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My Top 5 Reasons for Staying in Recovery from My Eating Disorder

There’s a lot I’m unsure of these days. To name a few, I’m unsure about how my body is supposed to feel, unsure about which of my thoughts are really me and which are fueled by my eating disorder, unsure about what real portion sizes look like, unsure if I’m eating too little, unsure if I’m eating too much, unsure which of my friends can tell that I’m struggling, unsure what to do next, unsure if I’m making any progress in recovery, unsure if I’ll ever fully recover…

In short, there are a lot of unreliable variables whipping their ferocious paths around relentless circles in my head, and they don’t really take the time to stop.

They don’t stop when I have a lot of homework.

They don’t stop when I have a huge test coming up.

They don’t stop when my neighbors throw a party the evening before said test.

They don’t stop when my roommates and I have conflicts.

And they especially don’t stop when I’m feeling down, insecure, or anxious: all of which tend to happen quite often in the daily life of a college student.

And yeah, it doesn’t feel good. Yeah, sometimes I feel like giving up. Yeah, sometimes I feel like a failure, like I should throw in the towel, like it’s too much.

But no matter how horrible that feels in recovery, no matter how overwhelming and heavy and impossible, here’s the thing: it still feels a million times better than the disorder did.

Here are my five top reasons for continuing with recovery:

  1. I like myself better without my disorder.

When I was in the worse parts of it, I was really nasty to be around—for both myself and those around me. Alone time wasn’t filled with enjoyable activities because things I used to enjoy (like reading and painting) took too much brainpower. They no longer seemed a productive use of my energy.

Self-care routines were neglected, and being alone with my thoughts was more effort than it was worth. I didn’t laugh as much, smile very often, understand many jokes, go out of my way to help others, or attend fun events.

In recovery, those things are coming back. I laugh more now, I sincerely care about the well-being of my friends and can be there for them, I can be fun every once in awhile…

Yeah, I like this girl a lot better.

  1. The longer I am away from my disorder, the more I am able to envision a future outside of it.

I remember my goals. I remember the things I enjoy. I have things I want to accomplish. I want to have a family someday. I want to have children, and be a good role model for those children.

Believe it or not, I forgot about these things in my eating disorder. Sounds crazy, but at the time, it was so much easier to fall into than I thought it would be. It snuck up on me, and before I knew it, I forgot.

Reason for recovery: I’m remembering now.

  1. I care about those around me.

Like I said before, I was really nasty to be around. I caused the people I care about a lot of pain. I was mean, I snapped at people, I was aggressive and angrily threw knee-jerk reactions at people who wanted to spend time with me. My disorder was being protective of itself, and it encouraged me to grow more and more isolated until it could take over completely. My circle of friends shrank. People I used to enjoy spending time with became burdensome and/or pissed me off, partly because they were concerned.

Like I said, I was really nasty.

And more importantly, I was causing pain to my family and friends by mistreating myself. It hurt the people who care about me to watch me be so unhappy. My eating disorder wreaked a lot of havoc; recovery puts an end to that. Recovery gives hope, positivity, and lifts us up rather than tear us down. Even though it hasn’t been easy, staying in recovery means that I won’t be causing the people I care about any more pain.

  1. I’m tired.

It was exhausting. All of my energy was going towards sustaining the eating disorder, and the rest of my life was slowly falling through the cracks while my hands shook with the effort of keeping up the destructive habits. I was mentally wiped out.

Physically, too. My body was physically so tired.

It’s time to rest.

  1. I simply don’t want to be in pain anymore.

Let me tell you a quick story.

This semester started off a little rocky. I considered skipping it altogether, but my intense desire to beat the odds (paired with a little pinch of FOMO) drove me to give it a shot, and before I knew what was happening, I was on a plane back to Boston.

Once I got off the plane, I hailed a cab back to my apartment. I had left it a mess, seeing as I’d flown home when I was in such an exhausted and drained state. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me to prepare for classes, which had already started when I was arriving. I’d missed the first few days to tie up some loose ends in day treatment for the eating disorder.

I knew it’d be in some sort of disarray, but I didn’t know what was coming.

