had to hide certain things about myself. I felt like sharing my hard personal issues with people was not okay, and that sharing good things would make me seem like a faker. As a result, I had a hard time being authentic with people. I was insecure about the words that would come out of my mouth and about the body and life I was portraying to people. I had little confidence or dignity.
Now, I’m still working on embracing my identity and the good parts of my personality. I’m working on recognizing the potential that I have to positively impact others when I walk into a room. So far, it feels so much better to be around people! I feel like I’ve let some walls down that never needed to be up in the first place. Relating to people is such a wonderful thing, and it enables me to have more genuine fun and laughter! My friendships and family relationships also feel healthier.
Recovering has given me a story to tell. It’s a powerful story of enduring through hard times and transforming in ways that I never believed were possible. It’s a story that I’ll proudly be able to share with others for the rest of my life. Just like all good stories, it has a conflict that took a lot of time and overcoming obstacles to resolve. But I know it has a happy ending. And it makes me who I am.
I won’t lie and say that I don’t miss my old body sometimes. But I never really miss the lifestyle. There are several more reasons why recovery is worth it, but these are the ones that came to mind today. My prayer for you is that no matter what hard thing you’re dealing with today, you’ll find the strength to get through it. Be persistent, and believe that freedom is possible for you. Life after an eating disorder looks and feels beautiful.