This is just a punchy, to the point, unflowery post about the things which helped heal me.
You’ll be happy to see there’s no rambling intro.
Please bare with me despite the ironic first tip.
Hope it helps 🙂
#1: Never lose sight of the facts that other people’s top tips might not be appropriate for you.
Slightly ironic, but essential to mention.
There is no ‘How To’ guide for recovery. Anybody who claims to have one is hugely underestimating how complex, nuanced and individualised an eating disorder is.
There is no black and white. There really are no absolutes. What works for somebody may not work for another and visa versa. The treatment has to be tailored to the individual because we all respond to different things and find different things effective. Blindly following somebody else’s method or motivation will likely not work.
Identifying your own WHY is important because you need passion and emotional engagement to help rebuild your relationship with yourself, your body and food. Using somebody else’s ‘why’s’ may not be solid enough to push you through the discomfort, if they don’t strongly resonate with you and your unique situation.
The best example of this I can think of is my motivation of hormone restoration (to enable future conception of a baby) as a large motivator for weight gain. Although this is common and may strongly resonate with some individuals it could have the opposite effect on another. For example:
- somebody who has past-abuse as a contributing factor to their illness may not find the motivator of fertility useful. It may even feel threatening and undesirable if the individual feels safer not having an adult’s body which might be sexualised.
- somebody who is past child-bearing age, either due to developing AN later or whose AN was active long-term during childbearing years.
- Somebody who is too young for this to be a strong motivator.
- somebody who never lost menses and already feels inadequate/invalid because of this.
This is very similar to finding your own HOW, as there is no ‘one way fixes all’. Although generally, I do believe the focus should be on nutritional rehabilitation first and formost, there are methods within this which may speed progress. For example, I found peace in finding out the science behind why things were happening. Knowing that other people had overcome temporary intolerances (caused by a lack of diversity of gut bacteria) was super helpful for me and motivated me to push past the discomfort. This sciency stuff doesn’t resonate for everyone, especially if they’re at a different place in recovery.
The point is: Don’t be deterred if something which was a turning point in somebody else recovery was not a turning point for you. There will be a way that does and it’s your job to find this. Which leads me nicely onto my next point…
#2: Take charge and DO
It took me years to realize that nobody was going to recover for me. No book, no video, no blog post would heal me. Eating disorders are not a choice. But recovery is. You make the actions to heal yourself, and you will.
Don’t get me wrong, blog posts help. Books help. Videos help. But even if you gather all of the resources in the world, ultimately it is your actions which cause mental and physical shifts and progression.
My main advice would be to ensure an action plan is being followed through with and constantly renewed. If you’ve begun to become comfortable with something, take it up a gear. Eat it at a different time. Have someone else prepare it. Prepare it yourself. Eat 2. Whatever it takes so you don’t become stagnant. A dynamic approach is so necessary because something that works for you in one stage of recovery may not work for you in a later stage. It’s also possible that one approach just doesn’t work entirely, and people waste years and years hitting their head against a brick wall.
I guess this was so important for me because being perpetually ‘in recovery’ was one of my biggest fears. I’d seen it on social media and read about it. I didn’t want to rely on my mum portioning all of my meals for the rest of my life, so I had to take the initiative to do something about this. I didn’t want to secretly wish I could have a bigger portion or seconds for all of my life, so I had to take the initiative to do something about this.
Resources, a support network, distractions and everything else are there to alleviate the discomfort that the action’s cause. But when the actions do cause discomfort, please know it is temporary and will pass. Eating disorder anxiety is forever. Recovery anxiety is not. You can do hard things. You can endure discomfort.
Never EVER lose sight of the fact that YOU are the most important member of your recovery (and wider treatment team if you have one). If something is not working, change it. More on this on #4.
#3: Lay down commitments and recognize that motivations may well come in second
The 3 key commitments are:
- commit to unrestricted eating
- commit to reaching an unsuppressed weight
- commit stopping ED rules and rituals
Whenever you are at a standstill, think of these. They resolve almost every issue.
The problem with relying on motivations is that they are too weak to stand up against fear. No matter how compelling they were, or how many I listed, they did not overpower the fear of the food in front of me. Nothing did, because Anorexia was still active in my brain. Regardless of how much I wanted to recover, the brain stem area was anti-weight gain.
Due to this, in the moment, when a pizza is sitting in front of me, something like “I’m going to eat this because I want to go to University in 5 months” or “I’m going to eat this pizza because I want to have kids in 10 years” just didn’t win. It wavered and collapsed in the ED wind.
