Lately, I have had a few clients ask me what recovery from disordered eating is. Interestingly, I don’t often hear this question yet it seems that those who struggle with food and body image challenges would want to know. So I started thinking about it, wondering why more people don’t ask.
In my curiosity, I looked back into my own history of struggling with hating my body and evaluating everything I ate and wanted to eat. At the time, I was so caught up in what I was doing, what I was thinking and how much I hated myself that I didn’t have the ability to see beyond it. It was like standing so close to a black dot drawn on a board that all I could see was the dot. All I could feel was the pain of hating my body and everything I ate. I couldn’t see the world beyond the dot. In fact, my healing and recovery started when I took a step back so I could see more of the world surrounding that big, consuming dot. The first step for me was noticing what I was doing rather than just doing it.
I imagine you might be feeling the same way. You stare straight at that dot all day long. It is all you see. You hate your body, picking on every little flaw. You compare yourself to everyone else. You evaluate everything you eat and what other people eat too. If you are right in the middle of your struggle, you may not be able to see the edges of your disordered eating behaviors much less the recovery beyond.
How do you step back from the black dot on the board? Start by asking yourself (and answering yourself too): Where would I like to be with my relationship to food one year from now (or less time if that works better for you)? As you answer, let yourself feel any emotions that come up. You might feel relief, hope, excitement. You might also feel fear, anger, shame.
Now, take another step back from the black dot and explore what recovery means for you. To get some ideas, below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book in which I talk about what recovery from disordered eating is. As you read it, again allow yourself to feel whatever emotions pop up.
Recovery from an eating disorder is not perfection. Having an eating disorder is not about trying to be perfect. Recovery is about accepting who you are, striving to be better, and acknowledging that you are doing the best you can and feeling your feelings along the way. Recovery is about dealing with life on life’s terms.
Recovery from an eating disorder is about learning more about you, creating balance with the different parts of yourself, allowing all parts of yourself to be heard and to be shared with others. If you begin to judge yourself critically, you can be sure that there is an emotion underneath that voice.
Recovery is allowing yourself to eat wonderful foods, to chose the foods that make you feel best, to eat out of enjoyment as well as out of nourishment, to exercise in a way that feels more like play than hard work and to look forward to the next time you get to play just because you enjoy it rather than because you might lose weight.
Recovery is to appreciate and have the range of emotions you naturally have, to be more honest with yourself and with those in your life, to enjoy life to the fullest. Recovery is about taking care of yourself, sometimes first, because you know that helps you take care of others too. Recovery is having boundaries that support you in feeling safe in the world.
Recovery is about letting go of the belief that you can control anything other than your own actions and that sometimes it is hard to control those too. Recovery is about messing up sometimes and acknowledging it and learning from it, rather than beating yourself up for it. Recovery is having really great days and having some difficult ones too. Recovery is knowing and trusting that this too shall pass and doing what you need to do to take care of yourself now. Recovery is about living in the present. Recovery is about honoring your emotions and what your body has to tell you. Recovery is about finding you.
Recovery is a process. It is not a destination. It doesn’t end. It keeps on going. Recovery is about striving to be your best while allowing yourself to be who you are right now. Recovery is about returning over and over again to childhood innocents and openness to giving and receiving love, affection, attention. Recovery is about realizing you are worth it, over and over again.
Recovery is possible! You know that or you wouldn’t be reading these newsletters. You are on your recovery path right now. Congratulate yourself for that. Continue on your path, get support along the way, and you will get there, over and over again.