Recovery from Eating Disorders: Struggles and Setbacks

Author: Val Berenshtein

Recovering from a mental illness…

is one of the hardest things anyone can undergo. It is a scary, confusing, debilitating process that pushes an individual to blindly step into the unknown and place his or her trust in an intangible idea: overcoming the darkness and finding the light.

I can attest first hand to the difficulty of recovery. As someone undergoing her second recovery from anorexia nervosa and restrictive eating, I have been both frightened and refreshed by my decision to face my illness.

For five years of my life, I have been ill with these disorders – these serious, life-threatening mental illnesses. I have been chained up by a part of my brain that at first was foreign but that then became all too familiar as an illness and, because of that, have lost sight of what life and happiness really are.

Through high school, I was unable to discover what my passions are. I was unable to make close friends. Listening to my college peers talk about their friends from back home, I cannot help but feel a burning hole in my heart, as, for me, close friendships never entirely formulated.

It may seem that given these circumstance…

I made the best decision to undergo recovery. Yet, the truth is that I am more scared than reassured, more hopeless than encouraged. It has been almost three months since I began my self-recovery, and although, throughout this time, I have felt proud of the strength that I found within me, the past couple of weeks have brought unbearable struggle and confusion into my life.

The predominance of my struggle resides in uncontrollable eating. On the one hand, this is completely normal. For someone who is recovering from a caloric deficit – irregardless of how big the caloric deficit is -, eating over 10,000 calories every day for an extended amount of time, something that Tabitha Farrar, an exceptional eating disorder recovery coach, refers to as “feast eating“, is necessary and normal: the body and brain are playing catch-up in terms of lost energy and are relearning the availability of food in the environment.

This period of extreme eating is very individualized and lasts longer for some individuals, while shorter for others. It may appear in the beginning of recovery, disappear for a time, and then reappear again. It may only appear towards the end of recovery. It may not appear at all – though this seldom occurs.

For the first two months of my self-recovery…

I ate far more than 10,000 calories per day. Through this time, I was in an extreme amount of physical pain, discomfort and soreness. I was ashamed and embarrassed, yet aware that it was what my body and brain needed, as both were giving my signals to eat: physical hunger, mental hunger, emotional hunger and even boredom hunger were all indicators to eat.

Although I was doing well – seeing as my anxiety was decreasing and my eating was stabilizing -, I made the mistake of letting go of the 10,000+ – calories – per – day mentality about one month ago.  Since then, my recovery had begun to go downhill. 

I became more picky with my food options. I began to slightly restrict what I wanted to eat for what everyone else around me was eating. I began to exercise a decent, yet dangerous, amount.

A big part of me was scared of my cravings. A big part of me was scared of becoming fat. I stopped trusting my brain and body and stopped being comfortable with sitting with the physical fullness and discomfort, both of which came when I fully listened to what my brain and body wanted.

I am now home from college…

for my Spring Break and am facing extreme eating out of what-I-perceive-to-be boredom, sadness and depression – the latter of which I am struggling with in addition to the eating disorders. No part of me seems to be hungry, yet I am eating – and eating a lot – perhaps because of my depression, perhaps because of the cold weather, perhaps because of the negative associations I have of being within my house and around my family.

I do not know how pertinent boredom eating is to my recovery, especially when I am eating close to 10,000+ calories again. Tabitha Farrar writes that it is completely normal and that this type of eating does indeed count as hunger. I am struggling to accept this, yet I know that I must.

But, what is harder for me even more than struggling through this is sharing this struggle with the people in my life. I do not want their idea of me to change because of this aspect of my recovery. I also do not want them to question this struggle but rather be there for me to support, love and remind me that no matter where my recovery takes me, no matter what I will physically look like in the end, that I will be loved and I will be radiantly beautiful from the inside, out.

These are the struggles I am currently facing…

through my recovery from mental illness. Yet, anybody who is recovering from any sort of mental illness has struggles just as relevant, just as serious and hurtful as my own.

Words are often easier said than done, but I encourage anybody struggling through hardship right now – whether mental health related or not – to remember that this will not last forever. Although bumps in the road will exist, with some being bigger and longer than others, they are not perpetual. In fact, flat ground may be closer than one may imagine. 

I offer my praise and appreciation for those people who constantly push through struggle despite failure, pain and confusion. But, I also fully acknowledge and support those that cannot do this yet. To this latter group, I offer my shoulder to lean on and my ears to listen to because, from my experiences, though they may be different, I know the difficulty of recovery.

Recovery from mental illness is not easy. But, there is an end. Light always emerges from the darkness.

-Val Berenshtein


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