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.

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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.

 

 

You Don’t Have to Be Skinny to Have an Eating Disorder

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be skinny—or even thin—to have an eating disorder. When I started therapy in 2004, Binge Eating Disorder wasn’t even recognized as an official diagnosis and I was well above the recommended BMI for my height. (Side Note: I now know the BMI chart is a load of crap.) But my thought patterns surrounding food and my body were definitely disordered. I knew deep down that I had an eating disorder even though I couldn’t be officially diagnosed.

I’ll be honest, there were many times that my disordered self would’ve gladly traded in my BED for anorexia or bulimia. Not only would treatment eligibility have been a possibility, but I truly believed that being thin would equal happiness. But the more effort I put into restricting, the bigger my binges became and the more I hated myself for getting further from my goal of thinness. I couldn’t break the restrict/binge/loathe cycle, and even when I did lose weight I was completely miserable.

An escape for me back then was television. I watched Rescue Me religiously (I remember having a massive crush on Denis Leary). One episode in the first season introduced a main character’s girlfriend who was dealing with bulimia. What stood out to me was the fact that the girl wasn’t thin. Many years later when I started recovering from my own eating disorder, I learned that many people who struggle with bulimia don’t lose weight despite frequent purges.

I believe it takes real courage and transparency for movie stars and other famous folks to open up publicly about their eating disorders. Sadly, we rarely hear recovery stories from BED survivors, but I have hope! Years ago, anorexia and bulimia were just as hush-hush as Orthorexia and BED are now. As I wrote that last sentence, WordPress didn’t even recognize the word Orthorexia. The red squiggly line under that word is just another sign of how far we have to go with the understanding and acknowledgement of ALL eating disorders.

Thankfully there are resources available for individuals with these disorders. I’m so grateful for Christy Harrison’s FoodPsych and Jessica Raymond’s Recovery Warriors, because they offer a safe place for ALL of us who are ready to recover. These two resources have helped me realize that I’m never really alone.

Many of us who struggle with BED also tend to struggle with finding our voices. I smothered mine for years, stuffing down any negative feelings and feeling ashamed of any breakthrough positive moments. We deserve to have a voice, too. We are just as worthy of recovery as those who struggle with the more mainstream eating disorders. Use your voice… to ask for help, to define your goals, and later down the road, to speak up for those in need.

I believe in you and your recovery!

♥, K

PS: I mentioned this book in a previous post, but if you need a launching point for your recovery journey, I highly recommend Dr. Anita Johnston’s Eating in the Light of the Moon. It’s truly amazing.