This past week I received several questions via email. Since they are recurring questions, I’m going to post my responses here. I originally published this post in October, but since there have been many new readers since then, I wanted to repost it because these questions emerge frequently.
I would like to preface this post by stating that I do not have a degree in psychology. Please do not take anything I say as medical advice. Please understand that when someone asks me a question, I respond from my own experiences. While I am not a psychologist, I have attempted to glean wisdom from past doctors through my recovery and will often refer to what they taught me. With that being said, if you need medical assistance, I highly recommend you getting it.
1. What will I look and feel like after my recovery from an eating disorder?
That is an incredibly multi faceted question, but I will share with you what I know. First off, I would focus on recovery, which in it of itself will be uncomfortable because you are stretching yourself. You are growing in virtue and character and God is molding you into the daughter He destined you to be. Always remember that nothing worth while is easily attended, you may take two steps forward one day, and a step back the next and this is okay. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged, hope is essential. You fall down and you get right back up, you fall down again the next day after promising yourself you wouldn’t and then you get back up again and again and again. You must fight for freedom. God’s grace will be with you.
In terms of how you “will look and feel after recovery” – that is different for everyone. I am aware that this is a difficult thing to think about, so I commend you for your positivity. I am going to use myself as an example so as not to cause undue worry upon anyone. I began restricting food from myself in 9th grade. Negative self-image thoughts blew out of control when I was in 8th grade. One day I overheard some girls criticizing a girl who was overweight. Uncontrollable thoughts raced through my head, Oh my goodness! What if they think that about me? What if I’m fat? I didn’t want anyone talking about me negatively, so I began to take matters into my own hands.
Now let’s back up for a moment, in 8th grade when this began, I was one of the skinniest and tallest girls in the class. I was very athletic and ate whatever I wanted without thinking about it. I mention that because when asking what it will look and feel like after an eating disorder one should take a look at themselves before their eating disorder began.
- I was not even close to being fat.
- I was a very competitive runner
- I had a very high metabolism
- I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without even thinking about it.
I mention these facts because everyone’s body is different. And that is something you need to pray for the grace to accept. But don’t just accept that your body is different, embrace it and claim it as your own. When you do that, you will find freedom.
How does one do that?
By prayer, frequenting the sacraments and working with a doctor or counsellor who specializes in eating disorders.
To sum up the answer, everyone’s body is different and there is no generic response to life post eating disorder. I think it is very important to examine your body type prior to your eating disorder. More often than not, that is how God designed you and that is something you should be proud of, not ashamed of. And naturally as you began to eat more, or less if that be your case, your body will get use to you fueling it appropriately. But this takes time, so try not to get discouraged, take it a bit at a time. If you are an athlete, think of your recovery as training. When you first learned to run you didn’t go out and run ten miles, did you? No, you ran a mile. If you are a musician, the first time you sat down to play the piano you didn’t play Fur Elise did you? No, you probably played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Hot Cross Buns or something similar.
You must take it a step at a time.
2. Is a full recovery possible?
Another great question!
I think it depends on what you mean by recovery. Here is my thought process.
The word recovery means restoration or return to health from sickness. What if you were in a car accident in which you broke your left leg? Your leg would be put in a cast and you would walk with crutches. When your leg healed, the doctor would remove the cast and you would proceed with various physical therapy exercises. At first, it would be painfully to apply pressure to your left leg and you would unconsciously use your right leg to support a majority of your body weight when walking. As you process in physically therapy and your bones heal, it will become easier to apply equal weight to both legs. Eventually, it will feel normal again. So does this mean you are fully recovered? In my opinion, no, and here is my logic behind it.
As your left leg heals, scar tissue will also form, which can easily prevent range of motion, among other variables. Even if you were to get the scar tissue surgically removed, it will still bedifferent from your right leg. So what does that all mean? It means that your leg is in remission, it is as normal as it can be. You might not be able to turn it a certain way or bend it as usual.
Life after an eating disorder is a life in remission. Yes, you can be recovered, but you could always slip again. Just the same way a patient with cancer can always get cancer again. No doctor can tell a cancer patient that they are not going to have cancer again. Now I don’t want this to discourage you, so please read on. I can tell you from experience that I have gone weeks and months without thinking about my past habits in regards to food. But, I still have my memory and sometimes I do think about where I have been and where I am today, which is only natural.
I want to clarify what I mean about being in remission in regards to eating disorders. Everyone has certain tendencies and ways in which they cope when stress, sadness, loneliness, grief and change. In relation to eating disorders, some people over eat and some under eat when these emotions arise, both are disordered. As you go through recovery you learn how to deal with stress in a proper manner, a manner that will not incapacitate you from carry out everyday tasks. Also, unlike cancer, you make the choice if you are going to relapse again or not. As you go through recovery, you will learn the correct way to act when stress occurs and you are left with the choice to either act upon what you learned or your impulses. To live in recovery requires on act of the will, but the more you make the right choice the less you will think about it. For example, I don’t give it a second thought to have dinner and then a bowl of ice cream. In the past, I would make a conscious effort to sit down and eat a bowl of ice cream after dinner, it was more like a chore than a treat. Of course if you are just starting out on your recovery process, focus just on eating dinner.
If you want to be free, if you want to be normal again, eat out with your friends without worrying or wondering if you will go home to over eat, than turn to God. He is the One who can help you control your tendencies and habits. Surrender to Him and I guarantee you it will be okay. It takes courage and strength to do this and if you don’t feel as if you have the courage, then ask for it, because it’s yours for the asking.
“To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often.” – John Henry Newman
If anything I have said is unclear to you please don’t hesitate to email me at ifightHimwithlove@gmail.com. I am praying for you daily through the intercession of the Blessed Mother through the power of the most holy Rosary.