The Real Struggle on Being ‘In Recovery’ and Dealing with Daily Life After an Eating Disorder

by Rachel Clark
Eating Disorder Recovery

Beat (The UK Eating Disorder Charity) states that over 725,000 people in the UK currently suffer with some form of eating disorder.  Figures state that an eating disorder on average can last from 5-8 years, however it can of course continue for many years depending on the severity.

What I really want to focus on here is recovery.

We are reassured that this is possible, with statistics showing that on average around 45% of sufferers will make a ‘full recovery’, with the other 55% making up the categories of ‘considerable improvement’ as well as ‘remaining chronically ill’.

To address an eating disorder, meet it head on and want to overcome it is no mean feat.  The point of turn-around where you want to defeat the monster in your mind, and not be on the same side is significant, from then recovery can take place.  But what about afterwards?  Post-recovery?  Maybe years later?  When the monster may start to rear its’ ugly head from the cave again and start edging out inch by inch.  For me this is where the real struggle starts that is not talked so much about.

Maybe it’s not about ‘full recovery’, but more ‘full management’.  Perhaps the aim is not to slay the monster, but to keep it locked in its’ cage forevermore but still acknowledging its’ existence, and that’s fine; it won’t harm you again.

The words ‘full recovery’ to me, make it sound like you will never look another ‘nutritional information’ label in the face again.  That you’ll never calorie count, or feel a certain way when you stand on the scales.  This isn’t the case!  We have to accept that being ‘in recovery’ may be a lot longer than what we originally thought, and it doesn’t mean we haven’t recovered, or that we have failed, infact that this is perfectly normal and acceptable.

In the same way as you wouldn’t take an alcoholic who’s been sober for years to the nearest Wetherspoons and line up some shots for them, or take a recovering sex addict to a strip club then on to the nearest brothel, we have to manage our recovery the best and realest way possible.  So here are some of the things that I, as someone who has ‘fully recovered’ still battle with on a regular basis.

Someone saying ‘you look well’ or ‘you’ve put on weight’

This is definitely a main trigger for me.  To someone who hasn’t been affected by an eating disorder, the translation of ‘you look well’ should be ‘you look good’, ‘you look nice’ or ‘you look healthy’.  No such luck for Recoverers; ‘you look well’ can be automatically translated into ‘you look fat’.  Great!  Especially when your day could have been going swimmingly, now you have to face the fat.  I mean, facts.  I can obsess over the sentence for hours, which was only ever meant as a fleeting throwaway comment.  I have ruined many a day this way!  What helps me now, is that I take a step back and I write this list:

  1. How did it make me feel?
  2. Crap, fat, disgusting, undesirable, failure, I’ve let myself go.
  3. Did the person mean to make you feel this way?
  4. Not at all.
  5. Will they possibly do it again?
  6. Yes, maybe they will.
  7. Can I change what has been said?
  8. No.
  9. Am I wasting my time obsessing over it?

Then I move on, distract myself, and do the same thing if it happens again.

Being tagged in a ‘bad’ picture

It’s never a good feeling when you’ve had a great night out and you wake up to ‘Marie and Laura have tagged you in 25 photos’ on social media.  Unless it’s a picture that has been through your rigorous method of extreme cropping (of various body parts ie arm fat, waist bulge) and had some intense filtering added then you’re probably not going to be happy.  I am a culprit of this; I am a self-confessed arm-fat cropper.  But what I try to focus on now is how much fun was had, spent with good company.  That’s what you’re supposed to remember, not the photos that came out of it.  Then I move on.  Maybe taking a quick selfie first, from above…with some filters.

Comparing yourself

Yes, we all do it.  This can be anyone from a stranger on the street to famous celebrities in the media.   I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s looked back at pictures of partners and their exes and thought ‘Oh great, she’s skinnier than me’.  Almost like it’s a competition and they have won all because of the weight of their bones and fat on their body (because that’s what really keeps relationships together!)  You may even think about intimacy and what thoughts your partner has towards your body that maybe they’ve never told you.  It’s irrelevant of course.  Exes are just that for a reason and we shouldn’t focus on the past.  What I try and do is always remember that the only person you should be comparing yourself to is yourself.  Am I a better me than I was yesterday?  Yes.  And tomorrow I will be even better.

