Recovery from an eating disorder means lots of different things to lots of different people. But, what most of us can agree on, is that our own form of recovery allows us to live life more freely, fully, happy and able to reach our full potential.
In other words, we could ask ourselves:
Is our relationship with food and our body enabling us to become our best and more compassionate selves?
Am I still tied down with preplanning meals, counting calories and not feeling free to make my own liberated choices around food
Do I still feel the urge to compensate the food that I eat, such as by walking more, going to the gym, counting steps, monitoring Calories burned or becoming obsessed with a certain type of physical activity
Are my food choices still centred around eating pure, clean, plant-based foods for reasons other than ethical values (e.g. animal and environmental welfare)?
Do I cut out food groups or ingredients (e.g. gluten, carbohydrates, dairy) with the intention of feeling better about myself in relation to others or certain expectations and dietary regimes rather than for genuine health or welfare reasons?
Can I eat spontaneously or out of sync with my usual meal times due to work, social occasions or sudden changes in circumstances?
Do I still consciously or subconsciously skimp on certain types of food, or even avoid completing meals or hiding food so it doesn’t have to be eaten?
Am I still obsessed with reading/following trends related to health, nutrition-centred or fitness goals (e.g. clean eating, dieting or fit-spiration accounts on social media and food-related programmes)?
To answer these question, we need to become REAL and honest with ourselves. Are we really as well on the road to recovery as we think we are just because our weight seems restored, or because we are no longer at deaths door? We also need to ask ourselves whether our feelings and behaviours are more of a prison and an illusionary comfort zone rather than truly being able to live our best lives … The beautiful and fulfilled lives that each of us are entitled to.
I know lots of individuals, myself included, who used to feel that their level of recovery was satisfactory because their physical wellbeing or getting to a healthier weight pleased health professionals and family members. In many ways, I didn’t feel worthy of pushing myself beyond the recovery boundaries I had set for myself. I also wasn’t being fully honest with how my mind was still somewhat plagued with nasty thoughts and urges to deceive myself into ‘eating healthier’, exercising beyond what was necessary and slowly (but very surly) skimping on the vitality of life.
Despite looking a better ‘picture of health’, I was still denying myself the opportunities to go out with friends, live spontaneously and say yes to experiences that may have involved unknown meals and Calories. I would even plan how I could make time for ‘walking enough’ when going on holiday, and refuse to be in a car for over a certain length of time because it would prevent me from meeting goals on my step-monitor (which I have now thankfully thrown in the bin!) .
Despite the illogic of these behaviours, I did not see this disordered way of living for what it was because, like so many of us, I was living in a world where ‘healthy’ eating and exercising is idolised. Being slim and fit also gives you a sense of false prestige, which is extremely hard to resist for someone who has a very low sense of self-worth and ability to love themselves unconditionally.
Even though I am not an ego centric person at heart, it was hard to escape the positive feelings that my figure enabled me to feel more lovable and accepted by society. All the while, I surrounded myself by other health, food and weight conscious individuals in my nutrition course at University, as well as individuals on social media who followed a plant-based lifestyle where certain foods were demonised or seen as impure or non-nutritious.
The goal of physical wellness rather than a more holistically inspired sense of healthy living became the norm, while I would spend meaningless hours planning meals, weighing food, calculating nutrition values and talking about the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight. Ironically, much of my early work at university, and when employed in research roles, involved investigating aspects of individuals’ eating patterns and weight fluctuations. For someone whose life had revolved around these subjects for years, I didn’t realise that what I was getting involved in was fuelling my (still disordered) obsessions and not fully allowing me to release the necessary burdens that were preventing me from REAL recovery and finding my REAL self. The REAL Marissa was definitely not someone who dedicated most of her time to the pursuit of perfection and calculating nutrients! And yet, there I was, unable to see the bitter truth. Like so many others, I wasn’t getting REAL about recovery.
Many individuals with experience of an eating disorder stay stuck in a similar phase of semi-recovery. Their current state feels much better and more stable than the full blown physical chaos and psychological trauma of an eating disorder, but still not fulfilling enough for them to become fully liberated in life. This phase can last for many months, years and even decades because its so hard to spot and accept. Its like a comfort zone that we don’t realise isn’t a comfort zone at all. We don’t see that there is a world beyond the thorns we have nestled ourselves into, possibly out of fear that we will make new wounds in the struggle to break free from them or be forced to face past issues and fears we have deceived ourselves into believing aren’t there anymore.
Crucially though, what we do about this issue comes down to one very important question: How do you want to LIVE your life. Do you really want to stay in a comfort zone, trapped in a bubble where you can see the possibilities of the outside but being unable to reach out? Or, do you want to take steps to fully burst the bubble and step outside?
Of course, the idea of bursting the transparent bubble can seem HUGELY SCARY. Even though we have learned to see and be around people who are able to live their life unrestricted by food and exercise, actually doing this ourselves can seem out of reach. However, what I can tell you, is that bursting the bubble and stepping out of your comfort recovery zone is one of the best things you can ever do. You have probably already come so far on your journey, and this the next step to truly becoming liberated and free into the life you were born to live.
Although bursting my own bubble initially came with its own set of challenges (including overcoming a fear that I would amount to nothing by completely letting go of anorexia, slimness or an identity as someone still bound to an eating disorder), I have never ever regretted it. If I hadn’t burst that bubble, I wouldn’t have set up Nourishing Routes, or be here writing about the topics I am truly passionate about. I also wouldn’t have had the chance to travel, enjoy eating out or meet all the beautiful people I can now call true friends. I would have never had the courage to step into the REAL me. Slowly but surely, I have seen the real Marissa emerge from the depths where the eating disorder drowned her. The emotionless cyborg is gone, replaced by the woman I recognise - someone who laughs heartily, loves chocolate, eats whatever she fancies and says a big FAT YES to life (and brownies!).
I totally believe that you can experience this too. It just takes the courage to look within, and ask yourself some very important questions about who you really are, and how you can become even more of that person. Is it by keeping yourself within the realm of restriction, or do you deserve to break free and and allow yourself to feel the enormity of being truly alive and liberated - the very best version of yourself, who can help others become the same too.
If you have an answer to this that involves cutting yourself free from the thorns, know that you are never alone and can always reach out for support. For example, I have found that being more open to friends and family about the reality of my recovery journey, and wanting to ‘step it up’ a gear, has had a really positive response.
I also surrounded myself by positive likeminded individuals on social media, who could allow me to see messages about body positivity, self love and eating disorder recovery in a reassuring light. I too am also here for you, and you can reach out for support anytime, anywhere on my website or by contacting me personally. In my experience, connecting and being supported by others who knows how it feels to be free can be the additional key needed to become empowered and able to find your REAL recovery.
After all, you fully deserve it, and life wouldn’t be the same without you being the person you were REALLY made to be.
I believe in you xxxx