What Recovery from an Eating Disorder is Really All About

recovery from an eating disorder - close up image of female smiling with her eyes closed

Eating disorders affect people of all ages, races, genders, and sizes. Unfortunately recovery from an eating disorder can feel terrifying. In a society where thin bodies are praised and our understanding of health is entangled with body size, recovery can feel counter culture.

Depending upon who you ask, the definition of recovery will vary. Even among the recovery community there are conflicting opinions. After struggling for decades with anorexia and bulimia, I have learned a lot about this subject.

Perhaps before defining what recovery means to me, it would be easier to start off with what recovery is not.

What Recovery from an Eating Disorder is NOT:

1. Just About Your Weight

Although most people picture someone with an eating disorder as young, white, and emaciated, the truth is you can not tell if someone has an eating disorder based on their body. People of all weights and sizes struggle with eating disorders. The term atypical anorexia is ridiculous because there is nothing “atypical” about it. This form of anorexia is actually much more common than the one typically depicted in the media.

If you can not tell someone has an eating disorder based on their appearance alone, the fact is: you also can not tell if someone is recovered based on their appearance. When we focus solely on weight in eating disorder recovery, we are missing the boat on the issues that go far deeper than a number on a scale.

2. Perfection

Recovery from an eating disorder also does not mean that your life becomes perfect. For decades I imagined an unrealistically amazing life that would be mine if I could just reach a goal weight. One problem: this goal weight kept dropping each time I reached it. The other problem was:

The smaller my weight got, the smaller my life got.

When I finally committed to recovery, I mistakenly believed once I found recovery, then my life would be perfect. I imagined a life free of suffering, pain and loss. But every single person will encounter adversity and loss in their lives. True recovery is about learning to feel everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Recovery doesn’t mean that your life will be free of pain. It means you will be able to go through and experience pain without losing yourself in the eating disorder. Being in recovery gives us the ability to withstand the ups and downs of life without sinking back into self destruction.

3. Linear

As much as I wanted to control my recovery and create a beautiful path of each day getting easier until I was free of an eating disorder- this was not realistic. Or even possible.

Recovery (like life) is filled with ups and downs. With bumps and bruises. Three steps forward and two steps back. Sometimes it is tears falling down your face as you swallow food. Or taking deep breaths to calm your fluttering heart as you wear shorts in public for the first time in years. Recovery is about falling down ten times and getting back up 11 more.

Okay, so now that we have ruled out what recovery is not, let’s get to the beauty of what it really is all about.

What Recover from an Eating Disorder Actually is:

  • Eating ice cream with my boys to celebrate our new refrigerator
  • Wearing a unicorn t-shirt because I love it and I don’t care what other people think about it
  • Having lunch with my friend and focusing more on our conversation than I do on what is on my plate
  • Learning to embrace my imperfections
  • Going out to eat without checking the menu first to find the ‘safest” food
  • Getting dressed in the morning without changing clothes five times
  • Living in alignment with my true values while rejecting the judgement of others

Recovery is understanding that when I make mistakes- that is just my humanness. I am still lovable, valuable, and OK.

  • Having a spontaneous snack because it sounds good
  • Saying yes to social outings despite food being involved
  • Allowing myself to enjoy the feeling of being satiated
  • Accepting that my body is whatever size it is
  • Getting a full night’s sleep because my body is nourished
  • Accepting life on life’s terms without trying to make life look the way I think it “should”

Recovery is knowing that what I choose to eat does not say anything about my worth as a person.

  • Wearing a bathing suit without hating myself
  • Living free of constant obsessions about food and my body
  • Being able to walk by a mirror without immediately judging myself
  • Detaching my self worth from the food on my plate
  • Understanding I am lovable and worthy at any size
  • Feeling energized and grounded because I have nourished my body
  • Standing up to the patriarchy, racism, classism, and diet culture by refusing to participate in a system that oppresses

True recovery from an eating disorder is asking what I really want and giving it to myself.

Recovery from an eating disorder is a difficult path that requires courage, resilience, humility, and strength. The good news is: you already have all of these qualities. Now it is time to use them to take your life back.

Because life in recovery is worth every single difficult step forward it takes.

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