Stories of Recovery
MY EATING DISORDER STORY
I started my first diet almost a decade ago after seeing a popular singer lose a lot of weight by following the same diet. The good news was that the diet initially worked, the bad news was that I ended up with two problems — trying to maintain the weight loss as well as dealing with the mental obsession and hell that the diet brought me.
I became obsessed with losing weight, eating close to nothing and isolating myself completely from the world. I did not want anyone to see what was happening and most importantly I didn’t want anyone to interfere with this new relationship that I had developed with the eating disorder.
The years that followed saw me lose the ability to stay on the various strict diets and weight loss techniques that I was attempting. I was also hospitalized several times, lost jobs, a fiancé and friendships. The eating disorder consumed my life and my mind became my enemy.
The diets and restrictive eating plans stopped working and I started to binge more frequently, gaining weight and feeling completely out of control.
I obsessively exercised, purged on a daily basis and kept trying every new fad diet to help me keep the weight down. I also lost a great job that I had always dreamed of because I spent my whole time binge eating and then purging for hours in the bathroom. I could not concentrate on anything other then my next binge or purge.
I also lost my fiancé as I was unable to maintain a relationship while I was having an affair with my eating disorder that consumed my whole being.
I became very isolated, would not leave the house, answer the phone and was terrified and ashamed to face the world.
When did you decide to change?
I lost many things as the result of this disease, but nothing was able to shock me into recovery. I slowly began to realize that perhaps I would never be able to control my food intake and weight. All of my attempts had become futile and the periods of “successful” dieting or restricting were becoming few and far between.
During that time I shifted my focus slowly towards recovery. I started to research the various recovery methods and I tried quite a number of them. Specifically, I entered eating disorder clinics, saw therapists, counselors, nutritionists, support from 12 step groups and fellow eating disorder sufferers.
I cannot say which one made the difference, but each different recovery method helped me gain more insight into myself, the impact of the illness and broke the denial that I had around the eating disorder.
Each one of the therapies gave me a new tool, whether it was meditation, journaling, talking to others about my real feelings, getting out of isolation and connecting with the world.
I learned to get in touch with a higher power, to creatively visualize what recovery looked like for me and to gain confidence that I had a place in the world and that I could express myself, accept myself and let go of the shame that had me locked away as a hostage to the eating disorder.
What helped you to recover?
I am grateful to each and every recovery path that I was introduced to. 12 step programs taught me how to open up, share and give back to the world through service. Prayer and meditation taught me to connect to a greater power and to visualize my ideal recovery. Nutritionist taught me about what a healthy eating plan looked like.
Most of all, I learned slowly that I had to let go of my old thinking. I could no longer diet, restrict calories, exercise compulsively and spend my time reading and researching diets and weight loss techniques.
The same gusto that I used to fuel the eating disorder I now channeled into recovery. I was determined and persistent. I knew that I had to recover no matter what. It became a life or death issue as I had no ability to live my life while possessed by this disorder. I researched every possible recovery method and became particularly interested with being a “normal” or “intuitive” eater. This was my personal goal and ideal. So I embarked on my journey, which meant:
• giving up diets
• eating out with people
• getting rid of the scales
• eating food that I liked
• Not reading online dieting or weight loss sites
• Not counting calories
• Getting rid of laxatives, food scales
• Removing myself from people who were diet obsessed
This was the process that eventually got me to the recovery that I am at now. The process was gradual and terrifying. I used 12 step support groups to connect with other people and discuss the real emotional issues that were going on for me. I journaled every day, meditated and focused on my intention of becoming a “normal” eater in my visualizations.
What were the recovery challenges?
The greatest challenge was learning to trust my body again. After so many years of dieting, following food plans and calorie counting, I didn’t know how to eat! I could not trust myself to make the “right” decision and I could not accept that there was no right or wrong decision.
I used my recovery friends to check in about what I was eating, to ask questions about what “normal” people ate and I tried to eat out with people as much as possible. Being able to share meal times was new and frightening, but it lessened my anxiety and helped to take the focus off food and onto relationships.
I believe that isolation is where this disease manifests itself and what helped me the most was being completely open and honest with my support network, shedding light on the disease which lessened the shame and guilt. The more light that I shed on the eating disorder, the less power it had over me.
What is it like today?
Today I consider myself “recovered”, by my own definition, which to me means that I eat what I want, when I want and once the meal is done I don’t think about it again. I think my body is perfect for me; I only eat when I feel hungry and no food is off limits. The only time that I think about eating disorders is when I am trying to help someone else. When I was in the midst of the illness I always wanted to hear ONE story of someone who had recovered and was a normal eater. I just wanted to know that it is possible. My hope is that by sharing this story I can reach someone and let them know that it IS possible to recover from an eating disorder and live with freedom.
What advice would you give to someone struggling to recover from an eating disorder? Recovery is an individual path and what works for one person may not work for the next. Find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try different things, my recovery didn’t happen overnight and in hindsight I can see that recovery started for me long before I actually got to the “other side”. Each challenge teaches us something new and strengthens us. Each struggle and small victory brings us closer to the goal. Most importantly, in the words of Winston Churchill:
“Never, never, never give up.”
Nina has been recovered from all eating disorders for several years and aims to help people through sharing her story, experience and recovery on www.helpforeatingdisorder.com