What to Expect During Recovery
First of all, I am so proud of you. Realising and taking the first step towards your future is unbelievably daunting but you've done it. You know it's going to be difficult, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. I'm going to write about what recovery is like, how to help yourself and how others can help you.
You're going to have to eat a lot more than what you are now. That is incomprehensible I know. I couldn't imagine how I could possibly eat more. Personally, I didn't suddenly start eating loads more like some people do really quickly, and I didn't start incorporating different foods for a while. I did everything at my own pace and did what I felt comfortable with. Yes, I challenged myself but I didn't over do it.
Basically I didn't eat any carbs and I was so nervous to start eating them again because I thought they would automatically make me fat. So each day, for one meal I'd have carbs. I did that for a while until I felt comfortable to eat carbs at every meal. I started eating dessert after dinner. All of these little things added up and I regained my weight.
I saw my body change drastically. My stomach swelled up after every single meal and I felt unnaturally full because I wasn't used to it. I really hated it. I hated how I felt and how I looked. But perseverance is key. Because soon, my body was ready for change and I could eat more and it was normal. I could trust my body to eat and know what was enough or what wasn't enough for me. Once you cross that first bridge, your weight naturally evens out.
But regaining your appetite can be tricky. Yes its wonderful because it means you're on your way but that's scary. You might want to eat less tomorrow or go for a run to compensate but don't. This is normal, suddenly wanting to eat everything in sight is normal. Because you have denied yourself for so long, your body wants to eat everything it can in fear of being starved again. That's why restriction is so unhealthy, because you crave what you can't have.
I was happy that I was recovering, it was a good thing and I was proud. But I was resenting my weight gain because I wanted to be skinny. Throwing away my old clothes and having to buy new ones was really strange. My size 4 skirts wouldn't fit over my thighs now. I spent years trying to lose weight and now you have to reject that desire. I cried when I had to throw them away. But now, I actually am happy with my weight. I don't have a flat stomach, I have fat in certain areas that I wish I didn't sometimes, but I workout to feel good, not to lose weight.
Sorry I didn't mean to rant on about one point, but basically I'd say persevere, do things at your own pace (but do enough of it), embrace the changes and know that the bloat and weight gain won't last forever. You will reach a point of normality.
Recovery is a commitment. You have to give your whole self to it. It's good to distract yourself and do things that you enjoy and make you feel good again. But recovery does take up most of your time, because you have to exercise it in all parts of you life. Just like before, eating less and watching your weight was a part of your life, now it's about making sure you're fighting those notions.
It's kind of like a revelation. You're numb to all of the pain when you're anorexic. Because you are so damn set on being anorexic that you don't really process how it feels. It's only when you start to recover that you realise how awful it actually is. Suddenly you're horrified that you could do this to your body. No one explained to me what I was actually doing to myself. I didn't understand the symptoms. Until the first meeting of my recovery that they actually told me. It all made sense.
Remember that it's ok to have a bad day. You don't have to be 100% committed all of the time. I certainly had days where I wold relapse for a little while, but then you pick yourself up and regain your progress. But try to remind yourself of the power and strength that you hold.
I ditched the scales too. I didn't want to know how much I weighed. I knew I was putting on weight and that was enough for me. Of course I needed to be weighed, but I wouldn't look at the scale and the nurse never made me face it. And I haven't weighed myself because I don't really care.
People will probably watch over you. My parents definitely made a conscious effort to make things easier for me. They made meals that I would feel comfortable with and my grandparents wouldn't push me to eat anything I didn't want to. However, comments like "you've eaten well today" although said with good intentions, made me feel incredibly self conscious and regretful of what I ate. My parents watched me at Christmas, to make sure I didn't under or over do it, which made me feel like I couldn't enjoy myself because I had to think about every decision I was making. Equally, comments like "you haven't eaten a lot" or "you're not looking very healthy today" have the same consequence, it makes you feel self conscious.
