The Dark Side of Eating Disorder Recovery

I started Sprinkles in Bed with a goal of inspiring and encouraging others, and to highlight the positive aspects of the eating disorder recovery process. If you have dealt with an E.D., however, you know it’s impossible to stay in a place of positivity on a regular basis. Sometimes the journey is downright hard. I’m trudging my way through one of those difficult times now, so I thought I’d keep it real and share the dark side of my own recovery from binge-eating disorder.

Repetitive Food Thoughts Shifted to Negative Body Thoughts
I’ve always been critical of my appearance, but I didn’t start truly hating my body until I started my recovery journey. Part of that hatred came from no longer “numbing out” with food, but my self-loathing was also a result of letting go of dieting.

I always held onto a thread of hope that the next diet would whip me into shape, so I tended to focus on what my body might look like one day instead of the realities of the body I was living in. It’s extremely difficult to give up on the hope of being “better” or “smaller” or “more beautiful” one day. When I gave up dieting, I also realized that most commercials and other marketing schemes are intentionally telling women to hate who they currently are and focus on the future.

Wising up and noticing these messages was a massive shift for me, and I am still navigating the lies society shoves down women’s throats each and every day. When I started really feeling my feelings again (because I wasn’t stuffing them down), I had an overwhelming flood of negative thoughts and anger. Unfortunately, my body got the brunt of my bitterness.

I Didn’t Know Who I Was
Every single personal goal I made for 15+ years was tied to weight loss. Every time I moved my body, it was to burn calories. The more my body ached the day after a workout, the better. “Good days” and “bad days” depended on my calorie intake, the step count on my Fitbit, and the number on the scale. When I stopped tracking, I realized I had no idea who I really was. My identity was tied up in numbers.

Of course, there is an upside to having more brain space and time after giving up dieting. Honestly, I wasn’t ready to tackle big life problems and I was in desperate need of a new outlet. I had quit running because exercise played a big part in my disorder, but running was a part of my identity as well as a stress reliever. I felt like I needed to start with a clean slate in order to get to know myself again.

I Felt Out of Control
When I gave up my Fitbit and the scale, I also quit tracking my food and stopped meal planning altogether. I was winging it, and food completely lost its appeal. Foods were no longer “good” or “bad,” and I was disappointed to find that food wasn’t fun for me at all anymore. With no cheat days or rules, the act of choosing meals or snacks just seemed like work. I felt no joy in it. I was sure that I would keep gaining weight forever. It was a strange mix of feeling blah and out of control.

I Let Other Things Go, Too
Because my life had always been very black and white, giving up dieting also led me to becoming lax with finances. It’s difficult to be strict in some areas and completely let go in others. Historically, I would swing from being on top of every dollar to saying “screw it, life’s too short for this shit.” I had no concept of balance. This is an area I continue to struggle with.

Not Everyone Appreciated My Newfound Voice
Thanks to author Anita Johnston, I learned that recovery would require me finding my voice. For years, I was a follower. I’d just go along with others’ opinion, claiming that I was open-minded. I truly believed that!

As it turns out, I do have my own opinions and when I started voicing them, it seemed like my loved ones started dropping like flies. It’s not that my views are over the top… My family and friends just weren’t used to me speaking up. Looking back, I needed those people to step out of my life for me to finally move forward.

I Felt Like I Was on Another Planet
One thing that becomes clear quickly during eating disorder recovery is that a disordered frame of mind is completely normal in our society. It has become abnormal not to be on a diet or to be content with one’s body. We’re taught to rely on external factors to help us decide whether we’re “okay.”

I found so many Facebook and Instagram posts triggering in the beginning stages of recovery, and once again I felt like I had no voice because the battle was just too big to take on.

I cleaned house on social media and started following fellow body positive folks. A huge part of my healing, also, was unplugging completely from Facebook for several weeks. Whether it’s advertisements or acquaintances’ posts, it’s impossible to stay in a positive frame of mind while scrolling through triggering images and messages.

I Gained Weight
My worst fear came true, and I live to tell about it! I’ve always teetered on that line between “plus sizes” and “normal sizes,” and I always hated that I wasn’t one of those women who could shop in the juniors section. When I started recovery, I had gained a significant amount of weight, and throughout the intuitive eating process, I gained more weight. I wasn’t one of those people who lost weight in recovery, and I’ll be honest… I hated that more than anything. I thought the weight gain would never stop, but sure enough, it did.

