Eating disorder treatment may include a wide variety of tasks and assignments, such as following a meal plan, re-learning portion sizes, or conquering foods that have been challenging in the past. While in treatment, I was informed one day that my ‘challenge snack’ for the afternoon included a specific pastry that I had actively avoided for years. Upon hearing this I expected to have feelings of anxiety and fear, as well as thoughts about how this challenge was insurmountable, even impossible.
However, my expectations did not match my experience. In that moment, I wasn’t scared of the pastry. I was able to see it rationally, to recognize that it would not hurt or overwhelm me, and that the irrational thoughts that rose up within me were, well, irrational. I knew that I could eat the snack, go on with my day, and be just fine.
And this realization caused my anxiety level to soar.
As hard as I had been fighting to find freedom from the disorder and to regain some form of ‘normalcy’ in my life and my eating, the concept of no longer being scared of a fear food terrified me. What if I lost all control? Where was the condemning voice that I had grown so used to hearing? How was I supposed to start navigating life without my disorder dictating my every thought and action?
While each person’s journey and process will be unique, here are some tips on navigating recovery as you enter this unfamiliar territory:
1. Remember why you started
The choice to begin the process of recovery is incredibly brave and requires dedication and strength. When the disorder finally starts to slip away, it can be easy to start to romanticize the ‘benefits’ of the disorder that you had experienced, forgetting the pain that it caused. Write out a list of your reasons for pursuing recovery and remind yourself of how hard you’ve fought to reach this point.
2. Trust your treatment team
It is likely that you’ve had some supportive treatment professionals around you who have helped you make the progress that you’ve made thus far. Keep trusting them and their wisdom, even when it means entering into uncharted territory. Remind yourself that your health and well-being is of significance to them. Share your fears with them honestly, and then listen to what they have to say and choose to believe their recommendations regarding how to continue to move forward.
3. Adopt a mindset of adventure
Recovering from an eating disorder is a journey involving many twists and turns that may include returning to places you’ve been before, and exploring new spaces, passions, and experiences that have not yet been uncovered. If fear arises when you move away from the disorder, pause and recognize the new opportunities that may be arising as you move toward a life of recovery. Moving into the unknown involves taking a leap of faith, but it could result in more freedom than you could have even hoped for.
When we have become accustomed to following the demands of an eating disorder, experiencing the first moments of freedom may lead to a wide variety of emotions. Know that this is part of the process, reach out to those around you, and start living with a heart of adventure and in the grace of freedom.