Recovery from an Eating Disorder: Practical Steps

Hello, friends. I want to let you know up front, where I am at right now is not my finish line. I still have work to do. I know that. I’m taking steps to get there. I think many times, people think any issue can be solved in 10 therapy sessions, and then all is well. But y’all, that’s just not how it works, at least, not for me.

For about a year, I went to therapy every other week, with the main focus being on my anxiety. I showed up, my counselor showed up, and God showed up in amazing ways. I saw many, many breakthroughs and revelation sitting on that couch in my counselor’s office. 

Then, my counselor asked me if there was another area in my life where I was still struggling. Maybe something that we hadn’t addressed yet, because we had been busy tackling the most pressing issue: anxiety. I opened up with her about my body image issues. I hadn’t really told her before about the time spent starving myself. I may no longer be physically starving myself, but my mind is still starving my heart from fully loving my body. I’m ready to be free from that.

So, our focus has landed here. Then COVID hit the world. Counseling via Zoom is very difficult when Internet is not readily available… but I’m doing my best.  Here are some practical steps I have been taking the past year to try and love my body well. 

In terms of exercise: I work out 3 or 4 days a week, instead of 6 or 7. I stick to what I love, and I try not to get caught up in thinking I should be doing more. I like running, yoga, walking, and swimming. I stick to that. If I miss a workout, I do not need to make up for it. I just keep on living my life, y’all.

In terms of food: I eat pretty much the same thing as everyone else in the house. This may seem like a “given,” but it’s not when you’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food. I’ve gone sugar-free, carb-free, dairy-free, plant based, and everything in between. I’ve counted calories, carbs, and containers. I’m over it. I genuinely enjoy my veggies and fruits, so a lot of what we eat IS that, but I’m also gonna eat dessert whenever I dang well please. I no longer track calories, or macros, or containers or points… I just eat real food. (Side note: If tracking is your thing, more power to you. I just know, for me, things get toxic when I track. I tend to obsess, and then when things don’t line up, I tend to be hurtful to myself. So that is why I don’t track. If you can track your food in a healthy and positive way that works for you, then go for it.)

In terms of mental health: I continue to go to therapy. This is a focus for me right now. Although I can practically tell you that I’m doing these things listed above, and that I desperately want to be okay with my body… the truth is I am not. I am all too aware of how my clothes fit and the mommy tummy I still have. So, we’re weeding out the lies and replacing them with truth. I’ve been listening to and I’ve been motivated by these lies for 21 years… I can’t expect to rid them in 21 days. It’s just not that easy. But I’m willing to show up every day, ready to fight another battle towards healing. I remind myself of these truths over and over when the lies try to speak. I know one day, the truth will be louder than the lies. So, I’m fighting for that day.

I hope you will too. You are worth the fight. Your spouse is worth the fight. Your child, friend, coworker, colleague, and teammate; they’re all worth the fight. Let’s suit up for battle, y’all.

A note to loved ones: Maybe you’re reading this, and you don’t struggle with an eating disorder, but someone you loves does. I beg you, please keep showing up in their lives. I know, it’s exhausting. It’s the same old fight again and again. But they NEED you. I remember feeling so alone, even though I was surrounded by people who love me. I hardly voiced anything to them at the time, because I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to bother anyone with my problems. So, please GO to them. Ask them how they are doing, and listen. Ask them what they need. Tell them the truth. Tell them they’re not a burden. Tell them you will fight this beast with them. Tell them healing is possible. Tell them they are loved. 

If you are battling an eating disorder; please get professional help. Look up some counseling resources in your local area, and call to make an appointment. When you call to schedule an appointment, let them know you’ve got an eating disorder and ask for someone with experience in that area. If there is no one trained in that particular office, ask for a referral. Most offices have a referral list for specific areas of training. You can do it! You really can be free. I’m cheering for you.

Recovery from an Eating Disorder: A Snapshot

**WARNING: TRIGGER POST. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, or body image issues, this post may be triggering to you. If you’re curious about the hope it provides, perhaps have a loved one read it and give you the highlights.** 

I saw a picture of myself today… from circa 2008. A snapshot. It was a picture a friend of mine had snapped back in 2008 of my husband and me. At this time, we weren’t dating yet, but it was clear to anyone within a 10 foot radius that we both had feelings for each other.

