I’ve been on this journey of recovery from my eating disorder for about three years now. I purposely have taken it slow, going step by step. Once I realized I could stop feeling the way I felt my entire life, I wanted to be sure I did everything in my power to put an end to it for good.
That’s not to say I really ever think I’ll be totally “cured,” for lack of a better word. Everyone’s journey is different, and most people I’ve connected with or read about feel that an eating disorder is something that never quite goes away. My therapist compared my disorder most closely to my anxiety and depression, as an imbalance that manifests itself in a specific way. Indeed, as I’ve let go of my regimented eating and workout habits, I’ve felt OCD coming back in certain ways pretty strongly, so she’s onto something.
However, I’ve always mentally compared it to alcoholism, which is a tactic that’s helped me a lot. Since my dad is an alcoholic and I’ve spent years in Al-Anon, I know a whole lot about it. I’ve watched him go in and out (mostly out) of recovery over and over, and am practically an expert in this category, as one becomes out of necessity. I know for a fact that an alcoholic has to admit they are powerless over alcohol completely, and to succeed in recovery they have to accept they can never have another drink.
For me, this was a natural transfer. At some point early in my recovery, I learned that people with disordered eating are really at risk if they venture into any regimented diet or exercise plan, even the “healthy” ones. (Whether there is any truly “healthy” way to restrict and control what we put into our bodies is a topic for another blog.) Right away I admitted to myself that I was powerless over the need to control my body and that I had to give it up altogether.
This may not work for everyone. It helped me a lot. I backslid a few times- more than a few times- but my goal was to get to a place where I ate and exercised only to feel good. I had to let go of all calorie counting, all instances of forcing myself to work out if I felt it was for the wrong reasons, all restrictions of this food or that, basically let my body eat and do what it wanted for a while to learn about its needs, what made me feel good or bad, etc.
Naturally, I’ve gained weight. I try to stay away from numbers and sizes in this blog because I think comparisons are very dangerous. Every body is different. For me, I’ve gone up several sizes over these three years, and that’s how I know how much I’ve changed. Of course, this is common, and since I’ve stopped starving and purging, it’s naturally going to happen. There is the added element that I denied my body enough food for so long, it’s holding onto fats for dear life.
I’m lucky. Many people struggle with a lot of health problems from their lowest weight to their highest during this period. The only thing my body has presented me with is a sudden spike in my cholesterol, which is also common. I stayed away from certain foods for a long time, and my body clings to them. It will balance out, and I’m treating it naturally and lovingly.
While at first it was hard to accept the weight gain, I’m now surprised to find I’ve gone the other way. I didn’t realize it at all, but I have actually been concerned about what will happen if I start to lose weight again! I’m an actress who is on camera and on display for a living, so this might be surprising, but let me explain.
Recently, someone close to me admitted that they were having negative thoughts about my body. They had all kinds of reasons, one of which was being “worried” that someone else would say something hurtful to or about me. It was a painful conversation, only because I’ve been blessed with so much support on my journey, I forgot that some people close to me were likely to stay sick. I’ve surrounded myself with perfectionists and fearful people. Having to reassess that relationship was incredibly painful.
It also forced me to look at my body for a minute, and ask myself if this conversation could shake me at all. In the end, not even a little bit. I love my body. I’m grateful for every inch of it. My little belly is a wonder. My thighs kiss each other like they never did before. My arms are rounder than ever, but they are strong and able. Sometimes I don’t like how my clothes fit, or my wedding rings feel tight, but that’s about the end of it.
So, I faced my worst fear- that someone who is supposed to love and accept me unconditionally had ugly thoughts about the way I looked- and I survived. I came out stronger than ever! There is nothing left to fear in the world, because if people closest to me can’t set me back, I know for sure comments from any of a million people I barely know can’t possibly matter!
Suddenly, I felt very free. I realized I had been afraid to lose weight, in a way, because I really wanted to be accepted as I was. I wanted to know that I was loved for me, not my size or the way I looked. I had no idea that I was subconsciously holding back in that way, but it came to light because of this ugly encounter, and I couldn’t be more grateful!
At first, I felt resentful. I felt like, great, now if I happen to lose weight, it will be for this person, this insecure person projecting their crap onto me. Now I have to make sure I don’t lose weight! Screw them!
But that’s just as ridiculous as losing weight for someone else. It’s my body. If I gain more, I gain more. If anyone has anything else to say about it, great. It’s good to know who around you is still back in that sick mindset. It’s good to let go of some people who haven’t gotten healthy themselves. It’s good to be so strong in your convictions that you can help those people who want help and move on from those who don’t.
My body has balanced in a cool way, and I’ve really learned what type of active lifestyle I enjoy. I’ve learned what kind of eating habits make me feel happy, which includes a lot of awesome healthy food. It also includes eating when I’m hungry, eating non-healthy food when that makes me happy, and never beating myself up for any of it. It turns out I love food a lot actually. At first, I just wanted to eat all the crap I denied myself before (or tended to binge on when I lost control.) Now, I’ve gotten into cooking in a new way. I’ve been watching cooking shows and trying restaurants with respected chefs. I’m learning about flavors and enjoying what I eat.
If this happy, balanced me starts to lose weight, there is nothing to be afraid of. My body is mine, not for anyone else. People can worry, judge, and project all they want. Not one bit of my journey has anything to do with them. My body and I have entered into a lifelong love affair. It’s been so good to me for so long, and it’s forgiven me for how mean I was to it, how ungrateful I was.
I’m going to spend the rest of my life loving it with all my might because that’s what it deserves. I’m going to cherish it, take care of it, and treat it right.
Sometimes our worst nightmare coming true is the thing that sets us free. I spent years thinking that if my body wasn’t “perfect” then the people around me wouldn’t really love me or accept me. That they wouldn’t think I was good enough. That they would have ugly thoughts behind my back.
Guess what? That happened. And I’m more than ok, I’m stronger than ever. Buying someone’s acceptance with self-hate? That seems so ridiculous now that I can’t even fathom it.
Don’t be afraid of your worst fear coming true when it comes to your eating disorder- or any other- recovery. Let it happen. Vibrate on your healthy frequency so strongly that those who won’t meet you there become obvious. Don’t be afraid to let go. Maybe you will help raise them up to where you are, maybe they will float away.
At the end of the day, the love you have for yourself is more powerful than any fake “love” you could buy with your fake “perfection” anyway. This I can promise you. This I know for sure.