When I first started recovering from my eating disorder I had this vision of myself once I reached “full recovery”. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and never had a second thought. In every vision I had I was smiling or laughing with friends and family; I was present.
By the time I hit my one-year anniversary in recovery I felt more free around foods. If someone asked me to go out for food I would never say no, yet there was always a small part of me that panics a little. Despite being able to go out and be present with my friends and family the majority of the time, there are still days that just feel scarier than others and it makes me so frustrated. In addition, there are sometimes when I catch myself slipping back to having more rigidity surrounding food.
Recovery is not a “one-and-done” sort of thing; it is a lifestyle. Once the medical intensive piece of recovery is done, the focus begins to shift more towards dealing with the hard days as they come and regulating reactions to triggers. Like many who have struggled with anorexia, I also struggle with anxiety. Learning how my anxiety triggers my eating disorder has become a priority for me because in the long term, I know my anxiety may never really just disappear.
There are going to be easy days and there will always be bad days to balance them out. Instead of striving for no symptoms, which can be difficult as I sometimes also struggle with perfectionism, my goal is to manage symptoms the best I can to be present while doing the things I enjoy most in life.
A couple nights ago I was hanging out with some of my college friends (who know I’m in recovery for my eating disorder) and one of my friends asked me a question that stuck with me for the rest of the night. She said, “Abby, does anyone ever really have a good relationship with food?” At first I responded with “Sure there are! I definitely know people who have good relationships with food!” Off the top of my head, I thought of my sister and my boyfriend who have very healthy relationships with food. Yet, the more I thought about what her question really meant. It meant that the majority of the people she sees or interacts with, herself included, may suffer from some disordered eating. It also reminded me of how embedded diet culture is in society and just how difficult that makes it for anyone, especially those recovering from an ED, to call themselves “fully recovered”.
Nearly 90% of college aged girls have reported trying to control their weight/appearance by restricting what they eat. Diet culture is so widely accepted that people become blind to the negatives of controlling what they eat to be a certain weight; like losing freedom with food. Contrary to what people believe about losing weight, while I struggled most with my eating disorder, I never felt any better about how my body looked. Instead of becoming more confident due to the weight I lost when I was sick, I remained insecure about my body and had completely destroyed my relationship with food in the process.
Recovering in a world immersed in diet culture, surrounded by triggers, it’s hard to expect my ED thoughts to just disappear forever once I’m “fully recovered”. Triggers are always going to pop-up. Bad days are bound to happen. What’s most important is saying NO to my ED, even on the hard days, even if that means I need more support that day and less on others. Having a community to lean on for support, even when I don’t think I need it, has been one of the most helpful things for me in my recovery.
It’s ok to still need help for something you thought you were healed from. Nobody is expecting perfection; they just want what is going to make you healthy and happy.