For over 16 long and traitorous years I struggled deeply from disordered eating in some form. Anorexia nervosa was the primary diagnosis, intertwined with bulimia and eating disorders not otherwise specified as time went on. After falling into a particularly bad relapse in five years ago, I gave myself a difficult ultimatum; I either recovered fully, or I would be dead by 30.
I turned 30 last September and it was then that I realized I’d made the right decision. As with any mental illness, some days are better than others. The struggle ebbs and flows, but for the most part, I’m in one of the best places I’ve been in over a decade. But it wasn’t easy. There were days when it felt easier to simply lay over and let the eating disorder win. And in the end, it was the pandemic that brought me back to full health from the brink of dissolving relationships and numerous suicide attempts.
Full recovery is entirely possible. No, you may never get rid of the urges or persistent “disordered voices” completely. But they become so dimmed that controlling them becomes easier. You learn how to manage, how to bite back, and, most importantly, you learn just how strong you can become.
1. Recover to experience food freedom!
Since I began my final journey into recovery, I’ve been able to experience food in a way I haven’t since childhood. I actually enjoy eating and trying new, interesting foods with limited fear. While I followed a strict routine for many years, I now eat when I’m hungry. I even eat when I’m not hungry, which is a perfectly human thing to do! This is what food freedom feels like. Eating and enjoying food without limitations.
2. Recover to live your life to the fullest.
When you’re stuck in the cycle of disordered eating, you’re experiencing life in survival mode. You’re limiting yourself to your comfort zone and possibly experiencing fear when stepping outside it. In recovery, I’ve been able to do so much more than just eat new foods. I’ve abseiled down a building, started a side hustle, cut my hair up short, and so much more. When you stand up to the eating disorder, you’re opening up your life to so much more.
3. Recovery teaches us self-love and compassion.
Self-love and compassion were never things I associated with myself prior to recovery. Now, I practice patience, compassion, and love on a daily basis. I’ve allowed myself to rest and relax more than ever before. While I still struggle with the guilt of relaxation, I’m able to remind myself that no one can hustle all the time. And that includes me.
4. Recovery teaches us to move and exercise without needing to burn calories.
Exercising should be about health and enjoyment. But for many, it’s about burning calories and losing weight. You should move your body because you want to for your own well-being. You might even enjoy it more without the constant thought of burning calories. I personally love yoga, an exercise which is more about health than losing weight. It’s taught me to listen to my body and to see exercise as an enjoyable experience, rather than a torturous one.
5. Recover to fully enjoy your vacations!
This is possibly one of my top reasons to recover! An eating disorder doesn’t take a vacation just because you do. For years I still counted calories, exercised, and experienced food fear while on holiday. So many of my past vacations are overshadowed by the emotional distress of the eating disorder.
6. Recovery helps us stop lying to everyone.
The ugly truth about eating disorders is the lies we tell. Whether intentional or unintentional, when we engage with an eating disorder we become master liars. We lie about eating, about not eating, about exercising or not exercising. Eventually, we lie about things we don’t need to lie about just because we can. These disorders lie to us and, in response, we lie to others.
Recovery has shown me just how much of a liar I was. And after decades of being that person, it’s proven a difficult habit to get out of.
7. Through recovery you learn to vibe with your emotions.
Something I didn’t expect from recovery was to learn more about my emotions. Or, rather, my inability to experience them fully. I lived with and continue to struggle with alexithymia. This condition makes it difficult to feel and fully comprehend our own emotions. It’s common in people with long-term depression and autism. But many former eating disorder patients have also expressed dealing with alexithymia. But through therapy, medication and working on separating myself from anorexia nervosa, I’ve started to understand my emotions more. Instead of feeling nothing but numbness or sadness, I now feel a range of emotions. Some of which I can identify and name, others I have to focus on to pinpoint. This will be an ongoing journey but recovery has greatly accelerated my understanding.
8. Recovery enables us to live life without permission from the scale.
There was a time when even a miniscule amount of weight gain would have sent me spiraling. I would have weighed myself multiple times a day and abstained from water and food in a bid to lose weight.
9. To protect my body.
No matter how you look at it, an eating disorder has detrimental impacts on the human body. Yes, even yours. When you’re within the grasp of an eating disorder, it’s easy to think “that won’t happen to me.” We’re so consumed by the disorder that we can’t possibly comprehend any bad ever coming to us. All of the bad experiences happen to other people, not to us. But, sadly, no one is exempt from the long-term impacts of an eating disorder. That includes the crushing impacts on the heart, brain, digestive tract, and even bones.
Recovery may not magically make any damage disappear, but it can stop the damage from going further.
10. To experience happiness and joy, instead of being in constant emotional and mental distress.
Recovery is a long and winding road. It’s never linear, nor is it guaranteed to stick. But recovery allows us to fully experience life, love, joy, and everything in between.
A reason to recover can be anything. Even the smallest most insignificant thing can be something that inspires you to push through. But these are perhaps larger things that helped me see the light for the trees, and continue to do so.