Most people with anorexia are embarrassed. We know we're underweight ok. We know that we're not eating enough. We're not choosing to live like this. Believe me I wish I was stuffing myself right now. So don't point out the obvious. Don't get me wrong, encouragement is welcome but please don't make us feel more self conscious than we already do.
I was very nervous to eat around people. I felt physically sick and I could feel myself going red when I knew that people were watching me cook or eat. It gives you an excuse not to eat as well. But actually, no one is really watching you eat! and if they are then fuck them!! you're doing this for you, not them. The people you actually care about will not judge you or care what you're eating. Take a deep breath, have a bite and enjoy your meal.
I lived with guilt for a long time after recovery. I thought pasta, bread and especially chocolate were dirty. I shouldn't be eating them because it was bad for me. I made it worse for myself because I followed people on Instagram that encouraged that mind set. Being healthy is all about exercising and 'clean eating' according to some people but that's not true. Health to me is feeling confident, good and happy with myself and my life both physically, mentally and spiritually. Chocolate makes me feel good and happy so I should eat it. I eat a lot of chocolate when I fancy it and it has never made me fat. Because I trust myself, I balance it all out.
What does health mean to you? think about it and strive for that goal and remind yourself every day. Don't feel guilty for eating!! eating is natural, it is necessary and it is fun. Restrictive eating is sooo horrible. I am strongly against the word diet and it makes me angry and upset when someone uses it. Don't eliminate foods. Don't feel pressured to lose weight. I totally get it, sometimes we feel gross and want to feel 'clean' and strong inside. But I hate the thought of someone feeling like they need to lose weight or they need to be skinnier. Because unless your weight is affecting your health - it isn't necessary. You're hot as hell regardless and if you embrace that then you will realise that, and so will everyone else.
I would also recommend stop following triggers on Instagram or any social media you use. Photos of models would make me feel awful and I'd question whether I should eat. Instead, follow things that are going to make you feel amazing and positive and eager to live!! It's impossible to ignore some things, but you're in control of your feelings.
It also sucks when people say 'I shouldn't have eaten that' or 'I'm being so healthy today, I haven't eaten anything'. We don't want to know about your diet and how good you feel. Sorry. That's selfish but you can be selfish. Don't jeopardize your mental health. You're allowed to leave situations that make you feel guilty for eating or self conscious.
I say it all the time and I’ll say it again, choose people that love you and support you. My friends and family gave me the courage to recover. And now, I am happy and I give myself courage to stay recovered. You need to be around people that bring out good things in you and force you to be the best version of yourself. I live for myself, because I want to be happy. But Max teaches me that every day. So do my grandparents. And my friends. I need that.
But the question is, when does recovery end? when can you call yourself recovered? because although I reached my goal of being weight restored and feeling able to cope. I didn't feel recovered. I still carried hints of anorexia with me. Being recovered implies that you're fine. But you're probably not. Every day you make the decision not to fall into old ways. Every day you thank yourself for having the courage to regain your life. You have to choose health and happiness every day.
I read something on Beat (an eating disorder charity), someone had written in the 'our stories' section about what she called, the box analogy and it really hit home...
"My eating disorder is not a separate box, only concerned with my weight but slots into a bigger compartment. Let's refer to it as my control box. This box continues to press buttons. I can be running alone. I am really tired and I feel like it would be best to stop; in fact I have a blister forming on my toes and my shoulder is really aching. Even though nothing would happen if I stopped to walk, no one else would care. I find myself running on because I can't stop. My 'control box' wins. This is what it felt like for me when my eating disorder had a hold. I knew I wasn't going to gain all the weight back by eating slightly more than I set out to that day, but like not being able to stop running, I couldn't stop restricting. The anxiety about losing control is still there; I feel it often in some form, but I feel it is now somewhat separated, like a whisper instead of a shout. Right now, I have a hold of it"
Recovery could last months or years. Each person is different. But you will reach the point of freedom one day. Until then, strive each day for happiness and forgiveness to yourself. You can do it, and you will.
"Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you" Emmanuelle