“But are you truly, fully recovered?” This is usually the first question people ask me when they hear I’ve suffered from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa for several years. The short answer is: “Certainly!”, the long answer is a bit more nuanced…
This blog has been published before on my previous website. Publication date: August 15, 2017
A strong foundation
When I ended my relationship a few weeks ago, I temporarily ended up in heavy waters. I’ve already seen it coming for a long time and that’s what I told my friends when they asked me if I was alright. I thought I was totally fine. “But how do you feel?”, “Empty but calm.” I said firmly. When I was watching series with my friend for a full day long and all I had was a jar of ice cream and a black coffee in the morning, my friend confronted me with my eating habits. I was honestly shocked. I didn’t see this coming, I thought I ‘just wasn’t so hungry’, but she was right. Something was wrong with my eating habits.
In the days after my friend confronting me with my eating habits, I started to talk about it with my mom and a few good friends. I reached the core of the problem: by not eating enough, I flattened my feelings and emotions. Of course I felt empty! This way I didn’t feel how hurt I actually felt after the break-up, even though I already saw this coming for a very long time.
After my last intensive treatment for anorexia nervosa (about 8 years ago), I got binges in these kind of situations. Binges are quite an obvious signal, however, the non-eating is something that sneaks in. I didn’t see this symptom myself, because it’s been years ago that I had to deal with the non-eating part of an eating disorder/eating problem.
Fortunately, I’ve built a strong foundation with intensive therapies and life experience. I didn’t fall back into the ‘old familiar anorexia’ (which isn’t so familiar to me anymore), but I did realize how thin this line can be. It could have gone completely wrong if I wouldn’t have built this strong fundament through years of life experience. But how does that foundation look like?
A good social network
In my opinion the biggest change is manifesting inside yourself. You can’t expect your social network to ‘fix’ everything for you. If you place the responsibility for your health in the hands of others, you’ll end up in the victim role quite fast. You should be the one that’s responsible for your life. However, in this particular situation, I needed my friend to confront me with my disordered eating habits, because I didn’t see it myself (yet). Besides that, good friends and family help me to get to the core by talking about the things that really matter in life. With my social network of good friends & family I rarely feel lonely, because I know I have a group of very warm and friendly people around me who accept me for the person I am.
I am happy with my body!
Just imagine the exactly same situation, but this time I’m not happy with my body. Secretly I’d like to lose a couple of pounds. In this situation, this little fall back could have been a trigger to develop anorexia again. Feeling confident about my body, doesn’t mean that I think my body is perfect, but I do value my body. Just like I value myself. This is why I don’t value a killer body over everything anymore. I know I have the world so much more to offer than just my appearance. For me eating healthy, working out regularly and sleeping enough hours are habits that come from self respect and self love. I do this because I want to take good care of my body and myself and nothing can change that.
I’m not afraid to face my emotions and feelings
Facing my true feelings and emotions has been a long and intensive process which took me years of therapy and life experience. Even though I fell back into an old habit a few weeks ago, I’d rather face my emotions than risking a fall back by choosing fake safety in non-eating and controlling my nutrition intake.
Through the years I experienced time after time how healing starts once you just let you emotions flow. Emotions come and go, in waves. The fear that I will feel terrible permanently? I don’t have that fear anymore, because nowadays I know this will never happen. In the worst case scenario I feel terrible for a longer period of time, but even this terrible feeling will go away eventually. Emotions help you to process things so you can continue with living your life, here and now.
I simply have too much to live for
This is by far the most important part of my protection against a fall back in anorexia. My life is far from perfect, but I do have a lot to live for. Being surrounded by people who love my is just one part, but I think that having a purpose, vision and goals in life also plays an important role. I created a path and purpose in my life and with a fall back in anorexia I should throw that all away. There is no way that I would let that happen!
There is so much I want to live for!
I think the chance of falling back in anorexia would have been much bigger if I didn’t have purpose in my life. The part of identity exploration is in my opinion one of the most important parts of eating disorder recovery. Who are you as a person? What are your norms and values? And most important, what would you like to get out of life? Where do you see yourself in ten years from now? When you have the answers on these questions, you are less vulnerable for a fall back. At least, this is my experience.
Structure and stay alert, always!
The past year I’ve been exploring intuitive eating, also known is ‘eating by the signals of your body’. I still think this is the best way to eat, in connection with your body. However, in this almost-fall-back-situation, this ‘intuitive eating’ was the excuse I made when I chose not to eat. I didn’t feel hunger anyway, so why should I eat?
This is why I think that every person with an eating disorder history should use intuitive eating within the structure of three meals a day. When I signaled this little fall back, I consciously chose to eat three meals a day again. Since I did this, my hunger signals also came back. Remember that your body can get used to a lot of things, this includes skipping meals and eating too little.
What I learned from this mini fall back? Stay alert. Always.
Even after more than seven years without anorexia, old habits can come back again. Of course this doesn’t happen just like that, probably something triggers theold habits. When you are finding yourself in a difficult situation and you have a history with disordered eating, make sure you take extra good care of yourself and be extra alert for disordered eating signals. Ask friends and family to help you when you need this, but in any case prevent that you’ll fall back again in the hell of anorexia.
And the answer on the question? Yes, I am truly 100% recovered from anorexia nervosa. However, it will always be a weak spot, like a scar. I’ll always have to be alert about it, but I also know that every single person on this planet has a weak spot. That doesn’t make us weak, it makes us human.