by Emma Axtell, guest writer
Anorexia recovery – a magical time full of rainbows and sunshine and self-discovery, right? WRONG.
Recovery straight up sucks.
Now don’t get me wrong, choosing to recover saved my life. I would be dead otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Many people with eating disorders crave deep control in their lives. And when life keeps handing someone with perfectionistic tendencies lemons when they asked for pomegranates, that person can seek to make sense of the chaos and disorder by choosing to focus on the one thing they can control: what they eat.
That’s what happened to me. No, it wasn’t the models walking the catwalk, or the ads I was seeing on TV that made me decide to quit eating. It was the perfect storm of life circumstances and stress, genetics, and environment that led to anorexia taking a foothold in my life.
No one chooses to have an eating disorder. Trust me. I did not wake up one day and think, “By golly what a fantastic day to stop eating and slowly and painfully die as my body begins to eat itself to try to keep me alive.” That’s not how it works.
I didn’t choose to get sick, but I did choose to recover and heal.
I didn't choose to get sick, but I did choose to recover and heal.
Recovering from an eating disorder is tricky. You can’t simply prescribe the right medications and make everything go away. It’s a series of choices made to do the exact opposite of what your ED wants. By choosing to eat, I had to learn to be okay with being “out of control” and uncomfortable. And it was hard. Some days I felt like I was making really good progress, but then I would stumble and I would feel like all my hard work is gone.
Every day I woke up and faced my biggest fear 5 times a day – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. It was stressful and exhausting and I was miserable. I was eating, but that doesn’t stop an eating disorder from fighting back. I cried during most of my meals for a long time. It was almost completely unbearable to eat while my brain was screaming at me – I was going to be fat, think of how many calories are in that, people won’t like you anymore if you’re fat, you shouldn’t be eating this. You don’t deserve to eat.
But guess what? My worth is NOT determined by my eating disorder. I don’t need to be worthy to eat. Just because I don’t feel like I am enough doesn’t mean I get to deprive myself of food.
Recovery is not linear.
Recovery is not linear.
I wish I knew that when I decided to recover. It always feels like three steps forward, two steps back. But even then, even though I couldn’t see it at the time, I was making progress. Even now, a year into recovery, I have really hard days. I’m still tempted to listen to my eating disorder and skip all my meals. I’m tempted to do what’s easy and give into what anorexia wants. But recovery is a conscious choice, every day.
You’re probably thinking – cool, Emma, that’s great. But this doesn’t really apply to me…..
Well friend, not exactly. As many as 10% of women in college struggle with some form of eating disorder. Odds are pretty good that you know someone who struggles with disordered eating. Over 8 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, BED, OSFED, ARFID, etc.). That’s a ton of people. Eating disorders are more widespread than you might think.
However, eating disorders can only survive while they are in the shadows. They thrive on being secretive. So what can you do?
Bring them to light. Embrace the uncomfortable and talk about it!
Let your people know that you care about them and love them; support those who are struggling. Remind your friends and family that they are enough and they are not alone.
If you are struggling, just remember – your eating disorder doesn’t care about you, it cares about your destruction. Your family and friends care about you. It’ll be the scariest thing you do, but reach out. Trust them! They only want what’s best for you. And remember - you are not alone.