What Happens when You’re in Recovery from an Eating Disorder?
Three years ago, I was 24-years old and exiting rehab after a six-week stint for recovery from an eating disorder. I was so sure that my life was going to “make sense” now that I was freeing myself of this 10-year battle.
It wasn’t the case.
While I have handled what’s come in the process and the “flexible okay” recovery life, as I like to call it, the experience of recovery has been very different from the idealism I felt that day.
It’s not all roses, and anyone will tell you that. Three years into my own recovery, here are seven real truths I’ve learned in the process:
1. Your sense of style will evolve.
Maybe not drastically – but it will. I spent eight years in over-sized t-shirts and black sweatpants that dragged at the feet. I loved those thigh-hiding safety nets. I wore them everywhere. I made excuses for them and lied to myself by saying that I just wasn’t “the dress-up kind of girl.” Honestly, I was engulfed by body dysmorphia, and the only items I ever felt comfortable in were shirts and pants that gave me zero figure.
Today, I’m still figuring out what I like and what feels flattering to my body. One day, I’ll wear a bikini and rock my version of a ”screw it” attitude. Other days, I’ll feel more self-conscious and wear black-on-black-on-black. I’m finally realizing no clothing is “off limits,” as I once believed, and rolling with the evolution.
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2. Your body will recover.
Eating disorders affect your body outwardly and inwardly. Fluctuating weight over the years has left stretch marks on my thighs. I used to run on stress fractures and shin splints. At my worst, I was told I had bones of a 70-year old. What’s uplifting, however, is that your body is resilient. I hike and run a couple miles here and there. At some point, it dawned on me how strong I feel now. Nothing hurts anymore when I run, and I always appreciate how able our bodies are when we are treating them with respect.
3. People will always comment on how you look, and it will always bother you.
Comments are the worst, but they’re inevitable. Every time I see my friends and family at home they have a tendency, out of goodwill, to tell me I look “healthy.” To my eating disorder brain, I immediately go into hibernation mode. I don’t want to know when people are looking at my body, but at the same time I try to remember that this is my family and I have worried them for years.
Occasionally, and possibly the worst commentary, is when my eating disorder comes up in a group conversation. Inevitably, someone turns to me and exclaims, ”WHY would you have an eating disorder? You’re, like, already basically thin.”
I don’t love this commentary on my body, but there are going to be comments about this forever. You can’t let it be a reason to relapse. There are going to be loads of triggers in recovery, and it’s up to you to be proactive about them. If you’re uncomfortable with a conversation with your body, you have to take initiative and change the conversation, or at least address the issue at hand so that your loved ones can re-shift how they speak to you.
4. Accepting your body will take time.
I’ve hated wearing bras since the moment my stomach had enough fat around it to roll. There is nothing more uncomfortable than wearing a strapless bra and feeling the indention of the under-wire drive into my fat while I sit.
As you recover from an eating disorder, everyone will always mention how hard it can be to adjust to a new healthy body weight, and the changes that occur when that happens.
Acceptance isn’t immediate. It’s a long process with a lot of psychological ups and downs. Hence, the flexible recovery. It is okay to feel bad on the bad days.
5. Dating after an eating disorder is hard.
In rehab, they tell you to wait a year before becoming romantically involved. Naturally, I threw that logic out the window. Instead, I immediately got into a long-distance and long-term relationship which inevitably ended because I couldn’t commit. I was new in recovery, and I barely even knew what kind of food I liked – let alone how I wanted to spend my future with someone.
As I approach dating now, I still find it difficult. Do you tell people up front? Do you say you’re ”recovered” to lessen the blow (even though it’s a process)? Do they have a right to ask questions? Do you owe them the truth? In short, I don’t know. For every person I’ve dated, there’s been a different way of addressing it. The point is that you have to ask yourself “what are YOU comfortable sharing or not sharing?”
You don’t ”owe” anyone anything. You don’t have to answer questions, and you don’t have to give an explanation as to ”why.” Your eating disorder and recovery is yours, and it does not make you any less respectable or strong. You are human and you struggle.
6. You’ll still be distracted by the mirror.
In the prime of my eating disorder, I was preoccupied with reflections. While it lessened in recovery, the body image aspect of an eating disorder is an ever-evolving mental game.
Now, I’ll go weeks feeling fine about how I look. Yet inevitably, at some point, I will panic and not be able to see myself clearly. It’s normal.
My advice is to find ways to soften this urge. Occasionally, I take a selfie to remind myself I’m the same, or I meditate and read about something to distract the self-preoccupation. It helps me realize I look just like I did three weeks ago. As recovery goes along, you’ll find yourself less and less preoccupied with your size.
7. You’ll move on and succeed in recovery from an eating disorder.
You’ll forget that life was once about your exercise schedule or your eating times. You’ll skip workouts for happy hours. You’ll go to bed late and miss a morning work-out, but appreciate the extra hour of sleep. You’ll eat too much cake and rub your stomach afterwards, groaning and complaining. It’ll pass. You’ll forget calories of things you’d memorized, and it’ll shock you.
You’ll realize you’re making decisions you don’t have to hide, that your ability to lie is worsening.
You’ll wake up one day; you’ll want recovery, and you’ll find yourself telling someone else the same.
“Run wild. You’re free,” you’ll say, and how free you can be.