As I am sitting in my apartment tonight, having gone through two bags of pretzels and a full jar of chocolates, after a rather copious dinner, I wanted to revisit a topic I’m most passionate about: unrestricted eating and how that looks for someone recovering from anorexia.
What people fail to understand when it comes to recovery, is that sadly, the illness does not end, when one resumes normal eating patterns.
In recovery, I ate very large amounts of food. Some friends would tell me I don’t need to eat this much. Others reassured me I was “ok now”, as they see me eat all these meals and snacks. I sometimes got comments about my strong appetite, whenever I “indulged” more than they were used to see me do. As I reached a healthy weight, and kept eating large and regular meals throughout the day, it’s like I had no excuse to still feel the way I do, let’s face it, ill.
I talk about this, because I don’t want people to feel alone, worse so, consider themselves a fraud, when no one around acknowledges and accepts that they are in recovery, that they are still convalescing, despite having gained weight, despite having improved energy, despite eating much more food than they used to.
It’s a hard time in recovery, when you are in this phase you only dreamed of reaching, a place where you thought everything would settle back to normal but notice it hasn’t yet. On top of that, with a healthier looking version of yourself, the support and compassion you receive only seems to diminish.
If food is still occupying a big chunk of your thoughts, if uncertainty around mealtimes still produces anxiety, it’s because your health is not yet recovered. And that isn’t a question of will and certainly not a matter of “all being in your head” (as my father liked to think). Your body craves more calories to restore its functions, for it otherwise wouldn’t dedicate so much mental space to thinking about the next meal; it wouldn’t leave you feeling hungry, after what others deem a decently sized portion; and it wouldn’t cause so much fatigue that you often end up choosing home rest over social activities.
Just take your time, and know that it’s ok. What’s most important is setting aside this period, however long, to restoring the energy balance. If that means having dinner with your friends, but eating before hand, so you don’t wind up too hungry as plans get delayed, that’s ok. If that means eating more than anyone else at the table still, because for you, food is what it’s all about, that’s ok too. If that means, after a double dinner, you pass on continuing the night because you are exhausted and still a little peckish, it’s ok to go home and eat some more. Whatever you need to do, it’s ok. Your body wants to heal. Acknowledging that it’s ok and giving into those urges is the best medicine to helping the recovery process.
I used to hate how dinner gatherings, which were once all about the fun, became all about the food to the point where I could hardly keep up with the conversations. I would be so upset when I responded to all hunger and cravings only to wind up drained of all energy and need to go sleep. I used to hate that even as I “weight restored”, my days still revolved around mealtimes. I used to hate seeing that recovery is not about eating regularly, in unrestrictive ways and reaching a certain weight.
Recovery happens when your body decides to trust you again. Recovery happens when you have eaten and rested enough so that all your depleted organs have restored their function. Recovery happens when all unconscious restrictions have ceased to exist. Recovery happens with patience and compassion. Recovery happens on this very Saturday night, as I sit here, with a tummy full of yummy, sharing these words, in hope of helping others.