When I walked into my room, I dropped my suitcase and immediately started to cry. Over and over again in my head (and eventually, aloud in between sobs) all I could think was: “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

The room looked exactly as I thought it would. But being in that room—where I’d spent so many hours the last semester—reminded me of how cruel I’d been to myself throughout those months. And my past self needed an honest and heartfelt apology.

So I stood there in my doorway by myself, cried, and apologized to myself over and over again. Until I felt I was done.

Whenever I feel like quitting recovery (which I undoubtedly do), I think about that moment. I’m still sorry, and I’m still not sure I’ve entirely forgiven myself. But I don’t want to ever have to apologize like that to myself again. I don’t ever again want to be responsible for so much of my own suffering that I miss out on my own life trying to sustain it.

“What’s Your Weight Loss Secret?” Answered Honestly by Someone with an Eating Disorder

I’ve been asked this question a lot, since I did the impossible and lost the weight so quickly: “What’s your secret?” 

As if I had some magic solution to their bodily insecurities. As if somehow, I had found an easy, painless, and healthy method of changing my body in such a drastic way. 

I grew increasingly resentful of the question, especially at the time I was still entirely trapped in my disorder. I was having a harder time processing emotions and to me, comments like these were invalidating and demeaning. My eating disorder was offended. I’d put in a lot of effort, goddamn it. I felt that my hard work was being unrecognized and mitigated by these assumptions.

Now that I’m in a more sound state of mind, I realize that the people asking me this question weren’t trying to take from me my counterintuitive sense of accomplishment. They also weren’t trying to imply that what I’d done was easy. Instead, they were looking for an outlet to rid themselves of their own weight-related dramas (of which I suspect every person has at least one). 

However, despite the fact that they weren’t implying any sort of simplicity in my process, I don’t think they understood how difficult it really was. So, retroactively, I’ve compiled a list of 20 skills you should think about cultivating if you want to lose the weight as quickly and dangerously as I did. 

At the end of the list, you can tell me if you think it’s worth it. 

** IMPORTANT NOTE: None of these are meant as genuine tips, or pro-anorexia suggestions in any way. Please take note of the heavy sarcasm and understand that I am actually advising AGAINST doing any of this.

1. Be ok with constant headaches. Carry Advil in your bag for them (along with seltzer water, cough drops, mints, gum, and other expensive “necessities” that have little to no caloric value, but that you know will keep your mouth busy). 

2. Allocate large blocks of extra time in your day that you will unwittingly spend idling in grocery stores or convenience stores investigating food. You’ll stare at calorie labels. Maybe even waste away twenty to thirty minutes agonizing over which variety of “appetite control whole grain cracker” to buy.

3. Forget how it feels to be hungry. Settle instead for a ringing in your ears and general fogginess and sluggishness of the brain. Sometimes you’ll know your body wants food because you’ll get a really sharp stomach pain, or it becomes so hard to concentrate that you know something must be up. At the really bad points, I could feel my brain actually shutting down. I said a lot of things to people that didn’t make sense. I don’t remember a lot of the details from these times. 

4. Make to-do lists, lists of things to remember, lists of things to remember to pack in the morning, lists on lists on lists. You’ll start to notice— you’ll forget everything. The lists are because you don’t trust yourself to remember. Or not to get so distracted thinking about your eating plan for that day that you forget.

5. Before you go to bed each night, allocate at least 30 minutes to constructing an eating plan for the following day. It’ll help you get to sleep.

6. Oh, yeah: sleep. Become unable to fall asleep without over-the-counter assistance. Your body wants you awake and eating, and it will fight you for those 8 hours you need now more than ever. 

7. Be tired. All the time. Fight through waves of exhaustion to get to class, to walk home, to talk to a friend, to read a page of a book. Fight hard. 

8. Endure long walks home from class in which you’re not sure if your knee is going to give out or if you’ll make it over that next step, all the while listening to your brain run in never-ending circles. It’s debating whether you’re going to eat a 20 calorie cracker or a 50 calorie cup of soup when you walk in the door. Yes, this decision will take the whole walk to make. 

9. Lose trust in your body. Wonder if you’ll be able to make your muscles move the way your brain tells them to during your daily workout. Because chances are, they’ll crap out at least once. 

