Eating Disorders: Recovery Is Not Linear
This post will go beyond my typical discussion of my recovery with bulimia. The ins and outs of recovery, including relapse and difficult topics, will also be shared.
I’ve shared that I was a in almost decade long battle with bulimia numerous times on this blog, but I want to dive a bit deeper. it’s not as open and closed as “I used have bulimia.” It’s still a very real battle that I face. Even though I no longer consider myself a prisoner to this eating disorder, I am a warrior that still has battles to fight with it.
Eating disorder recovery is not linear, and we all heal and grow from these demons in our own unique ways, and those differences don’t take away from the fact that we are fighters. I genuinely believe that even though I “beat bulimia,” I will always have an eating disorder to some degree.
I believe that eating disorders are a type of disease, that while you may overcome the actions, that disordered mentality isn’t always something that can disappear entirely. It may not be as constant, and it may affect my life and health differently than before, but it is still prevalent.
A Year of Change
It has been a year since my hysterectomy, and so much more has changed since that point. After my surgery, I wanted to be healthy, but really, I was slipping back into my disordered thinking and making excuses to lose weight. At that time, I was learning to accept my body except for one area- my stomach.
I was trying to love myself and preach self-love, but I was still sucked into the belief that healthy equates to skinny. Obsessing over working out and counting calories became my norm again. I started hiding behind the guise of “health,” when it came to my workouts. But honestly, I was heading for relapse.
It spiraled when I started taking pictures of myself after every workout. I was desperate to see my belly tighten and shrink. It finally dawned on me one day that I wasn’t okay. I was getting sick all over again. My son even asked if I was still going to workout even though I had a cold. I could hear in his voice that he just wanted me to lay down and cuddle up with him. During those cuddles, I told myself it had to stop.
I used to love working out, because it helped with my nerves and anxiety. It also made me feel strong. At some point though, it always becomes another obsession. I can’t seem to do it without eventually taking it too far. So these last few months, I decided to stop except for the occasional stretching and yoga to ease to my anxiety when it’s really heightened.
When I stopped working out, I actually started to feel better about my relationship with food too. It used to be that if I worked out, I told myself I could finish a meal instead of leaving some food on the plate. I used to also think if I ate something “bad” that I had to double my workouts. Once I saw that those types of behaviors were leading to a relapse, I had to make changes.
I literally started to relabel everything. I stopped looking at food as “bad” or “good,” because I was depriving myself of foods I loved. If I ate something I thought I shouldn’t, I would punish myself. I also had to stop counting calories, because I was labeling that behavior as “healthy.” It’s definitely not healthy for me.
When I restrict myself and set those disordered perimeters, I noticed my hunger more. I not only noticed those stomach growls, but I started enjoying that empty stomach feeling again. That was the last straw.
I knew I needed to stop lifting my shirt and looking at my belly every time I went to the bathroom, and I knew I had to stop labeling what I thought were flaws. Also, I knew that I could get better, because I had done it time and time again. I needed to work on acceptance more than ever. These last few months have been such a breathe of fresh air with accepting my body.
Fat is not a dirty word.
I was all gung-ho about learning to love my body, but I’m the beginning of this year, I was still trying to change so I could accept it. I could accept parts of it, but I didn’t accept AND love all of it until these last few months.
Last fall, I still feared being fat. I was tired of hearing the negative remarks where people said that I was using recovery as an “excuse to let myself go.” I finally became exhausted from trying to fight my body to be what is wasn’t. I can remember that it took two instances to really make me say that fat is not a dirty word, and fat is beautiful too.
The first incident was a family gathering where I was chasing my youngest around as usual. I stopped in the kitchen to catch up on some grownup time, and my mom asked if I ate. I was so busy that I forgot. She started telling me that I’m not fat, I’m beautiful. She said it out of nowhere, but it honestly hurt.
I hate that my body is pointed out and always put on the spot at family functions. I was already done with the working out and disordered habits, but I had a ways to go yet with my full body self-love. In that moment, it dawned on me. All bodies are beautiful, and I’m fat. My fat is beautiful. It was the revelation I needed.