I love that this photo was documented for two reasons:

1. For the sweet reminder of how our relationship had begun, and some good conversations we had that day.

2. For the reminder of where I was at, mentally and emotionally, at the time. What I’m about to share with you is a small glimpse of what can be going on in the mind of someone with an eating disorder, or someone with a history of an eating disorder. It’s messy. It doesn’t make sense. It’s sad and frightening… but there is always hope for healing.

In the beginning of 2008, I was on a downward spiral of depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol abuse, and an eating disorder. I tried so many things to numb out: studying for school during the week, partying like I was getting paid for it on the weekends, and being fixated on my weight.

I had gained some weight my first couple years of college, because that’s what happens when you stop running 50 miles a week. I remember my junior year in college, recently after starting a new semester, thinking I could lose those pounds if I just stop eating again. I’ve done it before, I can do it now. Here’s the thing y’all, I didn’t even need to lose weight. My body was finally at a healthy weight. 

But I did. I limited myself my calorie intake severely. I would work out in between classes. I started running long distances again. Then I got back down to my high school weight.

I remember thinking, I think I still wanna lose more weight. I just wanna see if I can get below 100 pounds. Then I’ll stop. More restricting. More exercising. I planned my semester around my favorite workout classes. I was thinking about food constantly. I thought about how many calories were in an apple, a slice of cheese, a handful of grapes, etc. I was amazed that a serving size of Goldfish was 55 crackers, and surely I could stretch that out to be my breakfast and lunch. I started drinking water with loads of ice, because I read somewhere that when you’re cold to the point of shivering, you’ll burn more calories, and ice water was recommended. I’d have a salad without dressing. Everything was calculated. 

Then I did it. 98 pounds. I smiled. I wonder if I can get below 95 pounds? Surely if I get below 95 pounds, I’ll feel satisfied with the way my hips and legs look. I filled up on water and black coffee until dinner time, only to consume the tiniest portion. I stopped enjoying food. I only ate the bare minimum to stay alive, and sometimes I debated not even eating that much.

Now, this last memory is engrained in my mind. After my favorite Pilates class, I stepped on the scale at the gym. 92 pounds. Ninety freakin’ two. I loved it and I hated it at the same time. I loved it, because in a sick and twisted sort of way, it felt like an accomplishment. I remember thinking, I may not be great at school or sports or really anything… but I can lose weight. Maybe I can get below 90 pounds. Surely then, I’ll feel better about myself. It was sick and sad and disgusting. You can convince yourself of horrible lies when you hide in the dark. Don’t do that, y’all. Bring those lies to the light, and replace them with truth!

That’s about the time I got help. I didn’t go to therapy at that time, but I should have. However, I opened up to some trusted friends and a mentor at church (oh yeah, in the middle of my mess I met Jesus and He saved me by His grace), and they helped walk me through it.

Now, I no longer have anorexia, and I haven’t for years, but I still struggle with my thoughts. I wish I could say this is an area in my life where I’m fully healed, but I’m not. I have come so far though, and that’s worth celebrating. Also, I am believing for full healing in my thought life, and I am taking the steps necessary to get there. I am in recovery, and that’s a good place to be.

Here, at 33 years old, after having 4 kids in 5 years, my body looks different. I’ve got some pounds that like to hang around. I did lose those pounds at one point a few of years ago, but that was only after severely restricting my calories and working out intensely 6 days a week to the point of injuring myself. That’s no way to live, y’all.

So I made a decision. I do not want to live the rest of my life trying to lose 10 pounds. I want to live my life trying to love God and my family well. This simply doesn’t happen when my mind is consumed by food, calories, and weight. I want to exercise because I enjoy it, not because I “have to.” I want to eat a piece of cake at my kid’s birthday party, and not have to make up for it or shame myself for it. I want to wrap my taco up in a tortilla instead of big piece of lettuce, because homemade flour tortillas are delicious. I am DONE. I just want to live my life and be free. Don’t you?

So, what does this look like for me now? Be on the lookout, I’ll be posting about this topic next week! In the meantime, if you’ve ever struggled with body image issues or an eating disorder, what’s helped you recover?