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Post Eating Disorder, How Do You Live Normally?

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Jill Hanna
Written by Jill Hanna

This isn’t easy to talk about. It certainly isn’t a subject matter I thought I would bring up in a public forum. The shame I feel when talking about having had an eating disorder is very strong, and I don’t think that I could discuss it in person with anyone other than close friends. But I will put it here because I hope that reading this post will help someone out there who is “recovered,” but struggling, due to their disease.

Anyone reading this who can’t imagine life after an eating disorder, or is trying to manage life post-treatment, please know that I am not a dietician, nutritionist, fitness expert, counselor, or therapist. I have no qualifications to make me an expert on the subject. I am just sharing what works for me, which is a combination of information I obtained in treatment, advice from friends who have had an eating disorder, and trial and error. Everyone’s experience is different. I will post more about recovery and the process. Because it is a process, and it never fully goes away. At least in my seven years of “recovery” it hasn’t. Here are my initial thoughts:

I never could image being normal. Normal was a word that just seemed to evade me entirely at that time in my life, freshman year of college, when all I would eat was lettuce and fruit. I thought it was the only way to be healthy, to look thin and feel good about my body. But once your hair begins to fall out and just walking feels like a chore, it isn’t so easy to think, “I’m healthy.”

There’s plenty of material out there about eating disorders, but what happens after treatment, after you’re better? You’re faced with real life. And all the challenges a still recovering but theoretically recovered individual faces.

I am not a dietician or a nutritionist. I only know from my own experiences how I slowly stepped back into the real world, into being what my therapist always tenderly called a “normie.” There’s no real normal, anymore, for you. The eating disorder will always be there, even if it’s just a passing thought once in a while. However, it is possible to feel okay again. Every day, to stay strong and maintain my progress, I try to adhere to the below tenets. Of course, it’s not always possible. But these are goals and ideals that do help me stay on track. I hope even one of them can help you:

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My best friend Kalen (left) and I ran a Color in Motion 5k together. Messy, but a great workout. Excuse the expression on my face. I felt pretty disgusting with all of that paint on me. But I swear I was happy!

Regular exercise. It’s hard not to think obsessively about exercise. For me, running was something I had done 6 miles a day, every day. So coming back into the “normal” world, I decided I wouldn’t run. I would find something new that I didn’t associate with my obsessive behavior. I took up yoga to begin with, then graduated into incorporating strength training classes at my gym, and the elliptical for cardio.

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Clean eating with cheats. I take comfort in eating very, very healthily. I’m sure that’s residual from my past. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. I favor brown rice pasta over regular pasta. I also eat to the point of satisfaction, rather than fullness, as my dietician taught me. Feeling full is to feel uncomfortable. A normal, healthy individual eats until they are no longer hungry, but can still get up and move around without feeling sick.

I also have no limitations on what I can/cannot eat. If I want a cookie, I have a cookie. I certainly prefer to eat cookies from Whole Foods. Whether accurate or not, in my head, they seem healthier due to their more wholesome ingredients. So I may have a Whole Foods bakery oatmeal raisin cookie instead of an Oreo. But if I really want an Oreo, I eat one.

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Taking it easy. Stress only makes residual eating disorder symptoms worse. If a meal causes me stress for whatever reason (perhaps I feel like I ate too much), I just sit with it. It is what is, and I ate it. I just remind myself that I can eat healthily the next day, and one meal will not make a difference.

Another key aspects of taking it easy? Surrounding yourself with healthy individuals. People who are dieting or have strange attitudes towards food are not good to be around, at least until you are extremely resilient. People don’t need to know you had a problem, but individuals who do not criticize you or your food choices are the best to be around, especially at meal time.

Finally, taking it easy means not spending excessive amounts of time in the mirror. In an ideal world, we would just look at our faces to apply makeup, and glance in the mirror to make sure our clothing matched. That’s probably not realistic. All girls, even relatively healthy ones, stare and analyze. Try to minimize the time you spend doing it. You won’t make yourself feel better by obsessing, only worse. Sometimes, when I’m staying at a friends’ house and they don’t have an easily accessible full-length mirror, I am able to avoid it entirely. It’s frustrating for a day or two, then I realize it’s refreshing not to think about how I look in that mirror.

It’s hard enough to be a girl and want to have it all: the face, the body, the guy, the job. It all feels worse when every day is a struggle to keep eating disorder thoughts at bay. The above information worked for me, and I hope it can help you begin to feel normal again. Practicing normalcy, as strange as it sounds, can create a new, less burdened life for anyone coming out of treatment into the world. You can’t live in a bubble anymore so stay strong and remember, take it easy.

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