Coming to terms with being a plus size woman and learning to be okay with my appearance has been the most difficult part of my journey. I remember a time when I felt amazing in my clothes, but I also recall the torture I put myself through to fit into a size I’m just not meant to be in. My husband and kids love me, I have great friends and a thriving career doing what I always dreamed of. I’m thankful for all I have, and I have to believe that one day my body will be on that list.

Despite the Heartaches, Recovery Is Worth It
Yes, recovery has chewed me up and spit me out. It has been exhausting and scary. But it has also let me grow into the real me. I’m still getting to know the person I was meant to be, and little by little, I’m growing to like her. Maybe one day I’ll love her.


Is “Letting Yourself Go” Really All That Bad?

Years ago, I remember hearing someone close to me muse that a family friend had “let himself go.” As a teenager, I didn’t understand the sentiment, but I recall hearing the same statement multiple times over the years and eventually equating fat with a lack of ambition.

As a person who was unable to maintain a “healthy weight” by societal standards, I internalized my loved one’s comment and quietly identified myself as a thin girl stuck in a fat girl’s body for self-preservation. If I did lose weight, I’d gain it back quickly. I felt ashamed of my weight fluctuations and disappointed in myself for not working hard enough to lose my big belly and double chin. My self-deprecating internal dialog left very little brain space to go after my dream of becoming a writer or pursue any of my other goals.

The same person who degraded people’s appearances throughout my adolescence later confronted a fat family member about her weight before she graduated from college. “Employers pay attention to these things,” she told this young woman, who had worked her ass off to maintain a 4.0). She added: “You should start working on your weight now so you can find a good job after graduation.”

I’m ashamed to admit that, at the time, I had no idea this was horrible advice. Thankfully, I’ve woken up since. No matter how ignorant or “well-meaning,” those hurtful words surely had a lasting impact. Did the fact that this college student chose to pursue her dreams mean she had “let herself go?” Should she have spent long hours at the gym instead of studying? Counting calories rather than looking for career options? Would that have made her more worthy of acceptance?

During my eating disorder recovery, I felt like it was me against the world. “The whole world is on a diet,” I used to tell my dietician. Although I still feel that way sometimes, I realize now how much space I’ve freed up in my life to actually live! See, when I was restricting and bingeing and hating myself for having no control, I had no energy left to actually live my life.

If letting myself go means finding peace in my bigger body and not striving to reach another temporary weight loss goal, I’m happy to let myself go. I now feel sorry for people who are so superficial that they can’t see past physical appearances and perceived “flaws.” Their judgments keep them from fully embracing life and loving perfectly lovable people. Their perceptions are no reflection on the people they choose to judge.

I no longer connect fatness to laziness. In fact, I realize now that perpetual dieters lack ambition, not because they’re incapable of amazing things (they are!), but because their main goal in life is to shrink themselves, leaving no room to accomplish great things. I would rather be known for my advocacy, positive attitude, and the mark I made on the world as a writer than an empty soul in a pretty little package.



How Kindness and Compassion Lead to Eating Disorder Recovery

There has been a quote clinging to my refrigerator for years: “Rule your mind, or it will rule you.” Just yesterday I realized how disordered my thinking was back when I bought that “encouraging” magnet.

For the 16+ years I counted points or calories and based my success in life on my weight, I tried to whip myself into shape over and over again. At Weight Watchers meetings, I remember looking at my blank food log and promising myself I’d have a perfect week on the program. I imagined everyone around me eating a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and a single dark chocolate square each night while I binged on Pop Tarts and cereal. They’d come back the next week with their meticulously filled-out logs, and I’d show up with blank pages (for the days I couldn’t face the truth) mixed with the occasional “perfect day.” There was no in between. My thinking was black and white back then.

Of course, I never had that “perfect week,” and the moment I went beyond my points or “fell off the wagon,” I’d throw in the towel, ridicule myself, and then pick up the pieces once again after my Monday weigh-in, promising to be an angel from that moment forward. And the cycle continued…

See, I wasn’t even kind to myself when I got “back on track” or when I “slipped up” for a perfectly good reason (try eating 20 points while on you’re period, ladies. It should be illegal). I never, EVER used a compassionate approach with myself. I either beat myself up or attempted to motivate myself with “tough love.”

Let me save you years of heartache and self-inflicted pain… My methods did not work. I spent years waiting for those short-lived glimpses of hope I would feel between hating myself for repeated failures. I was sure that I would one day have an aha moment and everything would click into place. I would live happily ever after in my cute, little body thanks to the time and effort I put into being hard on myself. I truly believed I’d get a much-deserved break once I was thin. Then reality hit.

