‘Laura?! Oh, my goodness, you look incredible! It’s so good to see you again! [Small talk about the weather and politics] So, now that you have recovered from anorexia, what’s next?’
It’s an innocent question, Laura. She’s smiling, she’s being kind, she doesn’t understand. Quick - SMILE. Use this as a moment to educate. Why is she scanning me up and down?! You’re making her uncomfortable now – say something, anything, just… [deep breath]
At that moment, standing in the middle of the dairy aisle, I wished I could produce a transcript of my internal monologue. I could imagine the confusion writ large across her face as she read: ‘But… I thought you were recovered? Why the aversion to cheddar cheese? What are all these calculations?’ Maybe this would be enough to help her realise that eating disorders are mental illnesses; it is impossible to chart somebody’s recovery based solely on an approximation of their weight.
My refusal to address traumatic experiences was unsustainable; no song was louder than my thoughts
One of the greatest misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, is that weight restoration equals recovery. Alas, it’s not that simple. The psychological work that’s required to fully recover from an eating disorder is TOUGH. You must face your illness every hour of the day and unpick the roots of every terrifying, disordered, toxic thought that drip-feeds you. You must dismantle corrupted systems of logic and rebuild your identity from rubble. There are deep, complex reasons why someone develops an eating disorder. Although nutrition is vital (and it is scientifically proven that emotion regulation improves with weight gain) it must be accompanied by psychological work to achieve long-term recovery.
I have realised that, earlier in my recovery journey, I internalised this misconception. In between meals, I would blast music through headphones and “engage” in surface-level dialogue with nurses, skirting around confronting and uncomfortable conversations. Whenever the hospital environment became triggering, I shut myself down instead of asking for help. My refusal to address traumatic experiences was unsustainable; no song was louder than my thoughts, and no crochet frog served as a powerful enough distraction.
At the same time, my mobility began to falter. I was tripping and stumbling about the ward like Bambi on ice. MRI and CT scans provided no clear answer for my sudden and alarming inability to walk in a straight line. I continued to run from my trauma, focusing entirely on my latest physical difficulties and weight restoration until the dreaded day arrived, the morning I realised - ‘I can’t move my legs.’
My story is evidence that recovery from an eating disorder is a physical and mental process.
I was fortunate to receive an accurate diagnosis of Functional Neurological Disorder by a consultant psychiatrist within days. There is no single “cause” of FND, but physical and or psychological trauma are risk factors. Symptoms can include cause paralysis, weakness, tremors, seizures, and chronic pain. When my FND symptoms reached their peak, I was almost weight-restored, but far from recovered. In fact, these were the darkest days of my eating disorder; my thoughts were darkest, my outlook bleakest, and the urge to restrict strongest.
Feeling betrayed by my own body, our relationship hit rock bottom. This situation finally forced me to address the traumatic experiences which were fuelling my restrictive behaviours and keeping me ensnared in anorexia’s hellish web. As the psychiatrist predicted, once I began to address and improve my mental health, the feeling began to return in my legs, my seizures stopped, and I re-learned how to walk.
I had neither the time nor the confidence to air this speech to the well-meaning lady in my local supermarket, but my story is evidence that recovery from an eating disorder is a physical and mental process. Your brain and body are connected in a myriad of complex and interesting ways – both deserve your respect, time, and attention.
Uncovering the root causes of my eating disorder is a vital part of my recovery. I advise anyone who is struggling to confront and cross-examine eating disorder thoughts and look for a pattern. For example: why do you feel this way about weight gain? Why does this time of year ignite intrusive thoughts? What is your earliest memory of experiencing this thought? Asking these questions and dealing with the aftermath was, at times, terrifying; but as each answer brings me closer to freedom, I’ll continue to ask them as if my life depends on it.
Because it does.
-Contributed by Laura
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.
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