I’ve been wanting to write about things that no one tells you about eating disorder recovery for a while but haven’t been able to come up with the right words. So instead, here I am at 3:14 am writing it now. I’ve decided to turn it into a bit of a series – the first one being 14 things no one tells you about depression.
*This blog post is based off my experience with anorexia nervosa and eating disorder recovery
Being weight restored doesn’t mean you are fully recovered
I think that this is one of the most common misconceptions of eating disorder recovery. Eating disorders are seen as something that only happens when you are underweight, but this is far from the truth. You can have an eating disorder no matter what you weigh. Lots of people assume that once you are at a specific weight, you have officially recovered from your eating disorder. It doesn’t work like that at all. It takes your brain/mind much longer to catch up!
If you know someone who has an eating disorder and they are weight restored or they were never underweight, please do not assume that they don’t have one.
It’s very easy to slip back
I just assumed that once I was recovered, everything would be fine. There have been a few days where I have very easily, slipped back and could not snap out of it. Luckily, I eventually managed to, but it was so tough.
It starts with skipping a meal, but then you get SO hungry – you want to eat, but maybe it’s close to another meal now and you don’t see the point. What we don’t understand is that it is okay for someone without an eating disorder to skip a snack or a meal every now and again. But, it is NOT okay for us to do that. We need to eat, it is essential that we eat at all the required points because it just is far too easy to slip back into old habits. I didn’t realise how important it was to have a relapse plan in place – on my last therapy session, we put a plan in place but naively I never thought I would need it. Now, I have it readily available in my room whenever I need it.
You will miss your eating disorder as you separate
When I was in the depths of my eating disorder, I called it my best friend. I distinctively remember saying to my therapist and my parents that it was my best friend and the only one on my side. That is obviously not true, but I didn’t understand that at the time.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes miss my eating disorder. It makes no sense because it completely ruined my life, so why would I miss that? I won’t go into any detail because it’s triggering for me and others who have EDs. But, sometimes it told me what I wanted to hear, that if I just lost x amount of weight I would feel better etc. I now know that it isn’t true, in fact, I probably got more insecure the more weight I lost. But it’s like a relationship or a friendship – you want to remember the good times, it’s only natural too. But, it is so important to remember that, really, there were no good times.
The constant worry of not feeling ‘sick enough’
I was so worried that if I got over a specific fear food too quickly or I gained weight too quickly, it meant that I wasn’t sick enough. Like it was too easy for me, and maybe they had wrongly diagnosed me or maybe I didn’t deserve treatment or counselling. Being so anxious about all of this definitely slowed down my ED recovery – I was scared of what others thought about me. I wasn’t admitted to the hospital and I didn’t lose my period – those were the two main things I believed that determined how sick I was. I thought to myself, if x happened then maybe I’d feel like I actually had anorexia.
Not knowing how to live without your eating disorder
This was a massive worry of mine. Almost all of my thoughts were to do with my eating disorder. I wondered what normal people think of throughout the day, whether they were thinking about food and what they’d have to eat next time there was a meal or a snack.
My eating disorder truly felt like a friend and I didn’t know how I was going to cope without it. Who would be there to make all my decisions? If you know me, you know that I am very indecisive. During recovery, I felt even more indecisive. It’s like if someone offered me a biscuit, I couldn’t figure out whether to say yes or no. In the depths of my eating disorder, anorexia would just decide for me and it would be a clean no. But in recovery, the eating disorder didn’t always have a deathly strong grip on me – it still had a lot, but occasionally, I could make the decision myself – after a lot of back and forth. Though often the wrong decision was made and the ED still had the vice-like grip over me.
It’s not straight forward
Recovery isn’t linear. For someone who hasn’t had an eating disorder, it is very easy to say ‘just eat’. Please don’t say that! It’s very harming and it can make us feel very stupid for not ‘just’ doing that.
There is also not a specific endpoint. Like I said earlier, weight restored doesn’t equal recovered. Different people take different amounts of time to recover. I know some people who take less than a year, while for others it can take a decade. It doesn’t mean that one deserves treatment or to recover more than the other.
Some people believe that you can never be fully recovered, while others believe you can. Personally, I don’t believe that I will ever be 100% recovered. I make an active decision to choose recovery every day, but some days it is a struggle. I mean, maybe that will change and it would be amazing! But, at the moment I’m not sure it is possible.
You have to make the choice to recover every single day
What others don’t realise, is that we have to make the recovery choice every day. If you don’t choose recovery, you choose death. It’s brutal but it’s the truth. Some days, I didn’t want to choose recovery, I thought it would be easy to just die. But I’m so glad that I kept on choosing it because my life is a lot better than it was during recovery. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle some days, but it isn’t every day like it used to be. I am a vegetarian now! Something that wasn’t possible for me for a very long time.
You rediscover so much about yourself
Naturally, with therapy, you get asked a lot of questions. I thought that I just had some kind of disordered eating, I didn’t realise that I would be diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I remember being asked a lot of questions about when I started to feel sad, if I was always anxious etc.
During recovery, you are trying to leave the eating disorder behind and make your own decisions. I had to rediscover who I was, who my friends were, what I actually liked and disliked. It has taken me years to discover who ‘Caroline’ actually is, what her values are, her life goals and how she wants to live her life.
I’m going to talk more about this in another post.
You will lose friends
This seems to be a common theme of mental illnesses. I had so many appointments, I had to go home for lunch, I was constantly having one-to-ones with my tutor or having a counselling session and I think my friends couldn’t cope with all that. Having clinically depression made me feel so out of tune with them.
Sometimes they would ask me lots of questions about what was going on, and I felt like they cared. But that quickly turned into something else. They would want to know everything about me but then refused to share what was going on with them, it was totally a one-way street. It was almost like I had some juicy gossip to share and they want to know exactly what it was. But it wasn’t gossip, it was my life! And as soon as I told them, they wouldn’t hang out with me in larger groups. It was a chat on the way to school, disappear for the day and then sometimes a chat home. I stopped sharing what was going on after that. So instead, I just isolated myself. I spent my breaks in the toilet or in the library and threw myself into revision on the weekends.
Related post: The missing years
You are known as ‘the girl with anorexia’
The mental illness label becomes a part of your life for a long time. Even before I was diagnosed, I remember someone coming up to a friend of mine and asking if I had anorexia. I think it was around the time that ‘All About That Base’ by Meghan Trainor came out. I don’t remember exactly what they said, but it was something to do with the song.
Now, a year after I’ve been discharged, I feel like that is what I am. The girl who used to have anorexia, the girl who’s depressed etc. Coming back from university, I’ve especially felt like that. Where I’m from, now has a lot of bad memories for me. I think it’s because it’s the place where my mental health deteriorated, whereas in Bournemouth I was a new person and no one knew much about me. I know that if I’m not careful, I could easily revert back. It’s very hard to get rid of the label, especially when anorexia was a huge part of my identity. I feel like I still need to prove to people that I am more than a label.
So, yes recovering from an eating disorder is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. But, there are so many good things that have come out of it! I don’t want you to read this post, see all the hard stuff and decide not to. I just wanted to spread a bit of awareness for other people to know what it is really like, or if you are recovering, to know that this is normal. You can get through this <3
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out and speak to someone.
Best wishes, Cx