So a couple of months ago I posted this photograph on my instagram account with the caption talking about partial recovery from my Eating Disorder, and I received an unexpected overwhelming response. A range of young girls, teens and middle aged women commented/messaged me telling me they were going or had been through exactly the same thing, how much they could relate, how alone/guilty/ashamed they felt and how little it is talked about as the behaviours that accompany it are often normalised in our diet and weight obsessed society.
Recovered. In Recovery. Recovering. For so long I’ve found it extremely difficult to distinguish between these phrases and apply one to my own situation. For a long period of time I had no doubt I was “recovered” from my disordered eating and exercising. But looking back with the (much) healthier mindset I have today, I realise this was not the case at all – I had never committed to going the full hog, so I stopped at the comfortable half way point. In all honesty I was stuck in this partially recovered stage for significantly longer than I was in my Eating Disorder. Unfortunately, I only realised this not too long ago when I took time out of my routine, connected fully with my mind and deeply reflected on the thoughts and behaviours that were not serving me.
So what is partial recovery? Obviously everyone is different, but for me this meant recognizing I was in a dangerous place in terms of my weight, regaining a good few pounds until I was at a healthy body weight, eating regular fully portioned meals (without being sneaky and pretending that I’d already eaten or throwing food away) and stopping doing hours of cardio for the sole purpose of losing weight. So …. great? However, partial recovery also meant making sure I did 90 minutes of strength training a day, tracking my macros every single meal of every single day – even if it was double the amount I was eating before, this is still not a healthy behaviour in my opinion -, still suffering through extreme anxiety when eating out anywhere and worst of all still experiencing the guilt that came with the inevitable overeating. Although I “learnt” to eat bread, chocolate and pizza again, I only did so if it was within my macro limit. I still made excuses to not go anywhere there would be food out of my control, unless there was a menu with nutritional information available (again, not a healthy behaviour for anyone who has experienced disordered eating) and my life was still controlled by all these restrictions and rules. In other words, my life was still not my own. And because of being at university, I could create my own “rules”, make all my own food and continue these damaging behaviors to my hearts content. Although my weight was back in the normal range, my thoughts were still as damaging as ever, if not more so due to the weight I had gained which caused a huge problem for my body image.
However, this was all very much normalised, especially in the type of social media I was using. I moved from wanting to be skinny to being obsessed with the fitness industry; instead of bones I strived for abs; instead of weakness I wanted lean muscle. There was still the crazy perfectionist ever present, all these foods I couldn’t eat and this certain weight I absolutely could not let myself get past – which I am happy to say I now have and look at that, the world didn’t explode.
Recovery is an uphill battle we have to face every day. Some days the eating disorder beckons like a warm blanket on a freezing cold day and all you want to do is wrap yourself up in the safety and the comfort of it. Very, very occasionally I still get these days, days where I wonder if it would be better to go back, to live my life at this half way point – the best of both worlds. As recently as a month ago I started tracking my intake again for a short amount of time, because at the time I was craving the control tracking gives me. But I know myself well enough now to know that this is often a deeper issue and I have to stand back and ask myself what’s really going on, because lets be honest, it’s never actually about food or losing weight – it is often the symptom of a deeper emotional inner conflict.
So now I don’t label myself at all. I have the best relationship with my body, food and exercise that I’ve ever had but labelling myself as “recovered” makes me feel like a failure when I have a wobble. I believe recovery is a continuum and we move along this continuum throughout our lives. Sometimes we take 1 step forward, 1 step back, 4 steps forward, 6 steps back and then another 8 giant leaps forward. But, unlike many health professionals, I believe full recovery is possible for every single person. And no matter how hard it is at the time you deserve the freedom, happiness and inner peace that comes with it, and you deserve to have your life back.
Recovery delivers what the eating disorder promises.