The past few weeks I’ve been inspired and encouraged by peers to give a more in-depth account of what the phases of recovery can look like for those recovering from restrictive eating disorders. I feel called to and responsible for sharing my story in hopes of helping others. When I entered into recovery the main thing that kept me going was reading stories of women who went through the same thing. I would spend hours reading their stories, scrolling through support forums convincing myself that I had made the right decision. The fear of the unknown can be crippling and the best and only way to recover is to let people support you in the process. I’ll start at the beginning. When I was in my early 20’s I decided I wanted to take better care of myself. I wasn’t a big person, I just wasn’t healthy. I drank too much alcohol and ate pastries, pizza and tacos for every meal. So I started working out. Slowly that turned into being more conscience about food choices. Then that turned into losing a few pounds and an increase in confidence. Pretty soon making “healthy” choices, limiting food intake and working out became outlets for me to “feel” good about myself. I started getting more positive attention from people telling me I look “so much better” and that I wasn’t “fat” anymore. I had never thought of myself as fat before, and when others started praising me about the weight loss it triggered a deeply rooted fear of losing approval. I became convinced that I was overweight at 5’4 and 125 pounds and the hyper-critical thoughts quickly turned into a daily battle. Thus began more restricting and more strenuous work outs, more shame. My food intake became the one thing in my life that I felt I had control over. All the other stress and trials I couldn’t deal with, I took out on myself. I thought if I was better, more disciplined, then everything else would be alright. All my baggage would magically disappear. It never did. Instead the one thing I thought I had control over began to control me. I started isolating myself. I hated socializing. The cycle of restricting, failing, being overcome with shame and withdrawing became a daily ritual. I felt I had to put on a face and work extra hard to please customers at work, family, and friends. In my eyes, nothing I did was good enough. I lived in a constant state of anxiety. Around this time, I married my best friend. I can honestly say, if it wasn’t for him I never would have even considered recovery. The month we got married the effects of restrictive eating starting unraveling and creating a lot of tension in our relationship. The stress from the medical problems that developed, I felt ill all the time. I developed gastroparesis and amenorrhea. I started having allergic reactions to half the foods I ate because my body barely had enough energy to digest. All the while, I was in denial of having a problem. Things got worse before they got better. I lost even more weight getting down to a whopping 98 pounds. I would like to say I had a major wake up call and immediately changed my ways but it was a gradual process of letting go. The infertility, osteoporosis, & psychological issues were weighing on me and changing my desires from needing to feel in control to wanting to let go. It took about 1.5 years to be able to be honest with myself and put a label on my problem. The shame and humiliation of admitting to the world that I was an obsessed and in bondage to something that seems so trivial. Cutting this story a little short but eventually I found this website. My eyes were opened up to how recovery needed to take place and how to go about doing that. I started mentally preparing for the road ahead.
Here is what the journey looked like in photos:
This is me about a year before entering into recovery. Around 98 pounds. I cut my hair off because it was thinning and falling out. I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself during this time so I snagged this one from buzzfeed.
Recovery Phase 1 & 2
I took this photo the second month into the “re-feed” cycle. I had to eat 3000 cal per day to start reversal of the damage caused. I remember this day particularly because it was the first day I wore anything with a waist band. The first month of recovery I had severe edema in my stomach, hips and thighs. I was carrying probably 15 pounds of excess water weight. During recovery your body becomes extremely sore. I felt like I was bruised everywhere. Standing hurt. Sitting hurt. Taking steps felt like I was being beaten with a hammer. Phase 1 also causes extreme exhaustion. Your body will try to paralyze itself so that it can rest and heal. Pretty incredible but difficult when you work 40 hours a week! Everyday I would work 9 hours then at 3:30 I would get in bed or lay on the couch for the rest of the day. I had zero energy. I slept 14 hours a day. I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep. After a few months of this I began noticing big changes. My skin and eyes brightened, my hair started growing back. People started commenting that I looked rested and healthier.The first few months of recovery I became very forgetful and disoriented which is unlike me. Toward the end of the re-feed my memory and clarity returned.The mental fog was lifted and I was capable of having direct, clear thoughts for the first time in years.
5 months into recovery I, for the most part am weight restored.The damage to my digestive system and muscles had been healed. Sometimes you have to gain extra weight in recovery to convince your body that it is okay and to give it extra energy to kick back on the endocrine system. That is the last piece of the puzzle I’m waiting on now. I’m still ammenorheic. According to the MinnieMaud guidelines for recovery you are not considered in remission or weight restored until you have had 3 consecutive menstrual cycles. I’m not sure if I’ve reached my weight set-point yet. Basically, everyone has an optimal weight set point in which their body maintains homeostasis. During recovery you will keep gaining weight until you reach your set point. Your weight set point is where you are most healthy, have happy hormones and should be easy to maintain. I’m feeling better now than I’ve felt in years. My health is better, my confidence is greater, my relationships are thriving in new ways and my zeal for dreaming and for living life has returned. Recovery is worth it. I hope this post serves to inspire and encourage anyone struggling with restrictive behaviors. Feel free to contact me with any questions or to share your story.