Three Essential Steps to My Recovery
By Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S
Recovery is such an individual journey. I know this because I have witnessed many on this path over the 25 years that I have been working in the eating disorders field. It is hard not to consider the recoveries of those I’ve worked with when discussing my own “three essential steps.” It is also hard to narrow down the process of recovering from disordered eating into just three. In my book Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self, I wrote about ten non-linear steps. My discussion to follow shares three steps that were key for me – and for many of the other human beings I have had the privilege to assist on their journeys.
Finding joyful movement was a very significant step for me in my recovery process. Recently, at a Hope and Inspiration panel discussion at the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA), colleagues and I talked about the topic of identity and recovery. A couple of us had the arts figure prominently in our eating disorders, as well as figure prominently in the way out. For me, dance was that art form. I danced ballet seriously and frequently for twenty years. My eating disorder developed during my adolescence when ballet was a daily passion. Although I don’t blame the art form for my eating disorder because there were so many other factors that made me vulnerable, I am certain shifting away from ballet was an important step in my recovery. However, I was not ready to let go of the dancer part of me. (I tried and that was a miserable year, as if a part of my soul was missing.)
Discovering forms of dance that were more improvisational than choreographic, however, was key. I trained in African Healing Dance, learned Swing Dance, practiced Authentic Movement, and eventually dove bravely into Ecstatic Dance and Contact Improv, which really cracked me open. Instead of imitating the movements of others, I was bringing forth movement from inside of me. I was choosing the steps and even the partners I wanted to dance with instead of fulfilling a role. Dance has continued to be a spiritual, self-connecting experience for me. Since embracing improvisational movement, I have learned more about myself in relationship to others, deeply respected my body and its desires, and ultimately accepted and cared for my body more than I ever did as a ballerina.
A second most critical step in the recovery process for me was learning to trust my body and listen to its hungers and enough-ness. I grew up in the Diet Pepsi ‘70s and ‘80s and diet culture was significant around me. I also experienced lots of self- and other-imposed food insecurity, based on diet culture, difficulty eating large meals before dance classes, rules about not snacking until dinner, and being one of seven children. Although I was privileged to always have plenty of food in my house, there were mixed messages about how much of it should be eaten from the culture and communities around me. I was a confused, active, growing teen who didn’t eat enough to fuel all that activity and who lost touch with a natural, intuitive sense of how much food feels right.
Studying nutrition in college actually helped me through the last phase of my recovery and helped me to understand my body and mind needed more to eat on a regular basis. I started to become more in touch with and trust my body’s natural appetites as I learned to practice intuitive eating back in 1989. Over time, I learned how to feed my body well and food lost the charge it always had when I was going back and forth between restricting and binge-eating. Learning about nutrition, balance, and body trust was so illuminating to me I wanted to help others with this part of their recovery and I went on to become a registered dietitian/nutrition therapist. More importantly, I also worked on discovering what my greater hungers and needs are (love, family, close relationships, writing, honoring the natural world), as well as when enough is enough (my own limits, boundaries in relationships, and honoring my need for downtime despite my active body and mind).
My third essential recovery step was learning to feel feelings, appreciate my emotional self, and use my voice. This was a hard one for me. I came from a world of, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” Several circumstances in my history led me to believe life was safer and better if I kept my mouth shut, particularly around expressing difficult emotions. Now, this was no easy feat, as I was an unusually expressive child from a very early age. I had a lot to say, but I learned writing it all down was better than saying it out loud. I eventually learned feelings, while often scary, don’t have to be overwhelming. All those written words weren’t in vain, as they encouraged a passion for writing that served me well in my professional life. I learned in my recovery journey, however, to listen to that voice deep inside and speak up for what I believe in. Being vulnerable and sharing my emotional life began to bring intimacy and warmth into my relationships. Basically, I learned not to fear expressing myself: on the page and out loud. Sure, not everyone will appreciate my particular brand of truth, but my truth is just as valid as another’s.
Recovery involved allowing myself to “take up space” – in my body, in my relationships, and in my life. Ironically to me at the time, I found I had so much more to give those I love and care about when I took up space myself first. It has been vital to my health and well-being, as well as the discovery of my purpose on the planet, to honor my own needs, wants, and hungers – and to dance to the beat of my own drum. I believe that steady drumbeat within is the way out of pain and the way in to life for all of us.
About the author:
Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S is a writer, nutrition therapist, and educator who focuses on eating disorders, whole-self-wellness, and embodiment for all. She is the founder of Nourishing Words Nutrition Therapy in the Boston area, and has been working in the field of eating disorders for 25 years. Heidi is an instructor in the Eating Disorders Institute graduate certificate program at Plymouth State University, a Health-at-Every-Size (HAES) advocate, and facilitator of the No Diet Book Clubs. She provides in-person and virtual counseling and clinical supervision, which includes co-facilitating an online consultation group for professionals in the eating disorders field who have recovery histories. Heidi is the author of the award-winning book Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self. She is also a lifelong dancer, side-hustle stilt performer, bumbling gardener, and the proud mama of two outrageous teenagers. Join her mailing list at https://anourishingword.com or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook: @nourishingwords.