Recovery is debating whether or not to have pizza or chocolate or pasta or any other of your ‘fear’ foods or ‘bad’ foods. It’s feeling guilty for ‘treating’ yourself or ‘eating badly’ when you decide to have it. It’s knowing that that’s the eating disorder talking. It’s learning that every time you choose the food that scares you, it scares you a little less next time. It’s eventually gaining back the ability to see food as not just ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s no longer having anxiety over eating a bar of chocolate. It;s genuinely enjoying pizza without worrying what you’ll weigh tomorrow.
Recovery is eating more than those around you sometimes do. It’s feeling self conscious about that, because you know they must be judging you for eating all that food. It’s coming to terms with the fact that you need to eat when you’re hungry and not deny yourself nourishment. It’s slowly learning to not care what other people think about what you’re eating. It’s getting to the stage where you don’t even think about what goes through other people’s minds about your lunch.
Recovery is deliberately not looking at the label on the packaging. It’s ordering things that you have no idea how many calories they contain. It’s being able to eat them without anxiety, or frantic googling later. It’s still knowing how many calories are in common food items from having used them as ‘safe’ foods before. It’s trying not to think about the numbers that you feel are forever etched in your brain. It’s knowing that you may need at least 1200 calories a day to survive, but you need many more to live
Recovery is absent-mindedly running your hands over your body, looking for your ribs and your hip bones. It’s the still half asleep check of how flat your stomach is first thing when you wake up. It’s the flutter of terror when you realise you’re now a lot softer than you used to be. It’s the hope that one day these rituals you spent years obsessing over won’t come so naturally.
Recovery is not knowing how much you weigh exactly. It’s having a vague idea of what you weighed before you threw out your scales. It’s the fact that it took months for you to finally get rid of them. It’s the feeling of anxiety when you have to be weighed at the doctor’s office. It’s wondering if you can ask them not to tell you out loud what the number is without too many questions. It’s trying, and sometimes failing, to not google the kg into pounds as soon as you leave their office. It’s being more ok with that number than you thought you would be.
Recovery is not being able to diet. Ever. It’s no longer buying magazines because they make you sad or angry. It’s trying to diet – you tell yourself it’s for your health, that it won’t turn into a relapse – and finding how easy it is to slot back into disordered eating habits. It’s having the awareness to realise you’re relapsing. It’s the frustration of having to start what seems like all over again.
Recovery is the weird, strained, smile thing you do when people talk about losing weight and being fat. It’s the sadness you feel when someone asks you for a single mini sausage roll as their ‘Sunday treat’. It’s the anger you feel when someone says they’ll ‘be anorexic’ for Christmas if they don’t get their turkey sorted soon. It’s when you force yourself to walk away from conversations about dieting. It’s the discomfort of not always being able to walk away.
Recovery is having a complicated relationship with exercise. It’s wanting to be active because it’s good for you. It’s discovering it’s very difficult to find an activity that doesn’t promote weight loss as a benefit. It’s still knowing how many calories you burn walking to and from work.
Recovery is not actually knowing your body anymore. It’s your body feeling new and different. It’s having you at a much lower weight as the image you see when you think of your body. It’s having anxiety attacks and crying in changing rooms because of this. It’s trying to find a model or a celebrity with a similar body type to yours, just so you can have some kind of reference. It’s failing at finding one. It’s repeating the mantra that clothes are meant to fit your body, and not the other way round, when you go shopping.
Recovery is getting your life back. It’s thinking about things that aren’t just food and calories. It’s having energy again. It’s having meaningful relationships. It’s having hope for a future which doesn’t involve you being miserable forever. It’s having the confidence to be naked. It’s being strong enough to share about my experiences. It’s having as much cake as I damn well please.
Bodywhys is Ireland’s eating disorder association. There are many ways to get in touch with them if you need to talk to somebody – via email, phone, or weekly online support groups.