It doesn’t all go away. It just doesn’t. That’s the truth. If by some wonder you are 100% disordered thought-free, and you love yourself 24/7, well good for you, but you’re probably the only person out there who has that recovery experience.
In the weeks leading up to me sitting down right now to write this, I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to live in the aftermath of an eating disorder. truthfully, I’ve thought about this for years now. I’m sure in the archives of my very poorly set up blog, you’ll find numerous posts about this. It’s been a topic of contemplation for me since before I even took recovery seriously.
Is there something after? Is it possible to fully recover? Is there a chance I no longer have to deal with my mental illness?
Well, I’m starting to feel like I have a grasp on the answer. And that answer is yes and no. Sorry, spoiler alert. It’s not black and white. The good things in life never are. Eating disorders are rigid and strict. They only tell you no… all the time. But with recovery, it’s not like that. Certain things stay, and you just kind of have to accept that parts of your brain will always set off alarms. Certain things go away completely, which is awesome. Other things fluctuate, occasionally intervening on your otherwise healthy life. Those usually try to stir up trouble when you’re going through a particularly stressful time of life.
But I want to go back to the certain things that go away completely, such as the constant beratement of oneself. This one takes time and effort, but there will come a time in your life when you can eat food without your own mind giving yourself the third degree. You’ll be able to eat a cookie without an internal war. You’ll be able to have drinks with friends without justifying the liquid calories. You’ll be able to go out to eat without spending hours researching the menu.
Sure, you might have the off day where you’ve overdone it, resulting in you feeling lousy about your choices. That’s a valid and common mental result for people who have a normal relationship to food. What’s fantastic is that this will no longer plague you, determining the entire mood of your day.
Calorie counting- yes, you read that right, calorie counting can go away too. I’m not just talking about tallying up your intake for the day. I’m talking about knowing how many calories are in certain foods. This is something I never thought I’d rid myself of. I had resigned to accepting the fact that there was a percentage of my brain storage dedicated to knowing a stockpile of various calorie counts. But over the past year or so, I’ve noticed myself forgetting the nutritional info on food.
This, in my opinion, is a result of two different efforts I’ve increased since the start of 2017. I made it a goal of mine to diversify the food I was trying. I wanted to explore my taste palette. As an adult, I knew more items would taste good to me, even if as a child I detested them. It’s part of maturing, and I wanted to give my taste buds a fair shot. This led to me learning that I love fish tacos, brie cheese, hummus, onions, and even sushi. This also led me to learn that I’m not a huge fan of beets, red velvet, or figs. I have no idea the calorie count of any of these foods because I’m now more concerned on whether I like them or not and how they make me feel. Relinquishing my incessant necessity on counting calories has given me so much more freedom to explore without the need to have my phone quick at hand to google an irrelevant number.
Additionally, I stopped measuring food. Fidgeting around with measurements of any sort only leads to me becoming more and more antsy. So now, I do without. I can’t calorie count if I don’t measure. It takes the pressure off of me. It’s been so long now, I actually forget. Just like with the variety of food, it feels like freedom.
I’m pretty sure I’ll always know that a banana is about 100 calories and that a tablespoon of olive oil is 120 calories, blah blah bah, but I couldn’t tell you how many calories are in a handful of chocolate chips. What’s even better? I don’t care.
That’s what life is like after anorexia. You stop caring. You stop caring about calories and your weight. You start caring about other things. Like books and movies, your friends, your family, your partner. You start caring about the tragedies our world is facing. You start to smile without forcing yourself to. You start to develop passions. Your mind starts to wake up. You start to think in new ways. You start to actively participate. You start to notice things around you. You start to notice things about yourself, like how you feel more productive throughout the day when you have an extra half hour in the morning for some quiet time. Or how you really do feel better when you skip that third cup of coffee. Or that you are curious about plants and that you might enjoy creating a little garden on the windowsill in your apartment’s kitchen. Or that you feel the inclination to put words to the story you often find yourself daydreaming about.
You start to become more in tune with your body on every level, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, because you’re actually giving it what it needs.
So, we come back to the question: is it possible to fully recover from an eating disorder?
My answer is yes and no.
No, because it’s always a part of you. It’s a part of your story, multiple chapters probably. It’s part of your history and how you came to be the grand spanking beautiful you that sits there today reading this. It’s a part of how you struggled, persevered, and overcame. It’s a part of the harder days you will no doubt continue to have, but it’s a testament to how you get stronger. It’s okay to have part of you feel tied to your eating disorder, even years down the road.
Yes, because it really does get better. There are parts of your eating disorder that go away and don’t even bother to come back because it knows it could never beat you again. Exercise addictions really can go away. Fear foods really can go away. Rigid schedules really can go away. Impenetrable isolation really can go away. Safe foods really can go away.
Don’t give up hope. I’m over three years into this, so please don’t ever feel like you are “behind.” There are brighter days ahead for you. I promise.
As always, so much love to you out there who are reading, struggling, and choosing to fight.