What does recovery mean?
We all have this idea of what recovery is, ranging from decreased anxiety around food, being able to eat whatever you like, when you like, not missing out on events because of your eating disorder, or simply being able to live your life without having this voice in your head shouting at you because you ate too much, or too little; either way it isn’t good enough.
Something that we all aim for in recovery is to be able to be normal, eat normal, feel normal. But what is normal eating? The best way I view normal eating is simply, when you’re hungry, eating until you’re satisfied. It is having the freedom to choose the food that you would like to eat, whilst making sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs to function. It is giving yourself permission to eat three meals a day, or four or five. It is leaving some chocolate on the side because you’re full, or eating the chocolate because it tastes so delicious. Normal eating is both overeating at times because your body needs that extra energy, or undereating because you’re simply not hungry. Normal eating isn’t about being restrictive, or over-indulgent just because this voice tells you to do so. Normal eating involves trusting your body to respond to signs of hunger, and signs of fullness. Normal eating does take time and attention, but it still remains as only one important thing that you have to think of during the day – not the only thing you think of. With this in mind, it is clear that there are no rules to ‘normal eating’, there is no voice in our head to tell us what we can and can’t eat. Normal eating is simply something we engage with due to our energy levels, levels of hunger and the simple satisfaction we get from eating our favourite foods.
The same can be said about recovery – there are no rules. There are many myths that suggest when recovering from an eating disorder, of any kind, that you will wake up one day and that’s it, you’re better. You’re able to eat the food that you have so painfully avoided previously, or you manage to eat a meal without that urge to demolish the kitchen cupboards afterwards. I want to emphasise that recovery is not a destination, but rather a slow mending process that follows an imperfect line where progress is made gradually over time. You will have good days, bad days, and days where you simply go through the motions of living to survive a day without listening to that voice. Along the way your eating disorder will make itself present by shouting so loudly you can’t ignore it, or quietly whispering its opinions as you fluctuate between the good days and bad days. Some days during recovery, you will live as if your eating disorder never existed. You will engage with what is considered ‘normal eating’ and be proud of how far you come. Other weeks, you will be doing everything you possibly can to stop acknowledging its existence as it takes over your thoughts and refuses the fact that you have decided to live a life without it. It will absolutely tear you apart on those days, but it is absolutely vital that you remember that you’re capable of fighting it.
Recovery and normal eating isn’t linear, or perfect. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Hearing that voice and responding to it on some days makes you human. This is reassurance that you are healing by the mere fact that you’re aware of the sound it makes and that you are finally in charge of turning down the volume.