Recovering from an Eating Disorder: Real People, Real Stories
Do people actually recovery from eating disorders? How does recovering happen? I've had anorexia nervosa for 10 years, can I recover? I can't like 'fully recover', right? My mom had bulimia, my grandmother had bulimia, and now I have it - I can't change, right? I've tried to change before, but I always fall back?
I am scared to have hope that I can really recover from my eating disorder.
Yes, people do actually recover. Yes, it happens in many ways for many people. Yes, even though you've had anorexia for 10 years, you can still recover. Yes, people can be 'fully recovered.' Yes, just because eating disorders are in your family and your own life doesn't mean you have to be a slave to the disorder, you can be free! Yes, people slip up, but you can get back on.
Yes, I know you are scared to have hope. But change can happen!
There is life beyond your eating disorder.
Here you will find stories of real people who are at various stages of working toward recovering from an eating disorder. We hope you find these stories connecting, real, encouraging, and hope filled!
"No Easy Way Out" by Josie
I'm certain many of you have heard these words before - "There is no easy way out of the eating disorder, you've got to keep going. Keep fighting. It's worth it."
I've heard these words so many times throughout recovery and sometimes, I admit, I just thought... "You don't know what it feels like. You don't know how incredibly hard, hurtful, painful, and exhausting this is! You're just standing there giving me "good advice" not knowing how hard it is to listen to your 'easy' words."
Looking back at these words I still feel like this, but I also feel that they contain much comfort and the voices of people, who are caring and loving and wanted to help me at the time trying their best.
I developed my eating disorder when I was eleven years old and was first diagnosed with anorexia when I was twenty-two years and just started college. It took a really long time, as you can see, from the first signs to my diagnosis and first treatment. This was not due to lack of treatment, but I was really, really good at hiding the disorder and hiding it from my family and friends. I've always had a small frame as a child and hiding the anorexia was not that difficult to me at the time.
There were periods of intense restriction, but also periods of relatively normal eating. During high school I went through periods of binging and purging as well, which can be, as many of you know, fairly easy to hide.
Then, I stopped.
I finally I said to myself "stop this" and "I want to get my life back." I stopped binging and purging, I stopped restricting to a great extend, and I stopped excessive exercising. I started to go out more and enjoy the last year of high school. My friends noticed me being more outgoing and said that they were happy to see me more and were also wondering what happened. I didn't say why, but I just enjoyed being free and working toward finishing school and going abroad for a year.
I think looking back at it, this may have been part of why I was able to stop the symptoms- I had a greater goal in life than the eating disorder. I wanted to finish school and go abroad and live in a different country and get to know a new and exciting culture.
Things went "well" for a few years- by that I mean that I was able to work and have a social life. But as you all know, an eating disorder doesn't just go away, even if we really want it to. And looking back at it, I know that I was still restricting foods, I had huge body image problems and felt great anxiety around food and eating.
I developed full blown anorexia again when I started college. This time, it was noticed. I couldn't hide it anymore. I couldn't stop it anymore. I was very sick and needed help.
For the first time in my life I saw a therapist.
For the first time in my life someone told me I was suffering from anorexia nervosa.
It came quite as a shock to me. After so many years being alone with ana, my best friend, now people came to help me "get away from her" and "get out of the eating disorder."
It was terrifying!!
I did restore my weight, changed my life and connected with people, who were supportive. I got out of the anorexia once more. But throughout college and grad school I kept on dealing with it and living more and more in isolation. I restricted, exercised excessively, went through periods of binging and purging. A few more years went by and I started my first job- my high performance, high achiever, everything has to be perfect mentality was great for all the assignments- but not for me.
Six months into it, I broke down and went into a full blown anorexia again. This time, it was really bad again. This time I couldn't hide though, I had a real job. I needed to perform. I needed to be able to think and interact with people. The problem was, I couldn't. I was not able to. Ana took over and my body got sicker and sicker. I had to stop working and started in-patient treatment where I got real treatment for the first time in my life. That's about sixteen years after I was first engaging in my eating disorder. I stayed in in-patient care for two months and continued in out-patient care for a few weeks afterwards.
That's three years ago now and I can tell you that I wish I had sought treatment earlier. That I wish I had been able to let the people in, who told me "you can do this, it's worth it."
An eating disorder is a very isolating disease and clinging to it can really have a tremendous impact on every aspect of your life.
