Things I Was Told By An Eating Disorder Specialist That YOU May Need To Hear

Eating disorder recovery comes with having to hear uncomfortable truths about the way you think about your body and the dangerous habits you've picked up, and actually accepting those things and rewiring your brain to think differently, can be really difficult when you've lived a certain way for so long and are suddenly forced to challenge everything you've ever known.
During sessions with my eating disorder specialist, I've been told a lot of things that my eating disorder hasn't wanted me to hear, but which I now understand I needed to hear, both to heal the child inside me and lay her anxieties around food to rest, and to help current me rebuild my relationship with my body so I can live a healthy life in the future.
A lot of the things I've been told through the recovery process may seem like common sense, such as how it's important to eat three meals a day to stay alive, but they're things I constantly have to drill into my brain and try to remember, because an eating disorder totally distorts your way of thinking to the point where carrying out the most necessary acts of self care can actually feel like you're doing something wrong.

I wanted to share some of the things I've learnt in the hope that they may be useful on the days when your eating disorder is screaming extra loudly at you to stay in a toxic place. These things don't come from my eating disorder, they aren't my eating disorder talking and these aren't just things I've pulled out of my ass, these came from an eating disorder professional who knows what they're talking about and they're things that continue to guide me on the road to recovery.

I remember having a conversation about what snacks I had eaten during a day, and after admitting to eating a packet of crisps, I was greeted with a reaction I'd never had to something like that before. For my entire life, crisps have been "bad" and "unhealthy," and any time I've heard anyone speak about crisps, it has been in a negative, guilty way, but, in this instance, for the very first time, crisps weren't demonised to me but, instead, were glorified. "That’s good!" she said, "Crisps are carbs, and we need carbs!" Even though it’s a totally mundane thing, eating a packet of crisps, 12 year old me who threw her crisps into the bin straight out of her packed lunch at school needed to hear that, actually, crisps won't kill you if you eat them, and carbs are an essential part of any healthy, balanced diet. In that moment, when I was told that nothing bad was going to happen should I continue integrating carbs into my meals, I think I decided that I wanted to keep trying to recover in a way I’ve never felt before.

When I found myself stumbling during recovery and found myself turning back to old behaviours, I was told, "You haven't done anything wrong!" and that gave me so much comfort through a time when I had convinced myself I was the worst person in the world for slipping up. But humans make mistakes, and recovery isn't and never will be linear, there will always be obstacles to conquer and times when the voice of the eating disorder gets loud. When you live with an illness like that for so long, it makes every thought you have about yourself negative until you hold yourself to impossible standards and leave no room for errors in your life, but struggling on the road to recovery is inevitable, so, next time you find yourself in a dark spot and feeling bad for relapsing, please know that you aren't doing anything wrong. In fact, by trying to recover, you're doing so much right.

And, after those hard days, it's just as important to remember that it won't last. Every day you wake up is a new start and a chance to try again. Every morning, we are given another opportunity to commit to recovery and we can begin all over again if we need to. Eating disorder recovery comes with a reset button every single day and you never need to take any of the baggage from the previous day with you, you can let it go and just put all your energy into this fresh start. No one is going to hold anything you've done in the past, whether it was last year or two minutes ago, against you.

"Some days, I can't be bothered to come into work but I have to, and I'm always glad I got out of bed," I was told, and it's the same with eating disorder recovery in that, some days, well, actually, most days, it's a thing you won't want to be bothered with, because you're so much more comfortable with being sick and trying to get better and live outside your illness is both terrifying and it takes a lot of effort, far more than giving in to your demons and staying where you are. But the outcome is always worth it, the positive things that come out of recovery are so much better and more meaningful than staying sick, and staying sick isn't an option, you can't allow it to be. You have to try and put the effort in. No one is going to do it for you and it won't happen by magic. Eating disorders make us believe that recovery is pointless, but remember that they lie.

Knowledge is power, especially in eating disorder recovery. There are so many things I've learnt that, now I know, recovery seems so much more possible. Granted, I have to constantly remind myself of them and sometimes I stumble, but once the facts are embedded into my mind, they're not going anywhere and no one can take them away from me or change the truth. Facts like, if I eat regular meals, I will not suddenly start gaining weight but I will have the energy to get through the day and actually enjoy my life. Once you start relearning the truth about all the things your eating disorder has changed into something deadly, you can literally do anything. Once you know those basic things about food and your body, your eating disorder has zero power, because you have the truth.

Who else agrees? Feelings are a hot mess, and when you're fighting a mental health battle and trying to get better, your feelings are likely to be all over the place, as there'll be a constant conflict between what your illness wants you to feel and what the part of you trying to get better wants to feel. I've come to accept that it's okay for your feelings and emotions to be disorientated and complicated, because all that mess proves I'm doing something right and that I'm attempting to shut down and silence the negative, unhealthy ones. And on the days when recovery feels impossible and my feelings aren't good ones, sometimes, I just have to ride them out and get back on the horse a little later on, because at the end of the day, I'm human.

Perhaps it sounds a little pathetic, but it's true in terms of recovery. If you believe recovery is something that's going to happen and really visualise it coming into your life, it'll come with time. If you picture yourself living a healthy, happy life in a few years, if you picture yourself having a strong relationship with food, if you tell yourself that you can recover and you are strong enough to beat your disorder, those things will crystallise. Self belief is one of the most important things, and one of the most beautiful gifts you can give yourself, and if you believe in your own ability to recover, you're already halfway there, as an eating disorder will try to suck any positive feelings like that out of your life fast, so if you can override the eating disorder and believe in yourself despite it not wanting you to, that's half the battle!

There isn't much to this one, other than that it's just really true. I get so angry at my eating disorder for everything it has taken away from me and for continuing to spoil precious moments, and I do sometimes wish it was a tangible thing I could take my aggression out on, particularly on the days when I think I'm doing well but it suddenly creeps in to trigger me with a bad thought, sometimes that's upsetting, but most of the time, it's just really bloody annoying. Hearing this was also a nice bit of reassurance that not everyone in the world sees eating disorders as positive things, especially when the media love to glorify them in women, and it was a reminder that I am the one in the right for wanting to beat it, because it isn't a friend.

Some things, you just straight up won't enjoy. For me, holidays suck, like Christmas for example, but I was reminded that, whilst the eating disorder thoughts and force of diet culture may always be there as a devil on my shoulder during those times, it is possible for me to find small pockets of happiness in them. Even if I don't 100% enjoy Christmas and find it to be a triggering time, there will be moments I can get excited about and focus on to get me through, not everything has to be fully awful if you don't allow it to be, and it's about shutting your eating disorder up for even just five minutes to give yourself a break and figure out a thing, anything, you enjoy during those times, even if it's something minuscule like a magical Christmas song, it's still something.

We're ending on the most important one. One thing my eating disorder has always made me feel is trapped. It has convinced me there is no life outside this one and nothing will come out of my efforts to recover. But it has been so valuable to me, hearing that I do not have to stay stuck if I don't want to. I can get better and move on, I can learn to live again and adopt healthier behaviours and thoughts, and so can you. You do not have to stay where you are just because your eating disorder planted you here. You can blossom somewhere else and live a life far away from the shit one your eating disorder is offering.

I send love and strength to anyone dragging themselves through recovery right now. You can do this.

Love, Emily

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