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Common Feelings in Eating Disorder Recovery
You are not the only one!
1) Feeling like you will gain weight forever
When I was deep in my eating disorder, the word ‘‘recovery’’, for me, was just the word ‘‘weight gain’’ in disguise. And at the time, weight gain was my biggest fear, my worst nightmare. I went to extreme lengths to avoid gaining weight, from starving myself to taking laxatives and vomiting (which is ironic because those behaviors were the ones responsible for my weight gain, nothing else). Recovering meant that I would have to stop dieting and let myself gain weight. And *gasp* HOW COULD I?
This was the main thought that kept me from recovering for a long time. Then, when I was on my journey to recovery, every day I had to regulate this thought and feeling that I was going to keep gaining weight, forever, as it would never stop.
On the other hand, I wanted to get rid of my eating disorder and set myself free from the misery it had brought on. But with every step I took towards recovery, I had to actively remind myself that this feeling was just temporary. I also used some of the skills I had learned as a therapist on myself. A lot of Socratic questioning took place:
What are you afraid of? —> Gaining weight.
What would happen if you actually did gain weight? —> I would be depressed.
Why? —> Because I would be fat.
Why ‘‘being fat’’ is such a bad thing to be? What does ‘‘being fat’’ say about you? —> It would mean that I am ugly and unlovable.
Aha! Then I would work (with my therapist) on the core belief that I would be ugly and unlovable if I weighed more.
Now from the other side, I can confirm that you indeed do not gain weight forever. I did have some fluctuations in my weight but in the end, my weight stabilized itself at a point where my body felt comfortable and safe.
2) Constant hunger
I simply felt ravenous. Whatever I ate, I felt like my body was reacting as if I was still being restrictive with my diet. Besides, I knew that all the restrictive diets I pushed myself through had to catch up with me at some point.
What worried me about being so hungry was that I felt like I was doing recovery wrong. They always say that if you tune into your body and feed it according to its needs, you will instantly feel nourished and you will no longer binge eat. That is just not true. After many years of going back and forth between the two extremes - dieting and binge eating - my body did not trust me anymore, naturally. Well if someone treated you so different every time, you wouldn’t trust them until they treat you well consistently for a while right? Thus, even when I started eating regularly without restricting myself, my body was still trying to hold onto every bit of food because it assumed it would not be long until I start starving it again. After all the turbulence that I put my body through, as weird as it sounds, it needed time to adapt to being nourished.
3) Feeling out of control
When I first began restricting myself and excessively exercising to lose weight, I was not at the best point of my life. I was a teenager with raging hormones, who was struggling with depression and going through a lot. I had no control over my life, which made me live in an anxious state constantly. My disordered eating behaviors gave me something to focus on, something I can work on if I tried hard enough. That meant I could feel in control by controlling what was going in my body. While they were all destructive behaviors, which made me feel worse about myself, they gave me a sense of security and safety. And I clung to that for a long time.
Recovery meant that I needed to let go of those behaviors, along with the sense of safety that came with them.
If I am being honest, the first couple of months it was only chaos. My eating disorder was telling me that I was eating too much, too sugary, too fatty, too this and that. I felt like I was completely out of control. I had to go against all the rules I had set for myself and let go of all those disordered thoughts that I filled myself with. Every day I had to use the every ounce of my willpower I had to fight those thoughts.
4) Confused and stressed
For a while, I thought I was not recovering but just faking it. I felt like I did not know what I was doing. I was hungry all the time and I still binged for a while, contrary to my expectations. On top of that, I did not feel safe at all, because I was trying to let go of all the maladaptive coping mechanisms I had developed for myself. All this was very confusing and left me feeling anxious. The problem is that this put me in some kind of a negative feedback loop where confusion and stress left me vulnerable to binge eating and binge eating stressed me out even more.
The truth is, it is completely fine if you feel like you do not know what is happening and this is stressing you out. You did not develop an eating disorder overnight nor in a week, so naturally, it will take some time until you feel more at ease with the new relationship you are building with your body and food.
5) Urge to fall back into old habits
Some days were easier than others. Some not.
It was relatively easy to manage my disordered tendencies when I was in a good mood. Socializing, spending time with people, laughing all day, enjoying myself made it easier to resist the urge to restrict, binge eat or purge (that is why I believe social support is extremely important in recovery).
On the days I felt lonely and upset however, it was not so ‘‘effortless’’ to fight with my urges. With every little inconvenience, I felt the need to regulate my emotions the way I had regulated them until now: binge eat until the fullness becomes the only thing you can think about, then purge because of how guilty you feel. Let me tell you, the urge to fall back into my old habits was strong. Very strong. There were always two sides fighting: ‘‘You know that it cannot go on like this, let’s recover’’ versus ‘‘What is the point of recovering? this is who you are from now on’’. And I wanted to let go of that side of me that wanted to recover.
Right now, I am so glad that I did not let go.
If you are experiencing these feelings, I am here to tell you that they are all part of the process. If you can push through it, I promise you that recovery will be worth it. Right now you may feel like this is who you are and that you will forever be this way. It is the same feeling as having a terrible cold that feels like it will last forever: You may not even remember how good it felt to easily breathe through your nose and how painless it was to have a throat that is not so sore all the time. But this is not you, it is something you struggle with. There is a cure for it but it may take some time for the medicine to start working. So you have to take your medicine and just push through all those uncomfortable feelings until you feel better. And in the end, nothing will feel good as healthy feels (Yes, Kate Moss, this one is for you).