10. Practice a believable laugh and shrug when someone asks you why you’ve had the same gigantic bruise on your thigh for the past 2 months. 

11. Practice repairing relationships with friends and family— you’ll need to, because with the amount of plans you’ll cancel to simmer in your room and the amount of times you’ll snap at people in sudden bouts of irritation or rage, there might not be as many left as you thought there’d be. 

12. Miss out on plans with friends because they want to order food during said plans. 

13. Give up your hobbies, or at least your enjoyment of them. This is your hobby now.

14. Stomach going to your high intensity interval training class at the gym after becoming nauseous at the sight of your low weight on the scale. 

15. Practice lying to yourself. For instance, I convinced myself that eating a pecan half before working out meant that I ingested enough fat to provide mental motivation for the hour-long workout. I pretended I could feel it in my cheeks.

16. Resist cringing when you read an essay you wrote during this time; the sentences might not make sense, and your vocabulary usage will be frighteningly limited.

17. Be okay with laughing less. 

18. Allocate extra money in your budget for vitamin supplements— you’ll need them.

19. Allocate extra time in your day for your lethargy; you’ll walk slowly, and get things done slowly, too.

20. Your personality will change. Be okay with that. Practice convincing yourself that holding yourself to your imaginary high “diet” standards matters more than who you are. Practice looking in the mirror and saying, this is who I am today. I don’t know who I was anymore, or where she went… but I do know how to keep going. 

I’m not telling you these things to scare you. I’m not telling them to gain sympathy, either, or to shock you into pity. I have no interest in any of that. 

What I want is an understanding. There I was, all semester, cultivating those 20 really dangerous habits with ferocity that border lined violence. And it was overlooked (even by me: I hardly noticed these things happening until they already had).

Friends encouraged some of my behaviors. People asked my advice. Encouragement from my peers gave the disorder more and more importance, and it consumed more and more of my thoughts. With my eating disorder, I didn’t have to think about the real problems that were going on in my everyday life. It was my coping mechanism. 

That’s the other thing: it wasn’t about the weight. So many people assume that eating disorders develop because of body image alone. They think that a person goes through all the crippling effort of an eating disorder for the sole purpose of looking good. They tell people “you’re not fat! You’re so skinny!” thinking that it will make the eating disorder go away. But here’s the part that’s vitally important: that isn’t true.

The only way to beat an eating disorder is to understand it. I’m still at the very start of recovery, like I said before. But the progress I have made has come from understanding those around me and understanding myself. 

So I’ve written this not to scare you: rather, I think we could all benefit from a little understanding. Had I known what to look out for, had I known where it all was headed, maybe I could have caught myself. Maybe I could have stopped it from getting so bad. Maybe I could have asked louder for help.

Granted, no one person’s eating disorder is the same. But understanding from society doesn’t come in a day. It builds over time. Slowly, people come forward, stories are told, perspectives shared. One story at a time. And maybe, this way, one less girl in college will have to face that terrifyingly blank stare in the mirror. Maybe one less girl will have to forget who she is, or crash her car, or wreak havoc on her family in order for her illness to be noticed or treated. 

I really hope so: it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on even the worst of people. 

So this month, give a little thought to eating disorders. You might notice, they’re more prevalent than you think. Look out for those around you. Lend an offer of support to a friend. Refrain from making “too much pizza” jokes every once in awhile. 

And if you think that a friend, or even just someone you know, might be struggling, consider reaching out and saying something. They might hate you for it in the moment, but they don’t really hate you: their disorder does. 

Take it from me. After three and a half weeks of solid meals, I’m finally done with the re-feeding transition process. I can sleep at night again and my brain is back. I made a clever joke the other day and read an entire book in a weekend. My disorder didn’t give me those things: it took them away. And now that I have them again, along with a plethora of other things life has to offer, I’m terrified of going back. And to the people who helped me get here, even this far, my eating disorder is kind of pissed off. But me? I’m filled with an endless gratitude. 

A Day In The Life Of Eating Disorder Recovery In College

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? 

Where? 

When? 

What time? 

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.