Eating Disorder Recovery: Dealing with Setbacks – Savannah K.
I have been in recovery for over 7 years and I have loved my recovered life. Recovery has allowed me to eat what I want when I want — and do it in a healthy and balanced way. I now have no fear foods. I can now eat what I desire without body image concerns.
This doesn’t mean that early recovery was easy. But I was able to conquer my “fear foods” and body image concerns in treatment. When I left treatment, fear foods and body image concerns were not as real to me anymore. In early recovery, I did struggle once in a while, but I was able to use what I learned from my treatment team to cope. And yes, it took a lot of practice.
Well, my life of what I have viewed as recovery was interrupted by my therapist and dietician’s recent concerns regarding my weight.
My dietician stated that I had been losing weight.
I was surprised by this! I literally sat down on the couch in complete shock when she told me. I was surprised because I was enjoying life and food without having a single eating-disordered thought and I didn’t understand how I had lost weight.
I was irritated that I had to talk about “the eating disorder” with my treatment team because I felt that there was no need. I wasn’t struggling with my eating disorder and I had zero eating-disordered thoughts and zero body image issues. I felt annoyed that this “issue” was coming up. I stated the same thing over and over again to them — that I have been following my hunger cues the same way for 7 years.
What I later realized was that the problem with following my hunger cues is that I was losing touch with my hunger, or perhaps my hunger was lying to me. You see, I was in the midst of a medication change prescribed by my psychiatrist for ADHD. The new medication diminished my hunger cues and I had less desire to eat. I was listening to my hunger cues, but these cues weren’t providing me the nutrients I needed to stay at my “ideal weight,” according to my dietician.
I unintentionally lost weight, which was not my goal for recovery!
My dietician understood that I wasn’t intending to avoid foods, but she was worried about my weight loss nonetheless. Her first recommendation was to keep a food log and write everything I ate down. Second, she wanted me to be mindful of making sure I was eating enough nutrients. I was frustrated because I didn’t want to feel the fear of my current reality. Also, I was irritated that I had to pay more attention to my food and work harder in recovery.
Nonetheless, I agreed to listen to her because my team has kept me grounded and I don’t know what I would do without them. Considering my trust for my dietician and my treatment team, I took her concern seriously.
I began writing my meals down like I had my first year in recovery, but in the meantime, I felt like a failure because I hadn’t had to do this for at least 6 years. I felt like I had gone back to the first steps I had dealt with in early recovery. I was so frustrated and upset and angry at myself.
I brought my food log to my dietician and once again, she was not happy with my weight because it hadn’t increased enough. At this point I broke down crying and collapsed on her couch. I didn’t understand what was happening and I didn’t know what to do. This had never been a problem before, so I asked myself “why was I not back to my normal weight yet?”
My dietician continued to challenge me and have me write down what I ate every day and to really pay attention in the moments I’m eating. So, I followed her instructions again. And then I began to understand how the pieces fit together and also redefined what recovery looks like for me.
What I've learned
I’ve learned so much after facing these setbacks after seven years in eating disorder recovery:
- While “normal” people (people without an eating disorder) may not have to pay attention to their food intake, part of recovery requires always being aware — making sure I’m getting enough food and maintaining my recovery weight.
- No matter how recovered I am, I’m always still susceptible to an eating disorder. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention and practice mindfulness around eating and activity. Being mindful about food means to notice what I was eating, what I was not eating, and to pay attention so that I could continue to choose recovery and get back on track with my dietician’s recommendations and get back to my healthy weight.
- I have to be aware of the amount of food I’m having, because sometimes life throws us off balance (or our medications affect our hunger) and if I’m not fully aware in the moment, then the recovery I’ve worked for can slowly unravel.
- Being mindful of my food intake is not failing at recovery—it’s part of recovery.
- Feeling like I had failed at recovery was not helpful for me to move forward. It was and is very difficult to come to this place of acceptance, understanding, and compassion for myself.
These lessons are hard for me to learn, but I’m grateful to have a treatment team guide me along the way and encourage me as I practice mindfulness, eat according to what my body needs, and learn and practice self-compassion.