Instead, having the commitment: “I’m going to eat this pizza because I have committed to reaching an unsuppressed weight” helped more.
#4: Be proactive
You are in control. You know, deep down, what is limiting you.
For me, being proactive meant that I had to completely re-record my mixtape, from Anorexia’s heavy metal screamo shit to Jazz or something. I would not have recovered if I didn’t completely overhaul what I was doing. Making small changes didn’t work for me. Holding on to any part of anorexia and giving it in inch simply kept me trapped.
Below are things that I recognised I needed to be proactive about. Some may be relevant for you, too:
- Learning and educating myself about mental and physical hunger, body neutrality, fatphobia, HAES concepts.
- Ditching the scales.
- Deleting any counting apps- incl. step counting apps and calorie counting apps
- Unfollowing or blocking any social media accounts which I found even the slightest bit problematic. For me, this was predominantly running blogs and ones which promoted orthorexic eating
- Put my trainers out of sight.
- Threw old, tight clothes.
- Being honest about some of my ED-OCD behaviours to my family, so they could call me out and keep me accountable.
Something that else comes in this section is seeking treatment. Not only treatment but the appropriate treatment that works for you.
Although I don’t comment on it too much, I also have pretty strong views about it. Please know that you are not a bleating lamb who has no say in what happens to you. You must recognise when something is not right.
An example of this is when a psychologist diagnosed me with depressive symptoms and promised to delve into my childhood in search for the ‘route cause’. I knew, deep down, that the route cause to my ‘depression’ was malnourishment and the eating disorder taking all joy out of life. It was not a trauma. It wasn’t something from my childhood. It didn’t bloody exist before my eating disorder did. The physical state of me caused my mental depression. Therefore, physically healing would take it away.
More examples from my experience include how I was advised:
- to limit my weight gain to 500g a week.
- to see my weekly weight gain on the scales.
- to exactly follow a meal which prescribed a piece of fruit as a morning snack.
- to start drinking protein powder every morning
- to continue with ‘light movement’ if it kept me happy.
…amongst many other things. This set my recovery back a couple of years. Of course, my confused self and even more confused parents took every word as gospel, even if it didn’t seem quite right.
Without going into it anymore, I just want to make clear that I could have spent years and years hitting my head against a brick wall with my initial treatment team and never recovered. Instead, I recognised that it was not working and made a change. Deciding to find alternative therapy was the best thing I ever did. I only wish I’d done it sooner, but I guess this was all part of the process.
#5: Create recovery rules which apply to you
You will be able to identify some behaviours/ anorexia generated rules that are holding you back.
One of mine was analysing my weight gain in the mirror. To prevent this, I made a ‘recovery rule’ which helped me stop body checking. It’s something that seriously helped me. It involved giving myself a 3 second-ish rule for looking at my body in the mirror. I glanced at myself when leaving the house to see if I looked presentable and then moved away. Anything more was just detrimental for me and done with bad intentions. Not giving myself time for any analysing or scrutinizing really helped me find peace with my body. Eventually, I became very neutral about it. I didn’t feel the need to love it, but certainly didn’t hate it either.
I had loads of other recovery rules which I put on a ‘No List’ in early recovery.
Identifying and ‘banning’ the most common specific behaviours preventing progress helped me a lot because I felt like I had made a law not to do them. It sounds bizarre, but it worked for me alongside the commitment. I’ve listed some of mine below, although it may be useful to create your own.
- No leaving anything on my plate
- No reduced fat/ sugar products
- No unnecessary standing
- No ‘i’ll have it later’
- No weighing self/ food
- Park as close as possible to the everything shop entrance
#6: Eat, eat, eat more (and rest).
Food doesn’t just help your body. It significantly improves your mental clarity and rationality.
There is no too much.
I read this blog post every night for about a month to help me see that: https://tabithafarrar.com/2017/02/anorexia-recovery-eating/
The same applies to rest. I needed 14 months rest from exercise to help me severe the link between movement and food. Thank goodness I did that.
#7: Buy and read “Rewire, Rehabilitate, Recover” by Tabitha Farrar.
Just do it.
I recommend a hard copy.
#8: Prioritize you and your recovery
Nothing else is more important than your recovery. Full stop.
For me, fully committing to recovery required my full attention and I would not have fully recovered without doing this. Taking a year off Uni gave me the time, space and the right environment for me to fully heal.
Whatever you need to do to put yourself first, do it. Once it’s done, you can get back to doing the everyday stuff with renewed energy, strength, passion and vitality.
Hope sharing some of my thoughts helps. Keep going and DO.