On a reader survey I put out about a month or so ago, I gave the opportunity for readers to ask me a question on any subject. A few weeks ago I answered questions about blogging in this post. Most of the questions revolved around blogging, my future plans, and my recovery from an eating disorder. Today I am going to answer some of the question on my recovery.
For some background, I was officially diagnosed with anorexia and depression at age 15, but struggled with negative body image and low self-esteem for many years before that. From ages 15-21, I was in some form of recovery. I am now 23 and I consider myself recovered, though some people argue that those who’ve had an eating disorder will always be “in recovery.” You can read my post on why I specifically say “recovered” here.
Click here for post describing my recovery journey in detail.
Question: Share anything related to your past eating disorder and overcoming it.
Recovery for me was a very a slow process. I went through many stages of pseudo-recovery in which I led a productive, mostly happy life, but still held on to strict food rules and negative feelings towards myself. My recovery involved two hospital stays, a total of about six months in a treatment center, 6 years of therapy, and medication. I was fortunate that I was still a teenager when diagnosed and had parents who fully supported (and pushed) me to get treatment. Finding a good therapist was absolutely key and I went through three different ones until I found the right one. She was close to two hours away from where I lived, but to my parents the drive was worth it.
The way that I slowly found a desire to truly recover was by living outside myself and building relationships. This did not happen overnight, but the less time I spent alone and the more time I spent doing for others and being around others, the more I wanted a normal life. You simply cannot have a full life and have an eating disorder. There is always something that will hold you back.
Trusting God that I had a purpose bigger than myself allowed me to have an external reason to recover. God worked from the outside to get inside of my heart.
What’s your best strategy for overcoming the lies of the enemy that manifest in negative thinking (particularly relating to body image or food guilt)?
Feeling bad about the way I looked or feeling guilty about what I ate or what I planned to eat used to consume hours upon hours of my day. It was lies about body image that set off the fire that became my eating disorder. As a young teenager, I believed that I would be more confident and feel better about being in front of others if I was thin. I thought that taking up less space was the way to make people like me better. It turns out the only thing becoming thin did was cause worry in other people. No one liked me better, because I become only a shell of my former self. The energy it took to be thin took away the life I had in me- the part of me that friends were attracted to. The problem is that changing my body didn’t give me confidence. It gave me increased anxiety and worry. I fixed what I considered to be a problem by creating more problems.
The first step to letting go of these negative thoughts was by letting go of unrealistic expectations I made for myself. For example, I assumed that one day I was going to wake up and fall in love with my body. While that would be wonderful, waiting for that to happen only put more pressure on myself to look at certain way. Instead of waiting to love my body, I decided to forget my body. I turned my focus to the inside and considered how I could develop at a soul level. While forgetting my body, I also began to live more in the moment. I may not could love my body at the time, but I could love my life. I could work on loving those around me better. Read more about that here.
With food guilt, I gave myself permission to eat anything. I removed any restrictions and expectations. It hit me that I didn’t have to try to eat healthy. I enjoy eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I can trust that I don’t have any interest on subsiding on cheetos and ice cream. I can trust myself to feed myself in a healthy way without guilt being a motivator. And nowadays when I question if I should eat that cupcake or order a burger, I remember that not only do I trust myself to find balance, but life is too dang short to not!
How do you maintain a healthy relationship with working out? What is your routine?
During the beginning of my eating disorder I went through a period of being a compulsive exerciser, but other than that exercise has always felt like a chore. When exercise was restricted because I wasn’t getting a period, I remember feeling relieved. I recently wrote a post on “when exercise isn’t your favorite” to express all my feelings toward feeling a slave to exercise at time vs learning new ways to enjoy it.
I maintain a healthy relationship with exercise by remembering that it is meant to enhance my life, not make me miserable. If I am exhausted, I don’t exercise. If exercise doesn’t appeal to me at the time, I ask Terry to take a walk with me. Walks are a great way to spend time together. Additionally, I don’t make changing my body the point of exercise. I accept that I don’t have the time or desire to put in the work required for a visibly muscular body right now. Instead of trying to change my body, I am simply aiming to feel good and strong.
Currently I am running 4-6 days a week and doing weights a few times a week. I have recently fell in love with running 2-3 miles while listening to podcasts, so that is what I am doing. I’d love to increase my mileage, but it’s been so hot lately that I’ve been holding off on that.
When it comes to exercise in recovery, it should be medically-guided. If you are in calorie deficit (burning more than consuming) on a daily basis it will be difficult for you to have a period. Periods are important for matters other than just pregnancy, they are a sign your hormones are functioning normally and your bones are getting enough calcium. If you have weight gain goals that you’re having difficulty meeting or you have trouble eating enough, exercise may not be appropriate for you at this point in your life.
Coming from a background with an eating disorder, how do you handle situations when there are girls (or boys) in Terry’s youth group with unaddressed eating disorders.
First and foremost, just like in everyday life, I lead by example. I do my best to be an example of positive body image and normal eating. I eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes sweets and other less nutritious food. When I hear negative self-talk or “diet talk” I will often try to be a voice of encouragement and reason, pointing them back to things that truly matter. If I see disordered eating habits around me, I will often talk one on one with the person. I haven’t felt the need to form an intervention yet, but because food and body image issues are typically about something deeper, I do my best to get to the root issue. I am also always ready to recommend mental health resources when needed.
How have your relationships and friendships evolved as your recovery got stronger? Any relationship/friend/family advice for those in early recovery
This is a tough one, because I know it is different for everyone. For me personally, I lost many friends and I maintained a few very important ones from my pre-ED days. Thankfully, life during recovery and after recovery brought me many more.
I think rebuilding relationships takes a lot of vulnerability on the recover-er’s part. There are some friendship that I lost because we didn’t know how to talk to each other anymore. I wasn’t open and they didn’t want to pry/didn’t know what to say. Putting your struggles out there is tough, but it’s important to address it directly. Those who loved you before you got sick still love you, and it’s important to let them know you are working on regaining your health. Let them know it’s a slow process, but you are making strides. It’s unlikely they won’t be patient with you, so try to let them in.
A huge part of an eating disorder is how self-consumed it makes a person. It’s difficult to focus on being a good friend and being available to others when consumed with negative thoughts and concerns. So while it’s important to be open about your struggles, don’t let your struggles be your focus when you are spending time with others. Be in the moment. I found the more I immersed myself in the things around me, the weaker my ED became. The more I became the me without an eating disorder, the better and more fulfilling my relationships became. A support circle is crucial to recovery, it serves as a source of encouragement and motivation.
If you have other questions regarding something I didn’t address, feel free to email me-> katebennett925 @ gmail.com (without the spaces).
I’m linking up with Amanda for TOL.