So I’m taking a short break from the blog this week as outside work is overwhelming me, but I didn’t want the week to go by without mentioning that it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. As most of you know by now I’ve dealt with anorexia firsthand and have written three posts relevant to the topic previously, which I will re-share here for you to check out. I also want to add a few links to some of the blogs that were extremely helpful to me throughout my recovery, which might be of use or interest to you if you deal/have dealt with similar issues.
Though my health is ultimately recovered, I’ve said before that eating ‘normally’ is still a pretty significant struggle for me. What I mean by this is not that I skip any meals–I frankly couldn’t bear that anymore, and thank god–but that certain foods and concepts still trigger me. I’ve come a long way, but not as far as I would like, and I’m taking this week to really think about what other changes I need to start focusing on for my own happiness and sanity. I’ve found it really helpful to have role models throughout this entire process, and I highly recommend trying to find some if you’re struggling too. It’s a cliche concept that actually holds weight. I am lucky to have an amazing and admirable therapist who I look up to and who constantly saves me from my disordered self, as well as best friends who have an extremely healthy relationship to food (I LOVE YOU GUYS, EVERY LAST ONE OF YA). These are the ladies I think about when the ED thoughts start to gain power, and I think they are two crucial components to anyone’s recovery. If you don’t respect or admire the people on your recovery team (your therapists & doctors), you probably won’t get very far. If you surround yourself with toxic friends whose thoughts are just as disordered as your own, they will only enable your unhealthy behaviors. Eating disorders are illnesses in which people do lose control of themselves, but there is a personal responsibility component that comes in to play once you’re less malnourished and thinking more clearly, and I think creating the right environment falls under that umbrella.
So coupled with a great therapist and healthy-minded friends, I would add these components to an eating disorder recovery checklist: a doctor who specializes in eating disorders (trust me on this one! My old doctor allowed me to start running again way too early in my recovery and I relapsed, because she was conditioned by society’s expectations rather than what’s right for an ED patient), a break from too much social media and popular culture at the beginning of your recovery (it sounds tough, but it was really a relief, and avoiding Angelina’s whittled frame at the Oscars is always a good thing), people who will hold you accountable (if you live alone at the beginning of your recovery, it is doubtful that you will get very far–consider moving in with a friend or your family for a while, or at least arranging all meals with other people), the acknowledgment that you won’t just wake up one day happy to recover–that you just have to start going through the motions until it feels okay (patients often say “the time just isn’t right” — well, for an ED patient, the time is never going to feel right), a complete break from exercise even if you weren’t technically over-exercising as part of your disorder (it is totally counterproductive either way), a psychiatrist who can evaluate whether meds will help your recovery (as I’ve noted before, Prozac changed my life for the better and gave me the final push I needed in my recovery), and, finally, lots and lots of distractions. I became a television aficionado during my recovery, after hating it for years, and saw tons of movies so that I wouldn’t have to think about how awful I felt after meals, etc. Sometimes you will just need to melt down throughout it all, and the back of a movie theater is the perfect place for this.
Here are pieces I’ve written on the subject that may interest you:
1. Self-Love in the Age of the Juice Cleanse – “My friends and family noticed my deteriorating body and tried to salvage my personality, which had made itself scarce. Once they intervened, I began the long slog to recovery. It was a bitch and then some, but a worthy bitch, for sure.”
2. Disordered Eating IS An Eating Disorder: Why We Must Stop Acting Like It’s Not – “Our society is seriously ignorant about what’s healthy and what’s not. Very few people understand what an eating disorder actually entails, and where the disorders often stem from. People are usually shocked to learn that a person doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to be anorexic.”
3. Why Body Acceptance-as-Ultimate Goal is a Flawed Concept – “What I’ve learned from my anorexia and my recovery is that body-centric thinking is always degrading and dysfunctional. This is true regardless of how much you weigh—whether your body falls in line with society’s standard of ‘perfection’ or not.”
4. Getting Out of Funkytown: Talking Prozac & Depression – “Prozac helped push me to be with my friends again, face-to-face. I stopped worrying so much that my newfound thighs would push them away—a ridiculous notion, in retrospect, but one that I wholeheartedly believed at the time. Life, and eating, had become much more pleasant—so much easier.”
The blogs I visited most throughout the height of my recovery which offer great support and advice, include:
Ed Bites – Carrie is a science whiz and also went through recovery herself, so her posts always combine really insightful personal experience with legitimate research. She’s also one of the few ED writers her avoids triggering language, like numbers/weights/etc.
Your Eatopia – Gwyneth Olwyn is a patient advocate and member of Alliance of Professional Health Advocates who studied eating disorders extensively for four years. Her blog is great because it really goes there with the topic of eating disorders, never shunning uncomfortable or even ‘gross’ topics that relate to recovery. She also has an amazing set of forums that you can refer to with any questions you might have, or simply to find some inspiration for your own recovery–she answers questions directly and allows other members to respond as well, but monitors them closely to avoid triggers and mis-information.
A Hunger Artist – Lovely blog on Psychology Today’s website written by Emily Troscianko who recovered from an eating disorder herself and, more than most, seems to understand just how twisted your thoughts can become throughout it all. Armed with this knowledge, she tackles a lot of ED relevant subjects that go unnoticed in mainstream literature. Warning: A few of her posts may be triggering, esp. if in early recovery.
And if you’re in denial that gaining weight is absolutely necessary for your recovery, you will want to read this excellent post by Troscianko. It cites a study completed in World War II in which men were intentionally starved to see what the results would be (yeah, imagine that happening today…). The crazy part is that they all showed eating disordered signs, proving that the more malnourished you are, the more restrictive you become, etc. even if the starvation isn’t initially self-induced. I found that I was doing a lot of the same things as these men were at the height of my disorder (eating really strange food combinations, etc.) and constantly referring back to this piece reminded me just how crazy my behaviors had gotten.
With all of that said I’d like to address one final thing. Your weight does not determine whether or not you have an eating disorder. You might appear healthy by society’s standards on the outside and still be harming yourself severely on the inside. For instance, I looked “healthy” long before my period returned. I also know people who never felt they looked unhealthy, and thus didn’t think their recovery was justified. Ditto some friends who have commented that their past ED struggles “weren’t as bad as mine” simply because they weren’t hospitalized. Recovery is not a luxury given to some lucky few who either nearly die or appear overtly emaciated–it is something that everyone struggling with an ED not only deserves, but legitimately needs to survive.