Looking Forward on the Road to Eating Disorder Recovery
It’s NEDAwareness Week 2020! The road to eating disorder recovery can feel long and arduous, but this is a week all about hope.
It’s an unfortunate statistic, but every 62 minutes, someone dies from an eating disorder — meaning that a week of hope for recovery is much needed in the eating disorder community. After all, recovery can make the difference between life and death.
As you look forward to the next milestone on your eating disorder recovery journey, we hope you will keep the spirit of hopefulness and optimism in mind — and use it to power you through your eating disorder recovery goals.
Still, there are moments when your future in eating disorder recovery may not look so bright. In those difficult moments, we hope you’ll remember the goals you have to look forward to. These eating disorder recovery milestones are positive markers of your progress as you make your way through your recovery journey.
Improvement of Physical Symptoms
When eating disorder recovery first begins, the first and most important goal is to reestablish your physical health. For most patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, this means weight restoration. However, weight changes are not the only physical symptom you may notice when you suffer from an eating disorder.
One prominent symptom you can look forward to disappearing as you progress through eating disorder recovery? “Brain fog.” When the brain is in starvation mode, you can’t think properly. As you start to re-establish a normal eating pattern, you may notice that your thoughts become clearer and your mind more active than it was before. You’ll also start to generally feel better once you start eating “normally” again. This means you’ll feel less cold and start to sleep better at night if these were issues you experienced during your eating disorder.
Gastrointestinal symptoms are also common but may take longer to resolve. Bloating, indigestion and distension can take a while to work through yet tend to decrease as long as you maintain consistency with your recovery.
Regaining Your Menstrual Period
In eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, where an individual may or may not lose a lot of weight, another side effect of deprivation in people born female can be loss of a menstrual period. Getting your period back as you gain weight can be an important health milestone during your recovery that signifies that you’re finally getting better.
Decreased Eating Disorder Behaviors
One of the most difficult symptoms of an eating disorder is the constant noise in your brain telling you that you’re not good enough — and driving you to engage in eating disorder behaviors. These behaviors can include skipping meals and engaging in other behaviors to try and lose weight.
Obsession with Food
Ironically, the constant deprivation of food can lead to an obsession with it that never ceases. So, what can finally quiet the chatter in your brain? Staying on track with your recovery plan and eating as much as you should. Science actually shows that when you eat less, you think more about food. It’s why you can’t stop obsessing about that donut when you haven’t eaten all day.
When your body burns more calories than it consumes, your body releases hormones that tell you to be hungrier, leading you to feel hungry even when you’ve already eaten. This is one reason why you might feel “obsessed” with food while engaged in your eating disorder behaviors. Thus, nourishing your body properly and giving it enough food can result in you thinking much, much less often about food.
When you’re in the throngs of an eating disorder, you may feel the need to compulsively exercise, whether to burn off calories or try to sculpt the “perfect” body. This can be exhausting in and of itself and even take a dangerous physical toll on your body, as over-training is associated with repetitive use injuries.
While in eating disorder recovery, you’ll likely need to retrain your brain to accept a new reality when it comes to food and exercise. That means you’ll probably need to take a much-needed break from compulsive exercise, allowing your body enough time to recover from the stress you put on it, before returning to physical activity.
Exercise releases endorphins and can certainly feel good, but breaking free from compulsive exercise is an important milestone to celebrate in eating disorder recovery. When you give up compulsive exercise, you’ll have time for so many other, more productive activities in your life. You may even be able to learn a new skill or take up a new hobby with the time you have open in your schedule now.
Most importantly, when your doctor gives you the okay to start exercising again, you’ll be able to return to exercise with a new perspective. Instead of doing exercises to change your body or your weight, you can explore new physical activities that you find fun or interesting. For example, you might try to go horseback riding for the first time, explore kickboxing with a trainer or hop on a yoga mat for some asanas (with your doctor’s permission, of course)! There’s a whole world of joyful movement that’s not driven by low self-esteem just waiting to be explored.
Binging and Purging
Some of the most well-known eating disorder behaviors are binging and purging, thanks to the spotlight the media has shone on bulimia nervosa in celebrities and in characters on television. These eating disorder behaviors can be especially dangerous due to their negative health consequences. For example, binging is linked to obesity — and, even more frighteningly, purging is linked to such problems as eroded tooth enamel, electrolyte imbalance and cardiac arrhythmia.
In eating disorder recovery, a trained eating disorder professional will guide you through learning strategies to curb these behaviors — such as practicing mindfulness and delaying binge eating or purging when the urge strikes — so that you will no longer engage in binging or purging as frequently. Eventually, your goal will be to stop binging and purging altogether, to the point where you can enjoy your life free of negative consequences for your physical and mental health.
Accomplishments to Celebrate
Other milestones to celebrate in eating disorder recovery have nothing to do with what you shouldn’t do — and everything to do with what you’ve accomplished. In eating disorder recovery, even the littlest baby steps are worth celebrating as hopeful signs for what you will continue to accomplish in the future.
Being in a room full of food can be difficult when you’re struggling with an eating disorder, which is why grocery shopping is an important accomplishment to celebrate in eating disorder recovery. After all, grocery shopping can be an arduous task when you’re knee-deep in the throngs of an eating disorder: you might put things in and take them out of your cart, argue with yourself over the nutrition facts panel or engage in other obsessive behaviors that can make the grocery store a struggle. That’s why your first trip to the grocery store in eating disorder recovery is more than worth celebrating: because you survived it!
Eating in Social Situations
Whether it’s a holiday get-together with family or a restaurant outing with friends, eating in social situations presents several awkward conundrums that people with eating disorders may try to avoid. For one thing, deciding on a “safe” choice to order off a menu or eat from a party platter can feel impossible. You may also need to deal with the scrutiny of others watching you eat, especially if they know you struggle with an eating disorder and are examining to make sure you eat enough. These situations are uncomfortable at best, but knowing that you’ve survived one (and perhaps eaten something you wouldn’t have otherwise) is something worth celebrating in your eating disorder recovery.
Eating a Favorite Food Again
What was your favorite thing to eat before your eating disorder told you which foods were “good” and “bad?” Being able to eat something you love without fear is certainly something to look forward to in eating disorder recovery. If you have a favorite food that you now consider a “fear food,” you may set a goal for yourself to be able to eat it in the future, and work your way up to eating it starting with foods that you consider to be far less frightening. Refusing to let food intimidate you is a powerful stance to take against your eating disorder — and being able to stand up to your ED long enough to eat something you love is an incredible accomplishment in your eating disorder recovery.
Eating Disorder Treatment
Recovering from an eating disorder takes time, but professionals like those at The Meadowglade are here to guide you through the eating disorder recovery process.
We hope that throughout NEDAwareness Week 2020, you will continue to carry the spirit of optimism with you as you strive toward your next milestone in eating disorder recovery. Remember: there is always something new to be accomplished in eating disorder recovery!