I have been asked numerous times over the last twenty years about HOW to recover from an eating disorder and IF it is REALLY possible. I am here to tell you that Recovery is not only possible, but can become a reality for you, too.
In honor of Mental Health Month I wrote this post to answer that question and to give you some words of encouragement – I recovered from an eating disorder after suffering for over 8 years and now use that experience to help others recover. My way was only my way and no indication of what will work for you, but my experience may give you some ideas for recovery, as it does contain things I often find useful in working with my clients. Recovery is a very personal experience, so take what you can use and leave the rest.
What did it take to stop? Honesty, openness, and willingness. And a lot of hard work and persistence.
Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Today I am free of being controlled by unconscious urges with food and compulsive exercise. I know how to respond so I don’t have to engage in the behavior. I am more self-aware, healthy, and centered. I also realize that food is just food and weight is just a number on the scale. Neither can bring me true happiness. And I have finally accepted people don’t like me or dislike me because of my body, but because of who I am as a person.
Is it perfect? No, because perfect doesn’t exist, and I live in a world where focus on body, diet, and perfection is idealized. I need to maintain a certain acceptance, willingness and awareness. But this is such a small price to pay for having freedom.
How did I do it? I am actually working on writing the story of my recovery, but to give you the shortened version, this is what I did and the steps I took.
1) I accepted that I had an eating disorder and I needed help. I also came to realize it was not my fault, and I had no need to feel ashamed. An eating disorder is a real medical condition. I didn’t ask to have one, I just developed it due to a combination of many factors; genetics, triggering events, family issues, and peer pressure.
2) I retired my “Cinderella Complex” and came to accept and realize that no one was coming to save me. I would have to develop responsibility for saving myself. Looking outside myself was not the answer, I had to look within and discover my true self.
3) I came to understand that although it was not my fault, it was my responsibility to do whatever it took to learn to control the urges I had and the actions I took. Thus, I needed to make a decision on how I was going to approach the problem and then begin to do it.
4) I decided that I would do whatever it took to reach recovery and regain my life. I reached a point where I realized that living with an eating disorder was really no way to live. I could learn to eat in a healthy way, manage my urges, and learn to tolerate my feelings without necessarily acting on them. As Goethe once said, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
5) I took the time to educate myself and learned all I could about eating disorders and what was needed to live without one. I fully accepted it wasn’t about the food or the weight. I accepted that I couldn’t do it alone and that I needed to practice humility and ask for help. Being responsible for my recovery didn’t mean I had to do it on my own. I could be vulnerable, admit my imperfections, and live to tell about it. I could also allow people to help me.
6) I did self-monitoring for 6 months, an average of five days a week. I learned SO much about myself, my patterns, and my responses to situations, whether I was tired, lonely, angry, or feeling anything else.
7) I took medication to moderate my anxiety and depression – it didn’t help me to eat, but it enabled me to lift the depression and anxiety I had experienced since childhood, so I could stay motivated with my practice of all the tools I had learned from others, and developed on my own.
8) I began to focus on the things in my life that were the most important to me and surrounded myself with positive and encouraging people. I learned to identify my true feelings, and noticed that if I expressed myself in appropriate ways, and set good boundaries, I was less likely to be triggered. Self-care became a huge part of the process. I learned how to put myself and my needs first and let go of feeling guilty when I said NO. I practiced meditations, relaxation techniques and learned to enjoy exercise as a way to move my body rather than punish myself for what I had eaten.
9) I decided that I was willing to accept that this might take a while, but what did I have to lose? I could either keep living the way I was, which was in misery, or I could begin to practice all the things I was learning and take some risks.
10) I Learned not to beat myself up when I did slip. I came to realize that we DO slip on the road to recovery, or most of us do. So learning to be a little(or a lot) more compassionate and accepting with myself was a big part of the process.
11) I Learned to measure my recovery not by the scale, but by how fast I got back on track with my life, how little I berated myself, how much I was able to congratulate myself and enjoy all of my accomplishments.
12) I kept a gratitude journal. In the deepest darkest days of my depression, anxiety, and ed behaviors I didn’t think there was anything to be grateful for. I was wrong. When I began to focus on all that I was and everything that I had, a small light started to shine. As Helen Keller said “Keep your face to the sunshine and you will not notice the shadows.”
13) Even after my symptoms subsided, I stayed in therapy to discover my true self, who I was without the eating disorder. How could I be myself if I didn’t know who I was? Look for my upcoming book… How can I be myself when I don’t know who I am TM.
14) I found a passion and purpose for being- my career and helping others recover and focusing on having my own family. Finding a reason to recover was important.
15) Today I live with the full understanding that yes, my eating disorder could come back at any time. However, this way of life has become an opportunity for self-growth, centeredness, awareness, and acceptance. Today, I have the tools I need and the commitment to use them. Every day, I Say Yes to Life !
The good news is there really are pathways out of being controlled by ED and other compulsive behaviors. The challenge is that it takes time, commitment, awareness and practice. But then, to be good at anything usually does. I have lived many years free from Ed behavior and am lucky enough to work every day with amazing people who are also on this journey. If you are on this path, struggling, or just need someone who really understands, give me a call.
To your success and happiness,
Kimberly Krueger, MSW, LCSW is a therapist and the founder and director of Southlake Counseling and The Center for Self Discovery in Davidson, NC. Kimberly may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Southlake Counseling is Lake Norman’s leading behavioral health treatment center, providing a full range of clinical services to children, adolescents, and adults. Southlake services include therapy, psycho-educational and psycho-social assessment, consultations, health education, nutrition, wellness and coaching programs for those suffering emotional, behavioral, health, and educational challenges.