5 Ways to Care for Your Eating Disorder even after You’ve “Recovered”
It was almost fifteen years ago.
I would wake up from a nightmare in horror, drenched in sweat, trying to piece together what was real and what was dream. The nightmare? I was eating hamburgers and I couldn’t stop. I was literally woken up to how out of control my weight loss game had gotten. Anorexia has a way of deadening your senses. The goal of this insidious disease? Remove all indications of need. Need from food, need from nurturing, need from connection. The gain becomes a life that is fully independent.
Here’s the catch…when we think of women who have fully immersed themselves into their pursuit of starvation, it is death, not life that we see.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reports an estimated 30 million Americans of all ages, genders, races, and ethnic groups suffer from an eating disorder. This means that either you or someone very close to you has suffered with an eating disorder.
I spent many hours after that “wake-up call” for the next two years on the couch of a therapist, the chair of a nutritionist, and even the bed of a treatment facility recovering from this disease. Weight was restored, thoughts learned to be managed, and food was taught to be seen as friend instead of enemy. That time feels light years away from who I am today. Yet there are still times that girl who tried so hard to starve herself out of needing shows up in my days.
I wonder if you too have recovered from an eating disorder?
Or maybe you’ve turned the corner in your struggle with disorder eating, body image, or over-exercising? I want to be intentional to pause and celebrate this. Recovery is long, hard, and it takes such courage.
In the last decade of my recovery, I noticed something both in myself and in other women who have their own stories of recovery. Sure, we were healthy by all diagnostic purposes, but there seemed to be common threads of struggle we had to continue to overcome long after the weight restoration process had ended.
Here’s the good news! All of the women, including myself, who learned to grow and strengthen these specific places are kind to their bodies, deeply empathetic, and are truly thriving in freedom.
I believe as women in recovery we have to hold ourselves to a high standard of self-care and relational-care throughout our life. Regardless of if you’ve been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder or not, there is always work we can do to grow in kindness and care for ourselves!
First. Get back into your body.
So many natural and instinctual cues are deadened throughout the course of the eating disorder. Hunger cues are often one of the last things to come back. I want to encourage those of us in recovery to make every effort to practice some type of embodied movement whether that be yoga, walking, or even just placing your hands on your stomach and mindfully breathing. It took me years to be able to be get into my body and it’s deeply liberating. If you’re reading this and thinking, “What the heck does getting into my body even mean?” I would say this is probably work you can start doing today. Be patient as this takes time, but if I can learn how to sit peacefully in half pigeon and stay in my body, so can you!
Second. Be mindful of the toxic habits that might still be at play.
If you struggled with anorexia or extreme dieting, you know this is all about starvation, scarcity, and limiting pleasure. Ask yourself how you might be limiting pleasure in other areas of your life today. How might you still be living in scarcity? This could likely come up around finances and how you do or do not spend money. In terms of starvation, what parts of yourself do you not give any attention? How might you starve your creativity for example, and choose not to give it the energy and attention it deserves?
If you struggled with bingeing, which can be about disregarding limits and not listening to the cues of your body, how might those patterns still be present with friendships, work responsibilities, and family engagements? Might you still be saying yes too much?
And if you struggled with purging, which is about hiding, secrecy, and sneakiness, I would wonder if there are struggles and insecurities you purposefully keep hidden? Or even sneakier, are there ways that you tell your friends parts of the story, but not the whole story so they don’t worry about you?
Third. Practice ruthless honesty.
An ongoing part of recovery means coming out of the dark and learning to tell the truth, especially when we don’t want to. Eating disorders are fueled by secrecy and hiding. The urge to keep secrets does not end when the scales return to “normal.” This means that the key to our freedom is all about practicing ruthless honesty with safe people.
There’s a limiting belief that my ego likes to hold onto which is this: “I will be rejected if people really knew me.” I believed it for a long time and it was part of the reason for my eating disorder in the first place. Here’s the truth I’m grateful I discovered: it is my humanness, not my perfection that I am most loved for. The only person rejecting me was me. Learning to love myself and receive love from others is central to a life of freedom.
Fourth. Get to know your inner child.
Think back to when you were a toddler, to when you were an awkward middle schooler with pimples spread across your nose, even to when you were in high school wondering who you’d sit with at lunch that day. When you picture those younger versions of yourself, what’s the initial response you have? Is it a feeling of delight or more a feeling of embarrassment? I’m guessing it’s the later. That inner child of yours needs love, care, and attention.
It is when we don’t receive the nurturing that our soul craves that we come up with ways to “care” for ourselves on our own. Left to our own devices, we unconsciously choose destructive coping mechanisms to survive. We have to honor the little girl in us all who worked so hard to survive and had to grow up way too fast. By choosing an activity that you loved to do when you were little such as painting, making fairy houses, or baking banana bread, you can begin a nurturing and healing relationship with your inner child.
Fifth. Practice neediness.
The word “needy” makes a lot of us cringe. This is probably the hardest word for my clients to embrace because we live in a culture that promotes independence as strength and dependence as weakness. Take that programming and connect it with an eating disorder and you have melded together a toxic duo that keeps people sick. As I shared earlier, a lot of our eating disorders were created as an escape from needing anything. As Robert Frost so aptly put it, “The best way out is always through.” While it might sound contrary, neediness is the way to health and abundance.
A great way to begin this is by simply asking yourself in any moment, “What do I need?” Maybe you need more support or more people to hold space for you. Ask for it. Maybe you need safety before you share a particularly painful story. Ask that your friends commit to keeping this story private. Maybe you need physical touch. Ask for a hug or go get a massage.
The path to freedom is a journey that gets sweeter and better with time.
You have exactly what you need. Remember to be patient with yourself, to ask for help, and to hold tightly to the truth that it is your birthright to live in abundance, freedom, and peace. Carry on and keep showing up in this weird and wild world as the only person you can be: you!
If you need support for an eating disorder, NEDA has a helpline that can be reached by calling (800) 931-2237 or you can text “NEDA” at 741741 to be connected to a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line.
This article on The Authentic Woman is intended for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any psychological or medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified licensed healthcare provider for any questions you have.
Blake Blankenbecler lives in Los Angeles, CA with her husband and many plant babies. As a recovering people pleaser, she is a fierce advocate for self-care and kindness. Blake is a counselor and coach specializing in women’s identity issues, trauma/abuse, eating disorders, and spirituality. You can find out how to work with Blake and explore more of her words, stories, questions, and self-care practices over on her website and Instagram!