You’re in recovery now. But you’ve just started.
You’re walking through your school’s campus, on your way to class. You’re 10 minutes early: you hate being late now. You used to be late all the time, but now time is of the essence. You learned this last semester, when walking to class took twice as long because your legs didn’t have the energy to move quickly. Speed walking to class wasn’t an option, so you learned to overcompensate for your own sluggishness. So now you’re 10 minutes early.
You’re having a good morning. After all, you’ve got the whole day planned out so that it will be okay. You’ve succeeded today in taking care of yourself: something that doesn’t always happen. But you try. And today, it seems you’ll succeed. In your bag, you have a full breakfast (complete with protein, fats, and the terrifying carbs), lunch (with dressing on your salad even), and a snack packed. Your portions are appropriate: you checked. Hell, you even measured.
You’ll have appropriate amounts of food all day, and you’ll even get to eat them at normal meal times. This is important to you: your body isn’t hungry again yet, so you have to eat intuitively solely based on the clock. This makes scheduling hard sometimes, but today your classes and club meetings fit perfectly.
It’s a great day. You even got up early and did a short yoga routine this morning. You feel rejuvenated and ready to take on a day of school. This is a rarity these days, in these early stages of recovery. You revel in it. You even smile.
As you sit down in your favorite seat in class and take out your breakfast to chow down, your phone buzzes. A group of your friends is organizing a birthday plan for another friend, and they want to meet for lunch to plan everything.
Panic sets in.
Meet for lunch?
What about the food I packed?
Will the place they go to eat have food that I can keep track of?
Will I accidentally eat too little?
Even scarier, will I accidentally eat too much?
You text them back that you can’t go. You haven’t touched your breakfast. You’re stressed, and the idea of stress-eating makes you disgusted with yourself.
Your friends shame you in reply. They might be joking, but you’re not so sure. They haven’t seen you in ages, it’s true. It’s not that you haven’t wanted to: you just have to prioritize right now. And you can’t tell anyone why.
“You can’t even make time for half an hour? We can get lunch late if it works better for you” one text reads. They’re being accommodating. They’re being nice, and you’re being inflexible. They think you’re neglectful, unreliable, uncaring. They think you want to cop out of helping them plan. They think you’re snubbing them. They think you don’t want to see them.
These and a million other thoughts race through your brain. You can feel your stomach against your jeans, and your breakfast suddenly looks colossal in front of you. Even worse, this entire class full of people is going to see you eat it. Your chest tightens. Are they eating smaller breakfasts? Should you be eating a smaller breakfast? You’re not sure. You’re not really sure about anything you’re doing, and your next nutritionist appointment isn’t for another week. You are sure that you’re worried.
But you know you should eat the breakfast, because you’re still losing weight. You don’t want to lose any more weight.
You tell your friends you’ll see them another time, and you begin to feel left out. You wanted to help plan your friend’s birthday, you really did. But it just won’t work. Going to lunch with them to plan would sacrifice too much — your food, your ease of mind, your sanity for the rest of the morning… If you didn’t eat right at the lunch, you’d be sacrificing even more. So much of your progress… No, you don’t really trust yourself to make those decisions yet.
On top of that, you’re not sure when else you will make time see these friends. With a full course load, a part-time job, weekly nutrition and therapy appointments, and food preparation time, you don’t really have a lot of free time. The time you do have is put towards your mental health. Rejuvenation time, you like to think of it. You don’t even go out on the weekends anymore.
You look at your breakfast again, still untouched. You resolve to eat it. You don’t enjoy it — or you do, and that makes you feel guilty. Enjoying food is for fat girls. What if I’m becoming a fat girl?
This and other thoughts race through your head and you don’t take good notes in class. You’ll have to dedicate more time to studying later.
Flash forward to your next class of the day. One of your friends sits next to you in this class, and usually you love that. But today, she wants to boast about her new diet plan. She’s eating a protein bar for lunch. You ate a sandwich, side salad, and fruit. The salad even had dressing. You tense and stress about this, but calm yourself with your nutritionist’s logic replaying in your head.
Your friend tells you that you look thin. She’s jealous. You laugh it off, but she keeps going.
This is the part you dread. She asks you that loaded question, the one you can’t help but feel is tinged with quiet suspicion: How did you do it? Do you have any weight loss tips? You feel like a fraud. You try and swallow the bile rising in your throat and laugh nervously, regurgitating healthy methods like moderation and exercise you’ve read online; but you can feel the lies choking in the back of your mouth. You’ve always been a terrible liar. Hurriedly, you change the subject and try to ignore the shame burning in your face.
But the thoughts keep coming for hours still. You’re setting a bad example. She could totally tell. She knows, now she definitely knows. You can’t even keep your life together on the outside anymore.
Your day is ruined, and later, it’s even harder than usual to convince yourself to eat a full dinner. Maybe you don’t make all of your exchanges. Maybe you leave out a fat, thinking you’ve beat the system. Aside from the suspicious eyes of your roommates, no one’s watching you. No one’s holding you accountable.
Maybe you don’t want to think about the impact you had on your friend or the fact that your disorder is plastered on your chicken legs for the world to see. Maybe instead of thinking about those things, you think about food. Yes: food. What will you eat? When will you eat it? What brand will you buy? How many calories? Counting, counting, counting…you’re not thinking about your friend anymore. This is how it all started. You know this. But it’s already in your head, and it doesn’t hurt like real thoughts do right now. And anyways, it’s for your own good: you’re keeping yourself accountable. Right?
That’s the part that’s hard to tell. It’s something I’m still working on figuring out—something that being in such an early stage of recovery makes me unsure of.
But I’m still in recovery. And that, in and of itself, is enough for now.
If you or someone you know is struggling, wondering if they might be experiencing an eating disorder, or is considering recovery, I’m asking: please do it. Give recovery a shot. Because eating disorders are strong, it’s true. But recovery is something more than that: recovery is looking it in the face and saying I’m stronger.