No one person has the same reason for developing an eating disorder and so every client of mine’s recovery is unique and extremely personal. Yet there are 4 gifts of recovery that are common. The nutritionist’s or dietitian’s role is to bring together the physical piece of the eating disorder and the psychological impact surrounding nutrition and body. Throughout recovery the dietitian can be a knowledgeable and hopeful source of information as well as one that an eating disorder may fear or want to avoid. Many of my clients have not worked with a dietitian beyond nutrition stabilization or a meal plan.
We hope we can get better without confronting food directly but we have to heal our bodies to heal our minds.
Through my work, I’ve noticed some common things that emerge when people start to get better. If you’re thinking about recovering and you’re unsure what to expect hopefully this can help give you the courage to face what’s ahead. If you are deeper or have dabbled in recovery in the past and you feel lost hopefully this can be lighthouse in the dark indicating that you aren’t completely off track in the process. If you are feeling functional and fairly recovered but perhaps still restricted and restrained around food, hopefully this can encourage you to take it a step further.
Gifts of Recovery 1: Physical
Most people are surprised to learn they need to eat more. Many are barely fueling their bodies. Everyone is afraid to gain weight from eating more and while some underweight clients do need to gain. Most do not see drastic weight changes. Physically, at this point it will feel like you are eating so much and will feel very full at first. Then you start to feel hunger as the constant fullness dissipates over time. The hunger can be very scary but it is actually a wonderful sign that metabolism is improving and then clients are reassured when they don’t binge and that they do stop eating. Over time it becomes easier to trust the hunger and fullness.
Over time it becomes easier to trust the hunger and fullness.
Gifts of Recovery 2: Emotional
Nutritional recovery from an eating disorder brings up so many emotions that clients haven’t let themselves feel before. The very purpose of binging or restriction is not to feel. So when these underground feelings come up they are intense and built up over many years. Many of my clients feel angry at the dieting industry, themselves, or society for believing lies that brought them so much pain. Many feel sad that food isn’t as exciting as it used to be or that restriction doesn’t work like it used to. Many feel nostalgic for times before their eating problems started to get in the way of their lives – they long for the ease and control of when things began. Mostly, the positive emotions outweigh the harder ones. Moments of joy and freedom of eating with less worry and guilt. They feel connected to their lives socially, physically, and allow themselves to feel pleasure around food in ways they never imagined they could do.
They feel connected to their lives socially, physically, and allow themselves to feel pleasure around food in ways they never imagined they could do.
Gifts of Recovery 3: Mental
As people eat more they start to feel more energized, clearer thinking, and they may be hyper-aware of food and feel more anxious at first. Over all, anxiety and obsessing reduce over time as the brain heals physically. Thoughts and symptoms may temporarily get worse before they get better. As clients continue to confront food beliefs and work closely with their mental health professionals brain healing and new thought patterns emerge. It doesn’t feel good because you are betraying your eating disorder but haven’t mastered recovery yet. It is one of the most rewarding parts of recovering. You feel blind and stuck in this part but then come out on the other side.
At some point, you just know you can’t go back so you stick it out.
Gifts of Recover 4: Spiritual
In the beginning recovery is all about work and increasing anxiety and symptoms. Clients feel they may never eat normally. They count exchanges, follow meal plans, follow food rules, while at the same time are trying to be free and more open with their eating. They are learning how to fuel their bodies and their hearts and minds – a daunting task. Fortunately, growth starts to come in after all the work and it’s what keeps you going. You do things you never thought you could do. Somehow almost when you weren’t looking you feel okay about food and your body.
Food is woven into every aspect of our lives. Recovering from an eating disorder is an agent for change on a level of great magnitude. We form memories and experiences around food and our bodies from a young age. Give yourself time and space to explore those memories with grace but push yourself to be truly free around food. No one approaches the nutritional aspect of recovery with confidence – even if you think you know more about food than your dietitian! Trust that part of yourself that knows it’s not about the food but that it’s all about the food.
Trust that part of yourself that knows it’s not about the food but that it’s all about the food. If others before you got better, you can too.
*This article is a companion piece to 4 Ways Working with a Dietitian Changed My Life.