The trauma of shopping

I used to love going shopping as a kid.  Up to town on a Saturday with Mam rummaging through the rails at Tammy Girl (aah memories!) trying on all the latest horrific fashions, but feeling so terribly trendy (pedal pushers anyone?)

I still love clothes; combining an outfit, the smell of new clothes, that ‘never been worn yet’ feeling.  But now I feel there’s a lot of high street shops that have a lot to answer for.  Standard sizing seems to have gone out the window and we are faced with being a size ‘small’ in one shop and being a ‘size 16’ in another (true story).  It’s bizarre, and confusing.  And don’t even get me started on the use of the word ‘Plus’ in sizing.  That’s a whole other matter!

Whilst still in the depth of Anorexia I would never ever considering buying anything that was above double figures (I was roughly a size 6/8) which when I think back to now is just ridiculous.  There was so much focus on a number.  Like the higher it was the worse I should feel.  Thankfully this rule no longer applies, as I would be in permanent Birthday Suit attire.

Now, I’m actually a lot more relaxed on this, because I know how varied and obscure different shops and sizing can be.  What helps is to stick to what you know (Thank God for Asos) and still enjoy the experience, whether it’s out in town with friends, or online (because who doesn’t like shopping in their pyjamas with no makeup on).  Remember, your worth is not measured by that number on the scale or the label sewn into your clothes!

Being a real foodie and enjoying it

Most people that suffer with eating disorders, in my experience, are total foodies.  Which is kind of inevitable if you are constantly obsessing about how much fat, protein and carbs go into absolutely everything.  But for me it was always more than that, I have always loved food, and from an early age I had a real appreciation of ‘good’ food.  Baring this in mind, the real temptation whilst in recovery is to overindulge; and with that I saw a real yo-yo affect to my body over short time periods.  It was easy to lose the weight, but also very easy to put back on.

What really has helped is throwing myself into the world of cooking, which I used to stay away from as an Anorexic.  I deemed it ‘evil’ and even though I loved the taste I hated what it did and how it made me feel, so I practised avoidance.  I actually had no idea how involving myself more in making the food would help.  Making recipes from scratch, being creative, and being able to see exactly what ingredients go into a recipe (and this is key) which means you’re giving yourself back that control that you feel you so need.  Not to mention some very happy people you’re feeding in the forms of friends and family.

In my recovery I do not rule out anything that I don’t want myself to eat.  Everything is fine in moderation, and to deprive yourself just makes you want it more.  Portion control is key, as well as making sure that any restaurant trips (which used to be terrifying) are viewed as more of a social event.  Your group hasn’t gathered there just to watch you eat.  I promise!  Everyone else is there to enjoy it and so should you (plus there will be wine!)

The impending doom of ageing and bodily changes

Here we are worrying about the future again, but it all stems back to the need for control, so this one for me is top level scary.  This can be anything from being bloated, time of the month, medication/medical treatment affects, pregnancy (OH please God NO), menopause (please stop!)….You know, all that good stuff (men, you really do get the better deal here, end of argument).

This one, is by far the worst struggle for me.  The thought battle is unreal.  The real fear of not being in control of what your body is doing and not being able to do anything about it absolutely freaks me out.

When I look at it from the outside, I know I’m being neurotic, selfish even.  There are people in the world who actually have real problems, and here’s me worrying about getting older and a little bit fat and saggy.

This one, I know I still need to work on.  I don’t want to be ruled by the fear, and I don’t want it to stop me living my life to the upmost.

Most people who suffer with eating disorders are their own worst critic (to PHD level) and are true perfectionists.  Being a perfectionist is great, but when it becomes so much so, that the thought of taking a risk and trying something new is avoided in case it results in failure…it’s a worry.  I know this feeling only too well, and I’m sure I’m not alone in constantly beating myself up mentally and emotionally over anything and everything.

So, even those of us who have reached ‘full recovery’ still fight ongoing battles.

You’re not fixed, but you’re not broken.

You’re managing, but sometimes it’s OK to feel like you’re not.

Just be honest with yourself; acknowledge your monster, but don’t feed or entertain it.  That’s when you have real control.

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