By Alexes Ciardi and Magdalene Bedi
As awareness about eating disorders grows, so does the conversation among people who have had eating disorders. Perhaps you even know someone who’s recovered from an eating disorder. Perhaps you follow a blogger who has discussed their experiences, or you’ve read about celebrities who’ve made a triumphant return after battling theirs. But in between having an eating disorder and having had an eating disorder is the not-so-linear process of recovery. Although the results of recovery are often talked about, the process is lesser known, messy, inconsistent, and uncomfortable. Recovery isn’t always sparked by a moment of clarity or an extreme consequence. It isn’t a forward march from “bad” to “better.” It’s closer to a roller coaster, with loops and moments of euphoria, but also with moments of fear and uncertainty. No one knows better than those who’ve gone through, and are still going through, the process. And so, here are 4 tips for getting through recovery when you have an eating disorder from two individuals recovering from eating disorders themselves:
M: Try to look at yourself from outside yourself. I’m a chronic people watcher. I love observing how others dress, how they prefer their eyeliner, and what they do when they feel comfortable. The very first time I was outside in a crop top, I was clouded with thoughts of self loathing and disgust when I paused my internal tirade to admire a sundress someone was wearing. Suddenly I realized that all of the things I’d been criticizing about myself (my large upper arms, the curve of my stomach, the cellulite on my thighs) were present on this person – but unlike on me, on the other person those traits were neutral. If I wasn’t willing to think so harshly of strangers, I shouldn’t be willing to think so harshly of myself. Now, when I’m out in revealing summer clothes, I look at myself in reflections as I would look at a stranger: without loathing, without judgement. Just observation. It’s helped a lot in training myself to stop viewing my body as something to fix.
A: Your first relapse will not be your last – and it is not the end of the world. The first time I relapsed, I felt like I had failed my recovery. I felt like I had disappointed those around me who were supporting me and urging me to get healthy. So I understand that relapsing can make it feel like all the work you have done in your recovery now means nothing. I assure you that is not true. Eating disorders are extremely hard to recover from-and recovery is not linear. Relapsing does not mean that you have failed recovery, and it does not mean that you can not continue to recover. Your first relapse most likely will not be your last one. Now, I’m not saying you should look for reasons to engage with your symptoms, but if you make a mistake, that’s okay. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take three steps forward. Always tell someone if you relapse, even if it’s just a friend. Bottling up will take away from your recovery process. I know it did for me.
M: Find healthy solutions to problems you tried to solve with your disorder. I recently considered relapsing; I couldn’t sit still in my skin as it were. So, as an alternative, I’ve picked up running. Not the type of running I did before – Instead, I’m doing the type of running where I eat before and I snack after. I plan my sets before I do them (and I perform no more and no less), and I don’t count how many calories I’m burning. I do not work out until I feel sick. Participating in small, regulated workouts has a variety of benefits to recovery: regular activity keeps you busy and fit (and fit doesn’t always mean thin – nor does thin always mean fit), you’re addressing something you’re uncomfortable with without resorting to extremes, and you can visibly see your progress (I recently jogged my first mile on the treadmill! And I could only do it because I had the energy from food). If you can’t work out in a healthy fashion yet, get a workout buddy or refrain for a little while. And if you can’t workout for other reasons? Adult coloring books are seriously relaxing, as are lots of hobbies that keep your hands busy. Just pick up something positive to practice or learn, and then turn to that when you feel yourself relapsing.
A: Stop Dismissing Compliments. I know this one is hard. When I first started my recovery, I hated compliments. They made uncomfortable, and I had a tendency to wave them off. I would dismiss praise like “You’re so pretty,” with a responses like, “I’m really not.” It took a while, but I had to train myself to simply say thank you and accept the compliments that people gave me. Once I stopped brushing them off and learned to accept them, my confidence began to grow because I was no longer constantly putting myself down. Changing what you say about yourself out loud can help change what you think about yourself internally. Try complimenting yourself once in a while!
All in all, recovery will be hard. We are not here to sweeten it with sugary promises of an easy road. But we are here to offer advice that we’ve found useful. It is important to note that there are many different types of eating disorders, and that these tips may not work for everyone. These are simply things that have worked for us in our recovery and as such, we would like to pass on. Stay strong, and keep fighting.