What is Recovery From an Eating Disorder?

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One of my favorite parts of moving to Boise has been spending more time with my nephews. 

Ben’s five, and today is Henry’s seventh birthday. I love watching them interact with each other and noting how different their personalities are. I also love watching how free they are with food and their bodies. They are in constant motion—swimming, dancing around, tackling each other—and they usually will know exactly what they want to eat. (Henry insisted on a chocolate chip cookie birthday cake this year—with extra chocolate chips.) If they don’t like something, they leave it on their plate because food is just food

When I was a kid, I remember living the same way. I didn’t wake up thinking about what I could or could not eat that day.  Some days I ate too much and got a stomachache. (Once, while I was watching the 1994 Olympic bobsledding event I mindlessly ate an entire box of Captain Crunch cereal. I have not been able to touch Captain Crunch since—bless.) And at other times, food just didn’t interest me. There were no rules I had to follow when it came to my body. Exercise meant chasing the boys in my neighborhood and was a means to express myself through activities like ballet and then skating.

To me, living like I did when I was a kid is recovery.

Recovery is viewing food the way you did when were seven and having the relationship you had with you body before you ever realized there could be anything “wrong” with it. It’s going to bed with a clear mind, never thinking about what you did or didn’t eat that day. It’s waking up in the morning excited for the day ahead, rather than dreading the number on the scale. It’s learning to cook and giving yourself the foods you truly enjoy. And, recovery is that moment during the day when you catch yourself appreciating your body for lifting a 100lb box of furniture or finishing a 5-mile run. These are the moments when you have a true respect for your body, without any thoughts of how that run could help shrink the size of your thighs or waistline.

Recovery is also driving to the grocery store for a box of donuts after you’ve had a bad day, because in that moment of frustration and stress you just can’t think of anything else that could make you feel better. It’s when your “skinny” jeans no longer fit, and so you let yourself have a good cry about it. It’s asking the doctor to weigh you facing backwards because you know if you see the number it will be stuck in your head for days, and you just don’t want to deal with that right now. It’s looking out for your best interest.

Recovery is a process. It is messy at times, and there are days when you feel like you’re taking two steps forward and then a giant leap backwards.  I wish I could write this post as a “5 Steps to Recovery," and any time someone sends me a message telling me they’re in the midst of an eating disorder struggle, I want so badly to be able to give them instructions providing a clear path to recovery. But there is no clear path—and that is the hardest but best and best part about this. When you develop an eating disorder, you’re usually someone who has perfectionistic traits. The idea of something being a process, of “screwing up” at times and not being able to perfectly following a Recovery Plan,  terrifies you. But that messiness—and learning to embrace it—is perhaps the biggest gift of recovery. Life is messy, and learning to thrive in the midst of its complexity is true bliss.

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There are so many gifts that you find along the path to recovery, and the scenery is different for every person. I don’t think you ever fully “arrive” at your destination, but I also don’t think that matters. What matters are those moments when you realize that you’re viewing your body and food like you did as a kid, moments where you truly understand that food holds no emotional weight and your body is actually here to help you. Recovery is making a cookie cake for your nephew and thoroughly enjoying your slice.

Recovery can be messy, and at times complicated, but I can’t stress this enough:

It is so worth it.