Why It’s So Hard to Recover from an Eating Disorder Today, and What We Can Do About It

Author: Alex K.

Why It's So Hard to Recovery from an Eating Disorder Today - Alex KAs a recovered anorexic, I think it’s important for people to know how difficult it is for someone with an eating disorder or a history of an eating disorder to recover with a society like ours. I myself – as I’m sure with many others – had to recover with friends or families dieting around me. I know, personally, that being around friends in college that were so diet- and fitness- obsessed and worried about their weight definitely affected my ability to get back into eating normally.

Our culture puts ideas of “perfect bodies” and “perfect diets” into our minds so much so that even those without an eating disorder fall pray to one. I was in a program for recovery for so long, learning how to eat normally and intuitively, that when exposed to people who restricted food to try and shed a few pounds, I almost forget what I worked so hard towards becoming: recovered and healthy and happy. When someone ordered a salad over a pizza, for example, it made me think it wasn’t okay to eat that pizza because it would make me “gain weight” or stall my weight loss – if these things applied to me; however, these thoughts that filled my mind for so long, influenced solely by the culture around me, were absolutely incorrect. Even after years of recovery, anorexics’ and bulimics’ bodies are affected by food completely differently than a normally-functioning person’s body does. This is because it takes many years for a recovering person’s metabolism to start working properly again and for all of his or her organs and hormones to restabilize to their normal states. With the opportunity, under unfortunate circumstances, I was able to learn  these aforementioned facts about eating and recovery that people who didn’t go through a recovery program did not often know; however, despite my knowledge, it was very hard to believe those facts, especially as I left my program and treatment and came into the real world, where incessant dieting and body obsession were ubiquitous. 

I don’t feel it necessary to go into details, but I’ve had friends and even those who I am not close with think that 1000 calories or less a day is okay and normal. As someone who went from 300 calories a day to over 3000, I was immensely triggered to eat around these people because I knew that 1000 calories or less was an infinitesimal amount and extremely inappropriate for anyone who wished to live a healthy life or improve their diet. It wasn’t easy being able to eat a meal with someone else thinking it was okay to eat barely anything in order to lose weight. I learned the hard way that eating an amount that was little to nothing ruined a metabolism. But, even still, being around someone who ate minimally a day made recovery very difficult for me.

Anyone in my shoes, who either is currently recovering from an eating disorder or who has had a past with one, unfairly struggles in the diet-crazed culture that we are immersed in. Seeing shows such as Revenge Body and hearing people desire to lose weight in order to please or impress others makes it so hard for someone with body dismorphia or an eating disorder to be okay with themselves and to love themselves unconditionally: it makes them falsely believe that they have to change how they look for others to find them attractive or for others to like them or for society to accept them.

Hearing people call themselves fat is another problem that halts one’s recovery. For example, while I was recovering, hearing someone make such a comment about him or her self made me consider them smaller or thinner than me, regardless of whether they truly were. As I was recovering from anorexia, that is how my mind worked: comparison after comparison after comparison. Having to gain weight while someone “smaller”‘than me was trying to lose weight made each meal that much harder. In the middle of trying to learn how to live life to the fullest and not pass up that cake or bottle of wine, I had people all around me thinking that one glass of wine or slice of cake would plummet them to the heaviest weight on earth. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way. But, even after gaining the knowledge that I did through treatment, accepting this obvious fact was difficult. For anyone recovering, accepting this obvious fact is difficult and almost impossible when the majority of society is so uninformed and unaware of what health and happiness truly amount to and mean. 

Another thing that makes it so hard to recover and eat normally is restaurants that put the calories all over the menu. I understand that some people have to be cautious of nutrition, but those people should be able to have the option to ask for the nutritional facts if they want them. Calories should not be plastered all over the menus when someone with an eating disorder has to stare at that menu – the scariest thing ever. I have studied calories for so long that I knew how many of them almost any food contained, and trying to cut that habit was one of the hardest things to do in recovery. Even worse, however, was having those calories surround me everywhere as I was trying to forge them out of my mind.

Through recovery, I learned that life is too short to pass up something you really want. I’ve said this before, but I spent way too much time saying No when I should have been giving myself what I wanted. My mom always taught me that when we’re older, weight and image will still bring us down sometimes, but it won’t matter. The people we marry will love us at our lowest and our heaviest weights and at our best and our worst moments. It’s inevitable, for the people we love spend years around us voluntarily – because they want to. These people grow with us, develop with us, and build lives with us because they love us – not because they think we look a certain way.

As someone currently trying to manage my weight without completely being immersed in an eating disorder, I have begun trying to lose weight for the first time since I was very ill. This time, however, I am doing it in a healthy and balanced way. What has reduced my stress and hardship around this is having the unconditional love and support from my family and friends, who want to see my happy and successful. They have taught me that every body is different and that we shouldn’t compare our diets and workout schedules to each others. There’s no such thing as a “revenge body” because if a someone didn’t love another at their “worst”, they surely won’t love them at their “best” – they won’t deserve to anyways.

I still struggle immensely in accepting the body I’m in; however,  it takes time, and I know that accepting oneself is 100% possible. Regardless of whether I chose to work on my body or not, it won’t matter in the end because the way I look amounts to nothing in comparison to everything else I have going for myself. Worrying so much about something so unimportant as body structure can stall us from living the lives we want to live. We should workout when we want to, relax when we want to, eat everything that we want to, but do all of these things because we genuinely want to. We are the only people in charge of our own lives. No society can dictate how we should live or what we should do. We have to enjoy our bodies and enjoy our lives. At the very least, accepting who we are will make it easier for someone recovering or struggling with an eating disorder to achieve complete recovery. Life is beautiful. Every body is beautiful! 

-Alex K.

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