The past three years, I've been working hard to stay stable and not give in to eating disorder behaviors. Step by step I sought a therapist, got a primary care doctor I see regularly and found a caring and loving group therapy. The group therapy lets me connect with women once a week, who will say "I know what you mean, I've been there too."
It's a great support network and they will hold me responsible for anything I say or do. It is also great to be able to help others and reach out to them when they need support.
I've also spent a lot of time journaling the past three years- writing without censoring any of my words. Being true to myself and my feelings and writing everything down. It helps me to get to know myself. Feeling my feelings is so overwhelming and exhausting at times. I've spent many years suppressing my feelings and it is difficult to allow them in now. I try to be patient with myself and listen in to my body to feel the feelings and not start to suppress them again. I found that meditation helps me. After some trial and errors (feeling myself is not easy) I began meditating daily and am learning to listen to myself and get in touch with my feelings and also my body. This practice has helped me so much in day to day life. Body image is still a big one to attend to, but I feel more confident now that it will get better.
I've learned that it's okay to say no and express my feelings- that, for me, is only possible when I know what I feel and what I need. I've also learned that people react beautifully when I tell them what I really need and want. We have open discussions and share emotions.
I also connected with friends and family members more and more and am coming out of the isolation. I am learning to address my feelings and talk to people when something is wrong instead of using the eating disorder to cope with them and direct the anger toward myself and my body. Very importantly to me, I set new goals in my life and wrote them down. I am actively working towards them now and not towards achieving a number on the scale or maximum calories for the next day combined with exercise.
I started a new job and am learning to take care of myself and setting clear boundaries in order to protect myself. I am sticking to my meal plan and can hold on to that when high anxiety around food strikes me. In my job, I am not aiming for perfect anymore (although that is a hard one for me!), but for health. I am still trying to achieve high goals, but I am now watching out for myself and taking as many breaks as needed. I don't want to get sick again!
As you can imagine, none of this has been easy and there have been bad days, but I learned that by sticking to my commitment to get better and overcome the eating disorder, there are always good days to come after the bad and challenging ones.
In the past years without the eating disorder highly dominating my life, I have experienced so much more life and pleasure, fun and people, than ever before. I was able to reach real life goals, travel and hang out with my friends. I don't want to miss out on life anymore.
I can tell you, that yes, there is No Easy Way Out and it is painful, but it is also so very much worth it. Keep going and keep fighting. Writing here is a challenge for me, but I want to reach out to others suffering and maybe be able to give YOU some hope by sharing my story.
What do you think helped you change?
I think what started to help me change was a true time out in in-patient care. I was able to really reflect on my life and what it had come to. I realized that I don't want to live that way for the rest of my life. And I knew that would be the case if I didn't start committing myself to recovery.
I also had, and still have, some amazing friends along the way, who have helped me in various stages of recovery so far. Learning to rely on relationships instead of the eating disorder is a very big lesson for me to learn.
What has also helped me change was to shift my attention to new goals I want to reach in life- ones that have nothing to do with the eating disorder. In fact, I won't be able to reach them if I continue with the eating disorder. I already reached some small ones and it felt a hundred times better than seeing a certain number on the scale. That number can never replace true life with loving and caring people.
I started journaling and meditating daily to learn to get in touch with my feelings and body.
I am also going to an eating disorder recovery support group once a week meeting women, who I can connect with and know what it feels like. I believe that building a support net around me with a primary care provider, a therapist, support group, and when needed a nutritionist, has helped me stay in recovery. Reaching out to people instead of the eating disorder has been frightening, but it has also been the better and healthier choice- always.
I have also read some great books and started to connect to homepages like this one and with that get to know people and stories of people, who are recovering and have recovered. That gives me great hope and strength to keep going.
What would you say to someone who is struggling with an eating disorder right now and feels like there is no hope in sight?
I know how you feel. I've been there so many times as well. I am still there sometimes and I know how it feels. I know how desperate and isolating it feels. How scary and frightening. Don't put yourself down. Take mini steps, but take steps toward feeling better. You can start by doing something you like and with that take care of yourself; maybe drawing, or listening to your favorite song. It doesn't have to be something big. There is hope. If I can do it, so can you. We can all do it together and lead ourselves out of this disease. Reach out to people and get help. It will be worth it.