I was thin for all of five minutes, and my life was just as difficult. The restricting and bingeing didn’t stop. In fact, I felt so much pressure to stay in my thin body that my disordered eating only got worse.

Let me fast forward to now. I’m emerging from the labyrinth of my binge eating disorder, and I’ve realized that the most crucial component in my recovery journey has been the way I talk to myself. This hasn’t come easy to me. I struggle with perfectionism, so treating myself with compassion after a fall has been an interesting learning experience. I’ve also struggled with body dysmorphia and an extremely poor body image, so my self-compassion muscle is constantly working these days. Some days it fatigues and I fall into old habits, but it’s getting stronger every day (even on days I feel like I’m making no progress or backsliding).

Because the majority of eating disorder recovery is a very abstract (and individual) process, there aren’t a whole lot of concrete steps that work for everyone. This makes the journey difficult, but once you realize you’re in the labyrinth, you’ll realize the only options are to stay in or get the hell out. My advice? Get out while you can!

As I mentioned, recovery isn’t a concrete, step-by-step process, but there are a few things I’d like to share with you that have helped me tremendously:

1. Love Your Wardrobe to Love Yourself: For years, I refused to buy nice clothes because I dreamed of being smaller. When I started recovering from my eating disorder, my dietician encouraged me to ditch my old clothes. I had been trying to squeeze into clothes that didn’t fit and hating myself for it.

I now have a beautiful wardrobe I love in my current size. I sold my old clothes on an auction website and used my earnings to invest in a gorgeous closet full of clothing. It’s much easier to be kind and compassionate when you’re not zipping yourself into jeans that are two sizes too small. (Side note: Start with replacing your bras and underwear… Trust me on this!)

2. Log Your Way to Compassion: When I started seeing my dietician, she asked me to describe my day to her. I told her my eating habits were completely disordered, and I truly believed I was broken beyond repair. But when I started ticking off the foods I eat throughout the day, she made me realize I wasn’t eating as dysfunctionally as I thought. She gave me a food log, not to count calories, but to help me see my patterns.

It’s much easier to be compassionate with yourself when you get real with yourself. I wasn’t nearly as broken as I thought I was. I logged my food for a couple of months and my dietician and I would look through the logs together without judgment. I soon learned that by giving myself unconditional permission to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, and by being compassionate with myself when I binged or overate, those behaviors started decreasing. Kindness and compassion teach us to trust ourselves. I’m now aware of my hunger and fullness cues.

3. Write Down Your Soul: I often have difficulty organizing my thoughts. I am an anxious person by nature, so I worry a lot and am often unable to find perspective in difficult situations. Because of this, I have always relied on journaling. It has become an almost-daily practice for me, and I’m certain I wouldn’t be as far along in my recovery journey without it.

Write from your heart. Don’t edit your thoughts, and try not to be judgmental. When I sit down to write, I may have an idea of what topic I want to start with, but I almost always veer off in an unexpected direction. Writing about my thoughts and feelings gives me clarity.

Treat yourself to a nice journal or notebook, and start simple. Aim to journal from your heart for 5-10 minutes a day. Setting a timer works for some people, but I prefer to wing it. Do what works for you.

There’s one major downer about this recovery business. Because foods are no longer “good” or “bad,” eating isn’t nearly as fun. I rarely have an orgasm-worthy food experience these days, because I don’t deprive myself… ever. If I want a piece of cherry pie or a brownie warm from the oven, I eat it. Giving myself that freedom has taken away the urge to eat half the pie or pan of brownies. In fact, sometimes I don’t even finish my serving… That’s freaking freedom right there!

When I look back on those Weight Watchers meetings, I realize I wasn’t alone in my silent struggle. Hell, I was the leader; if I was struggling, my loyal meeting-goers were most-likely struggling, too. Looking back, I wish I had brought it up with them. I wish I had known that restricting my food intake would only lead to deprivation and bingeing. I wish I had known and taught my members that counting points or calories would lead to disordered eating for many (if not all) of us. Of course, I probably would have gotten fired, but I would have been truly helping people instead of playing into our society’s idea of what “normal eating” is.

I’m currently reading Self Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff. It’s not eating disorder specific, but it will certainly help you along your recovery journey. Friends, please stop beating yourself up for your perceived failures and imperfections. You’ve done your best with the tools you’ve been given. Give yourself a hug for all you’ve been through and a high-five for all you’ve accomplished, and get to work loving yourself. You’re worth the effort.