Recovery. Those eight letters encapsulate an array of emotions that are felt, then digested, and then left behind as people attempt to move forward with their lives. Currently, there are over 1.25 million people in the UK who suffer from some form of an eating disorder — some are in recovery, others are not.
What is recovery, really?
For many, the idea of recovering from an eating disorder comes in a nice, neat package of improved eating habits and healthy weight gain. And although eating disorders heavily revolve around food — whether that be the restriction or the obsessive counting of it — the causes of eating disorders are much more complex and, because of that, it should be no surprise that recovery is a complex issue in its own right as well.
Eating disorders can be used as a way for people to exhibit control over their otherwise hectic lives and mask feelings of inadequacy, among other things. And so, for somebody to properly recover from an eating disorder, it is important that they engage meaningfully with the underlying issues that pushed them towards disordered eating habits in the first place.
To put it simply, it’s not as simple as just improving your eating habits and gaining back the weight that you lost. The real difficulty is tackling that damaging mindset and self-perception that you once held — the thoughts don’t suddenly just stop. It takes time and a lot of effort that often goes unrecognised but the payoff is worth it, because when you do start to overcome and detach yourself from those thoughts, recovery stops being this far away world and starts to become your reality.
Relapse, recovery, and everything in between
Recovery isn’t linear. The truth is that, despite how much you want to, you don’t just get better and better. Recovery is punctuated by the presence of bad days, bad weeks — sometimes even bad months — where all you can do is remind yourself that despite the comfort those old habits may have brought, you deserve better, and you are not a bad person for wanting to be healthier and genuinely happy in your own body.
Often, people view relapses as a sign that they have ‘failed’ in their recovery, but as with many things to do with eating disorders, the truth is more nuanced than that. The road to recovery is one that is fraught with bumps and roadblocks that are often not expected – but relapsing does not have to be the end of the road.
Although seemingly counterintuitive, embracing the hardships associated with recovery can help create moments where the most progress is made. Recovery can sometimes become a passive event, where you are going through the motions just to be able to tick the boxes and stop your loved ones worrying; if left unchecked, this can lead to a full-blown collapse back into disordered habits.
By working through relapses, you are consistently making the conscious decision to choose recovery and silence the so-called ‘Ana’ voice. With the guidance of professionals and the support of those around you, relapses and their aftermath can show you how strong you are, how large the steps forward you have taken are and how much you risk throwing away.
Relapsing doesn’t mean ‘game over’ – because recovery is not something that has to be done all in one go. You are allowed to fall sometimes, provided that, when it is time, you will stand up, dust off your knees and take that next step forward.
Recovery is not linear. It is hard and difficult. And sometimes, all you have the energy to do is take small, little steps and that’s okay. Because baby steps are still steps – and they will still take you towards your destination.
Where do I go from here?
Choosing recovery can seem daunting and overwhelming, especially when you first make that choice. So, below are some tips for how you can cope with your eating disorder as you move through different stages of recovery.
- Speak to a professional: While it is possible to recover from an eating disorder on your own, getting professional help can make the journey less stressful. Experts can help you talk and work through your feelings, and organisations such as Beat have helplines that you can contact which allow you to speak to trained support workers about any struggles or worries you may have.
- Check your internal dialogue: Being mindful of the language you use when talking about your body and avoiding framing your interactions with food in a negative light plays an important role in recovery, so be kind to yourself – particularly during the ‘sticky’ parts of recovery.
- Take the time to curate your social media experience and feed: Social media can feel like a minefield at the best of times, with diet culture and #fitspo content shoved in our face from every angle. Take the time to create a social media feed that allows you avoid potential triggers and encourages your recovery, rather than jeopardises it.
- Self-care: Focus on activities that make you feel happy and shift the focus away from your appearance and body. An essential part of recovery is re-learning how to love yourself and self-care activities are a perfect gateway to this. It could be you going for a walk, or reading a book or even soaking in a bath after a long day might be a good place to start – but it’s all about finding what works for you!’
Adult helpline: 0808 801 0677
Youthline: 0808 801 0711
Studentline: 0808 801 0811