The Four Truths of Eating Disorder Recovery for Both Those Who Understand and Those Who May Not Understand Eating Disorders

Author: Val Berenshtein

Recovery from anorexia and restrictive eating disorders…

has been confusing and distressing me immensely lately. Some days, I feel like the process is really working out: my extreme hunger is dying down, I am able to allocate more of my attention to activities outside of food, and I have an increased desire to talk with people. These wonderful days give me the ability to envision a future where food does not trigger a second thought, a bout of anxiety or a desire to isolate.

Then, there are days, much like today, where I feel like the process is stifling, like I am standing in one place and possibly, even, moving backwards.

I will eat to my mental and emotional hunger – perhaps the most important thing one can do in recovery –, and this intake most often will lead to significant stomach pain, tenderness and soreness, as it will be far greater than my physical body will demand.

Although I believe this is the only way that my brain and body will trust that there is no famine or restrictive underpinnings in the environment – in myself –, I am often left in such physical pain and discomfort that all I want to do is isolate. Isolation feels far more comfortable in the moment than facing people while having striking pain, bloat, soreness and nausea.

The saddest component of seemingly-backwards days…

like these is that I feel very alone, unsupported and poorly understood.

How do I explain that I can barely straighten my back because I consumed a much-needed 6,000 – and often more – calories in one sitting? 

How do I explain that I have to aim to eat 10,000+ calories a day because it is the only way that my brain and body will start trusting me again?

How do I explain that I have to respond to my mental and emotional hunger, my “boredom” hunger, and every passing thought about food by eating?

There are several assets…

of anorexia recovery, restrictive eating recovery and any eating disorder recovery in general that I wish the general public would be better educated on.  

First,

no matter how much physical pain, discomfort, soreness and tenderness anyone in a restrictive eating disorder recovery may be in, he or she must eat at every little ping of hunger. It does not matter if that hunger is mental, emotional, physical, or out of boredom because his or her hunger cues are completely unbalanced and will take a very long time to re-stabilize.  

Second,

there is no such thing as “too much” food in recovery. Any amount and variety of food one chooses to consume is totally OK, certainly valid and definitely needed. Frankly, the more food eaten, the better it is for the individual, as that food has the potential of speeding-up the mental-recovery process.

Third,

the way a person looks physically is NO indication of how recovered he or she is. For example, my body may look physically recovered, but I am nowhere near a mental recovery, which is the only indication that I am wholly recovered. My body may need to physically change far more than I may be comfortable with to allow my brain to completely recover. Letting go of the control around the way the body will look once complete recovery is reached is the most difficult aspect and requires the most support from family, friends and society.

Fourth,

the anxiety, distress and discomfort that comes along with recovery is present almost always – before, during and after a meal. For example, just because you may see me eating – and eating a lot – that does not mean I am doing OK. Perhaps, on the inside, I am crying. Perhaps, on the inside, I am immensely struggling. Perhaps, on the inside, I am confused and distressed and worried and frightened. I am recovering and may be struggling more than you may ever see.  

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try…

keeping these truths in mind feels impossible to do. Sometimes, remembering the truths is impeded by the physical changes and pain my body is going through. I cannot begin to say how much I wish this was not the case – how much I wish I could just be OK.

Although not everyone experiences such physical pain or discomfort, everyone experiences pain in recovery; therefore, what all of us going through this process can use a bit more of is understanding, support, care and love.

If you are someone who is currently in the life of someone recovering from an eating disorder, I encourage you to keep these fourth truths of recovery in mind when around the recoveree. I hope they shed a bit more light on the immense strength and effort – and sometimes pain, as in my case – it takes to achieve that beautiful, end result of a complete recovery.

-Val Berenshtein

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