It took me about 2 years until I considered myself ‘recovered’ from my eating disorder. For me, being recovered doesn’t mean that I never have bad body image days or that I don’t occasionally slip into ED thoughts again. It means that I’m back in the driver’s seat of my life, rather than everything being controlled by my ED. It means that I mostly eat and exercise intuitively. But most of all, being recovered is a feeling. It’s not waking up one day and suddenly realising you don’t have an ED anymore. It’s the gradual changes that one day amount to a life you never thought was possible when you had an ED.
So (baring in mind that everyone recovers differently, and this is by no means a prescriptive to-do list for recovery), what actually helped me recover?
**This is not an exhaustive list; I’ve picked out some of the things that stand out to me.
Reading books and listening to podcasts
In the first few months of recovery, although I was hesitant and scared about recovering (as everyone is), I decided I would apply the same determination and willpower I had to my eating disorder, but this time to recovery and learning as much as possible about eating disorders, intuitive eating and Health At Every Size. I read the books Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating and started listening to the Food Pysch podcast. These completely undermined the entire foundation of my eating disorder and helped me to gradually shift my whole perspective on food, weight and health.
Stopping weighing myself
About 6 months into recovery I got rid of my scale. Whilst this was difficult, for me this was one of the most helpful things I did early in recovery. My weight used to determine my whole day – how I felt about myself, what kind of exercise I ‘had’ to do and how much food I was ‘allowed’ to eat. After reading all about how weight and health weren’t related in the ways society had taught me they were (see above point), I decided that I didn’t actually need to know how much I weighed and so I’ve never intentionally weighed myself since!
Unfollowing social media accounts that fuelled my eating disorder
I barely had social media when my eating disorder started, but I did follow some problematic pages on Facebook and watch some Youtubers who promoted things that just maintained my ED. In recovery, I completely revamped all my social media accounts and started following accounts that were pro-HAES instead of ones that promoted unrealistic body ideals and diets. No longer being exposed to images that made me feel insecure and instead following a diverse range of bodies was a revolutionary step in my recovery.
Seeing a HAES-aligned dietitian and psychologist
Seeing treatment professionals was super helpful for me, mainly in reinforcing my newly formed beliefs about food, exercise, weight and health. My dietitian also helped me work on intuitive eating, whilst my psychologist helped me start challenging food rules and explore different things like my identity and what contributed to my ED.
Gradually eating previously off-limits foods
Probably one of the hardest things was actually implementing intuitive eating and gradually eating all of the foods I used to be so scared of eating. But over time, I found the courage and tried foods I sometimes hadn’t eaten in years. When nothing terrible happened to me after eating these foods, it proved to me that my fears were unfounded and that I deserved to eat ALL foods even if it was just for pleasure. Because eating a food just for pleasure is completely, 100%, OK.
Challenging food rules
As well as rules around types of foods, I also had to challenge other food rules like what times I could eat, how much I could eat, how long I had to spend eating a meal etc. Much like with other food rules, once I proved to myself that nothing bad happened when I broke one of my rules, it gave me the confidence to challenge other rules until finally, none were left!
Buying new clothes
Another difficult but helpful step was buying new clothes that fitted my recovered body. This happened gradually, and whilst it was sad to have to get rid of nice clothes, I also knew that having old clothes in my wardrobe was just an unhelpful temptation and reminded me of my eating disorder. Now I always remember that it’s not my job to fit into clothes, it’s clothes’ jobs to fit me.
A supportive family
Whilst I recognise that not everyone has the privilege of having a supportive family who aren’t super diet culture-y, I cannot overstate how much my family’s support helped me. For example, my parents made sure the house was stocked with all the foods I wanted when I came home for the holidays and my twin sister encouraged me to try new foods because she was eating them too and she always emphasised how good things tasted and how that was the most important thing about food. My family was also really receptive to my guidelines around what topics to avoid talking to me about and as a bonus, I think I’ve helped educate my family and get them to question their own beliefs about health, weight, food etc.
Exploring my identity outside my eating disorder
For almost five years, my eating disorder had defined who I was. People thought of me as the ‘healthy’ one in the family and were used to my eating and exercise routines. As my eating disorder receded into the background, I rediscovered some of my interests and delved deeper into existing ones. Memories of my childhood, things I hadn’t thought about in ages, started randomly popping into my head, allowing me to reminisce about the past. I realised that I didn’t have to apologise for who I was, I only had one life, and I was going to live it on my terms.
Written by Sophie Smith
Eating disorders advocate and lived experience advisor
@SophieClare1103 on Twitter