By: Jenni Schaefer
Hello. I would like to introduce myself. I am the only person in the world who cannot recover from an eating disorder. No matter how hard I try or how desperately I want to let go of my eating disorder, I am doomed to failure. It will never get better.
That was years ago. It turns out that I was not so special after all, not the worst case scenario, and not the hopeless one. I am thrilled to say that I was not the lone ranger and that it did get better, in fact, much better. Many of us battling the illness believe that we are the sickest and that we will never recover. I am walking proof that recovery is possible. Countless others – who were also the sickest of the sick – have arrived at this point of amazing freedom as well.
These are people with all types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and the most absentmindedly named category of all, eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). These are the people with subclinical eating disorders and all of those who think the aforementioned categories do not describe them appropriately. The people who have broken the bonds with food and weight are ones who developed eating disorders as teenagers, at younger ages, or much later in life. Some individuals struggled for a few years and others for over twenty. Those who battled for more years often heard from the experts that a successful recovery was less likely, because the disease was not ‘caught’ early. I heard this comment, too. I had strong tendencies toward eating disordered behaviors beginning at the young age of four but failed to reach out for help until almost twenty years later. Needless to say I caught nothing early except my unhealthy attitudes toward food and weight, but it got better. It got better through hard work, patience, and lots of pain.
Unfortunately, things actually get worse before getting better. In order to begin making true progress in my recovery from anorexia and bulimia, I had to begin tackling the difficult, gut wrenching parts of the process. For those of us in recovery from an eating disorder, we know that means finally letting go and taking on the food. Yes, we have to start following the food plan. If that means writing down what we eat on a little form to turn into our dietician like a homework assignment, we do it. Unlike our attempts in the past, now we actually write down the food legibly and accurately in the little blocks marked, ‘lunch’, ‘dinner’, ‘breakfast,’ and ‘snacks.’ We do our best to stop bingeing and purging. If we have lapses in old behaviors, we are honest. Rigorous honesty is a part of getting better.
Another part of getting better means we have to be willing to look our worst nightmare in the face. Even though we might not like what we ‘think’ we see in the mirror, we have to be willing to maintain a healthy weight. In the beginning, there is nothing fun or exciting about this concept. Challenging our negative body image is excruciatingly painful. We must be willing to do whatever it takes to recover, because we know that half measures have not been working. Our therapists, dieticians, and doctors will all pat us on the back and tell us that we are doing great. Despite the fact that we are doing well, we arefeeling bad. This is progress, and it means things are actually getting better. Slowly the horrible feeling begins to actually feel good. Eating feels good. Eating becomes natural and enjoyable. Even accepting our body’s natural size and shape feels powerful and strong. Moments not consumed by food and weight string into hours and days. This means we do not have to enter a panic about whether or not we are accidentally served a regular soda instead of diet at a restaurant. It means a day occurring over ten years after our high school graduation is not deemed as good or bad by whether or not we can still fit into our prom dress. But it means much, much more.
Eating disorders are not truly about the food and weight. Today I am able to engage in conversations with friends and become involved in relationships. I can pursue lifelong dreams and passions. Life exists in a full range of colors now, not just black and white. I am happy to be alive and am not just surviving day by day. Let me introduce myself again. I am just like anyone else out there in recovery from an eating disorder. I am no different. And I got better.