Is it possible to fully recover from an eating disorder? Raise your hand if you have ever thought this question at least once during your eating disorder recovery. At least twice? Okay, what about at least fifteen times? I bet almost all of your hands are still raised-actually I would guarantee it. Now how many times have you heard it is NOT possible to FULLY recover from an eating disorder? How many times have you heard or read that you will always have some sort of disordered behavior or thoughts for the rest of your life? Anyone read the book “Life Without Ed,” by Jenni Schaefer? (If you haven’t you definitely should because it is life changing, but isn’t entirely accurate in my opinion.) That’s the message she sends as someone who has recovered from an eating disorder—you can recover, but you’ll still hold on to some disordered thoughts. Editor’s Note: Jenni Schaefer’s sequel to Life Without ED, Goodbye Ed, Hello Me covers her full journey to recovery free of disordered thoughts.
No thank you! What a terrible way to view recovery! When I first started my recovery from Anorexia Nervosa, I believed that I would always have these awful lingering thoughts even after being “recovered”.
You’re still fat.
You had an eating disorder? Oh, please!
Go ahead and have seconds. You’re fat anyways.
Yikes. I just spent years listening to that awful stuff, why would I want to recover if I was still going to hear it? What is the point of even recovering if you won’t actually be recovered?! Well, actually I can list a million reasons why a small amount of recovery is better than none, but that’s not my point. My point is that being fully recovered, and I mean fully recovered—no disordered behaviors or thoughts—is possible. And it is worth living in the, “is recovery even possible?” phase. Before you start thinking why you should even believe me, I want to tell you why you should. Plus, you’ll be able to hear my story and put a background to the person behind these words.
At the age of 12, I first started feeling depressed. I don’t recall a lot, but I remember just hating how chubby I was. Everyone else was half the size I was (HELLO EATING DISORDER TALKING!), and I wanted to be that small too. Come junior year in high school, I am totally enveloped in my eating disorder. I mean, skipping school to work out and engaging in many more deadly habits which I will not go into because I am not here to brag or give ideas to any people reading this. I dropped weight and was thrilled! Everyone else told me I looked great which was instantly and happily accepted by my disordered thoughts. Everything I had worked for was actually paying off (or so I thought). Skip a few years to my freshman year in college. I only took one class because I was so focused on losing weight. Transferred schools a year later. Still sick. Eventually, I got sick enough that I went to see a doctor who diagnosed me with an eating disorder after eight years of struggling. An eating disorder?! There’s NO way that I could have an eating disorder—except I definitely knew I had one. But to hear those words? Devastating.
Half a year goes by, I saw a therapist twice and was not ready for the change that was involved. Back to my disorder. FINALLY I meet my now husband. I emphasize finally because he really saved my life and continues to save me every day. When we started dating, I really became serious about recovery (well, technically he forced me into it), and boy was it hard! You want me to eat MORE?! I’m already eating SO much! But I did it. I ate more. I saw a therapist and a dietician and followed what they wanted me to. Seriously I would choose math homework over therapy homework any day because that stuff is awful and heartbreaking and terrifying. I logged my exchanges (a meal plan which essentially shows the number of food choices to eat at each meal and snack ex. 1 carb= ½ bagel, 1 protein= 1 egg), ate all my meals, and said things out loud that I had never said before. I also started reading the Book of Mormon and praying, mostly thanking my Heavenly Father, every night. I stopped calling myself fat out loud and stopped checking the calorie content on the food I was eating (p.s. If you have any sort of calorie tracker out there i.e. MyFitnessPal or LoseIt, get rid of it. Seriously. Lose it. Try the Rise Up app.).
I say all of this like it was easy, but you all know how hard this part of recovery is. This is the hardest part of recovery. This part is choosing every single day, every single meal, every single moment to be free of what is holding you back—and it’s hard. It is. But, when I started doing all of this, essentially taking the steps of recovery, I started noticing a lot of changes. I had more energy to get myself out of bed. I started getting hunger cues back. I noticed that I actually have things to be grateful for, things that are positive in my life. I found myself realizing my worth. I did not want to weigh myself so I threw away my scale (lose this too) because what do those numbers even mean? If you have an answer for that seriously answer it because they just mean your weight, and that is literally it! All these things started happening, and it was glorious! But I still occasionally cried myself to sleep. I still occasionally snuck in sit-ups at night when no one was watching. I still had disordered habits. And all of this happened because I watched myself gain weight, not by the number on the scale but how my clothes were fitting.
