Beat supporter Georgia shares 5 tips she's learnt along the way in her eating disorder recovery journey.
The recovery rollercoaster is a journey like no other.
Some days take you uphill, others take you downhill, and others feel completely flat. Some days are exhausting, others exhilarating. Some days fill you with defeat, others with victory.
My recovery journey has been no exception. However, whilst it was a rollercoaster of emotions experienced, challenges overcome, and battles won, my journey has been consistent in one aspect: it has been an incredible learning experience. A process of getting to know my eating disorder: what makes it tick, what it likes, and what it doesn’t like. A process of getting to know me again: what I like, what I don’t like, and what’s important to me.
Here are five things I would say to myself when I was recovering - the girl who felt terrified of riding the rollercoaster.
Whilst recovering, it’s easy to become frustrated that things are taking a while. Why is that particular food still such a challenge? Why do I still have these thoughts and give in to these behaviours? These are all common (and normal) questions to ask yourself during recovery. However, if you start to attach blame to them, they can dampen your motivation to recover.
This was true for me for many years. When I was first diagnosed, I wanted a ‘quick fix’, as I was itching to get straight back to school and do my GCSEs. Whilst this was a great motivator, it was not – although I didn’t realise it at the time - the end goal! When I was well enough to go back to school and I had completed my GCSEs, I still wasn’t free of the internal battles going on in my head. And this frustrated me.
What would I say to myself then? Be patient. It probably took you a long, long time – longer than you are aware of – to get into the ED thinking patterns, behaviours, and habits. So why should it take any less time to get out of them? It has taken me many years of intervention, techniques, and self-(re)discovery to truly understand my eating disorder, and it is undergoing this process that has allowed me to properly challenge, counter, and detach myself from its grip.
Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.
Every time you challenge a thought or behaviour, set yourself a goal, or reach a daily, weekly, or monthly milestone in your recovery you are building up an army of successes, a troop of fighters in your corner. So, every time you think, why can I still not do X?, think of all the things you can do, and have done, no matter how small. These successes, over time, are what build your progress towards recovery.
Always keep your motivators in sight
Imagine you are in an interview and someone asks you: why do you want this job? Would you say, I don’t know, or I don’t, really, or I don’t have any reason to, but someone else told me to go for it? I doubt it!
So, what if I asked you: why do you want to recover?
Without a mix of short- and long-term motivators, working towards recovery can feel tougher, even pointless, particularly when the ED voice is trying to pull you back. With nothing to ‘aim for’ after my A-Levels, I slipped. Simply being healthy was too ambiguous (besides, eating disorder have a warped idea of what healthy means!).
What would I say to myself? Keep your motivators in sight. Keep asking yourself: why do I want to get better?
Perhaps you have a specific life event for which you want to be healthy. Perhaps you want to get better so that you can focus on your studies or your job. Perhaps you want to start a family. Perhaps you are simply sick of being chained down by the ED’s negativity, loathing, and criticism.
As you set challenges and encounter difficult emotions and experiences, remind yourself: this is why.
Long-term motivators can, and will, change. Over the years, mine have evolved from being healthy enough to take a year out and travel the world, to completing my university studies, to being healthy enough to keep up with my work and volunteering. Now, having seen the joy that having children has brought to my sisters, my big long-term motivator is staying healthy so I can start a family with my partner.
Long-term why's are fluid - that’s natural, since our priorities change as we grow - so it’s important to also have short-term, measurable (‘SMART’) goals. These can be as simple as calling a friend, going for a walk, or keeping your journal up to date. Such goals will help you evidence and keep track of your progress.
Try not to compare yourself to others
Whilst this is a good life tip in general, it’s particularly true when you are recovering.
I used to spend hours on social media, comparing myself and my life to anyone and everyone – my friends, girls at school, actresses, influencers, and supermodels who I’d never even met!
It has taken me years – and many periods of deleting social media altogether – to learn that seeing the world through the lens of social media does not give a clear or realistic view. People do not proclaim to the world that they are struggling. What you see on social media is only a minuscule, curated, and false projection of what is going on in a person’s life. Even when we meet with others – strangers or friends – we don’t go around telling everyone the ins and outs of our struggles in life. So, what would I say to myself? Stop comparing yourself to others.
Can you draw conclusions from a dataset where 90% of the data is missing? Yes, but it means you’ll be relying on the visible 10%, which doesn’t make for very accurate results. The same is true of comparing yourself to others. Comparing is a common attribute of eating disorders, so this can be a real challenge. Keeping in mind that these comparisons aren’t reliable - or rational - can help you to quiet the negative thoughts that they trigger, allowing you to focus on you and your recovery.
Trust those in your support network
An eating disorder doesn’t like anyone who might be a threat to the power it holds over you - and there is no bigger threat than those who hold particular care and concern for your well-being. Like an abusive partner (a comparison that is often drawn and is rather accurate), it works to cut your support network off.
The problem is, the more you shut yourself away from others, the harder it is to see rationally. My worst days of illness and relapse often occurred after longer periods of being on my own, avoiding social situations, and neglecting relationships. What would I say to myself? Trust those who care about you. They have your best interests at heart.
Whether this is a partner, a family member, a friend, or a peer support group, it’s vital to keep your support networks close and make time to nurture your relationships. These people can help you with both challenging the eating disorder and spending time away from it, helping you to find your identity again. They have your happiness, health, and well-being at the heart of their concern.
Be kind to yourself
My final tip needs no introduction. Be kind to yourself. Critiquing, punishing, and criticising yourself will not help you to recover. The ups and downs of the recovery rollercoaster are exhausting. Some days will feel manageable, others draining, and others impossible. Congratulate yourself on every single one of these days.
Make time to practise self-care and rediscover what you enjoy and value. Replacing the eating-disorder-filled space with things that fulfil you is vital for your transition to a happier, healthier place.
Every challenge and every goal you set is a real step towards your recovery. Be proud of yourself, and be kind to yourself.
The final thing I would say to that girl who is scared to get on the ride, and I say to you, is this: you can do this. And when you do, you will never look back.
-Contributed by Georgia
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in Georgia's story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.