I also realized that fat is a spectrum. There are women on the smaller end of the spectrum just as there are women on the bigger end, and all of them have been made to feel like they can’t be both fat and beautiful. All sizes matter, regardless of where they fall on some spectrum or some size chart.
Inspiration Around Every Corner
The other instance that made me snap out of the self- destructive path that I was heading back down was when I introduced my husband to one of my favorite movies- Phat Girls.
It was one of those movies that didn’t do very well, and while it does have some hypocritical moments and skinny shaming that I don’t condone, it is also a movie that made me realize that being a bigger woman, a fat woman, doesn’t take away from being beautiful.
That movie helped me relabel my body. It made me realize that the power of my body is what I make of it, and if I chose to feel beautiful, I am just that. It’s my body, and the opinions of others shouldn’t affect me. There is so much self-love that came from changing how I looked at myself.
I used to constantly think that I was okay with curvy if I still had a flat stomach, but that was disordered thinking. In the media, we see women praised for being “thick” everywhere but still having tiny waists. I was trying to get a body like those woman rather than living and appreciating mine.
Recovery & Relapse
Recovery isn’t linear. I have never met anyone who has traveled the exact same recovery path from an eating disorder. That doesn’t make anyone’s recovery more or less than another’s. It just shows that we all have our own battles to fight, and we might fight them differently. That’s okay.
I used to think a relapse, especially this far into my recovery, would mean that I’ve failed not only my family and myself, but I thought it meant that I failed all of you. I’m always telling everyone that they deserve to be confident and love themselves just as they are, but it wasn’t until I was writing the first draft of my ebook that the message stuck for me. Before that point, I had self-love, but it felt like my bad days were overpowering my good days.
I Became My Own Hero
It may sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but toot toot. During the first draft of Eat the Damn Muffin, I started to see that I was falling back into my habits and hard. Writing this book really brought me into this era of self-love that I didn’t think was possible for me. I knew I could keep myself from purging, but there’s so much more to my bulimia than that.
Food and I have a very complicated relationship, but I can say with a promise that my relationships with food and my body are better than they have ever been in my life.
I won’t lie, I still get the shakes after some of my meals, and I still get cold sweats if I eat in front of people from time to time. Shaking, sweating, and feelings of panic have been consistent from the early stages of my bulimia even until now, and I’m working hard on overcoming those feelings. I still struggle, but during those shakes and sweats, I can now tell myself that it’s okay. I can tell myself I’m beautiful, and I am worth it. That is the difference.
I might not be able to control how my body reacts, but I can calm it down. I can have my body and mind slowly start to work as a team instead of enemies, and for once, I feel peaceful.
Steps Back Don’t Define Us
I’d also be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m in tears writing this, but you all deserve to know that every fight is worth fighting even if it feels like you’ll never win. I promise you that you will, and I will be fighting right there beside you.
Everyday is a challenge, but I face it with a positive attitude now. There are still rough moments and bad days, but I pick myself up the next day and remind myself I can do this just like I do with all of you.
I am proud to say that my belly is soft, and I don’t hate it. Thinking that my stomach needed to be hard and toned to be beautiful was so wrong, but since I’ve stopped pursuing that ridiculous ideal. I love my stomach more than I ever have. Also, I stopped counting how long it’s been since I purged. It’s been more than a few months, but that is the extent of what I keep tract of.
I try not to focus on setbacks, because they are very much a real part of recovery. I’m celebrating myself and my accomplishments now. Trust me when I say that I have an entirely new mindset. It has been my shield in these battles.
I’m still surprised that my own words were able to help me the way they did. However, I think that’s why I’m working so hard to make this paperback edition of Eat the Damn Muffin perfect. I want to help the woman who’ve felt like there’s no hope.
I want to help others see that there is beauty in their battles, because they don’t need to be prisoners. They can be warriors too. They can be their own hero’s, because they are worthy. That’s why I’m writing this book. That’s why I do this. I do this for me, for you, and for anyone who has ever felt like they weren’t worthy of self-love.
-With Love, Jenni