When I said that other stuff was the hardest part of recovery, I was lying. THIS is the hardest part of recovery for me. Gaining weight. Yikes. Not only do the people with eating disorders not like it, but the entire world seems to hate the whole concept of gaining a pound. You can’t totally shut yourself off from the world, but get off of social media. To start this part of recovery, get rid of diet culture in your life. Delete your Tumblr and unfollow those relatives who post their diets on Facebook. Stop pinning low-carb zucchini noodles on Pinterest. None of that is helping. I promise. It is only hurting. Keep going to counseling and to a dietician (and if you aren’t by this point, I highly recommend you see a professional). And eventually, who knows how long, you will get past this. I know that I am an extreme case. What even is a normal recovery? There isn’t any. We are all different. I took two years of recovery to call myself recovered. Some people take more, some take less. We are all different. A normal recovery is any recovery you are in. But eventually, you won’t care if Aunt Barbara posts her no sugar diet or if you happen to follow 500 fitness related Tumblr blogs. Because these people are not you!
So, after all of this hard work, how do you know you are recovered?
A few weeks ago, I got off of my birth control. My hormones have gone totally out of whack, and I have noticed bursts of depression just knocking me off my feet out of nowhere. When I used to feel depressed, I would just sit there in silence and let the voices tell me how terrible I was and how no one loved me. However, now I can’t even tell myself that. I mentally cannot even finish a bad sentence. I am lying in bed and thinking, “Ashley, no one loves…” and then I stop. No one loves me?! What a lie! I know that’s a lie. “Ashley, you would be happier if you stopped eat…” if I stopped eating? Definitely a lie because if you set a peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwich in front of me, I will devour it. I seriously could not finish these sentences. I wasn’t even saying them out loud! And I still couldn’t finish them.
That’s how I know. That’s how you’ll know. There’s no magical moment in your recovery where one day you’ll wake up and say, “Hey world! I’m recovered!” It happens slowly. One day you will wake up and think how great you look in the new jeans you just bought. The next month, maybe even the next year, you’ll realize you are eating your third slice of pizza in front of an entire group of people, something you would never have done before. One day, you may even start to think you’re fat or that no one loves you. It’s normal. People without eating disorders think this. Now, I am not saying this is okay at all. And it is not okay if you linger on it. If you have a thought like that, it’s coming from the world and from your insecurities. Not from you. Do not linger on a bad thought. If you think it, get rid of it. Say positive things about yourself, whether out loud, in your head, or even in front of a mirror. When you think a bad thought and can suddenly think of a positive affirmation to get rid of it, you’ll maybe start to realize that you are recovered or at least getting there. Essentially what I am saying is bad thoughts are normal but letting them control you is not—so change that pattern quickly.
So back to the big question: Is it possible to fully recover from an eating disorder?
It is possible. It is possible to be fully recovered and still have some negative thoughts (hey, we are only human). It is possible to be fully recovered and want to go to the gym. It is possible to be fully recovered no matter what anyone says. This possibility does not come easily so you cannot give in or give up. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. Get professional help! Do not bully yourself. The world does that enough. You have a life and personality outside of your eating disorder, I promise. Take the steps needed towards recovery or you cannot reach recovered, which is where everyone wants to and should be.
My favorite quote to live by in recovery is, “Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.” If you don’t believe in Heaven, replace it with anyone and everyone you know. Replace it with your own name. Cheer yourself on today, tomorrow, and forever because fully recovering from an eating disorder is possible. Isn’t that pretty great news? If anything, I am cheering you on. I believe in you! But you do have to believe in yourself. So keep on cheering, keep on believing, keep on trusting and trying and growing. Just keep on. Because it will come in time.
Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.
Quick disclaimer: I am not a professional. Like I said, all recoveries are different. What worked for me may not work for you. What worked for you may not work for someone else. However, the possibility of full recovery rings true for everyone.