“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” —Jean Shinoda Bolen
I still remember my first therapy session after I’d been diagnosed with anorexia. I’d figured I would sit down, gain the enigmatic answers I’d been seeking and then be on my merry way, feeling less “fat” and miserable. (Boy, was I wrong...) As my therapist started using terms like ‘normalized,’ ‘weight gain’ and ‘healthier,’ I envisioned myself lost in a never-ending nightmare called Mediocrity. Thankfully, I was wrong there, too. Like others who’ve overcome eating disorders, my path to recovery wasn’t smooth or simple. It was, however, 1000% worthwhile.
Eating disorder recovery often brings an empowerment the sufferer never dreamed possible. I wish everyone could have a taste of what that feels like—if only to remove the angst that can function like a cement wall in the journey toward healing. Every sufferer needs to know that there’s something real and glorious worth fighting for. I’m telling you—there is!
I took time this past week to chat with five courageous women who’ve found their way through the darkness of disordered eating and into the light of full and lasting recovery. Here are just some of the rewards recovery can bring:
Feeling lovelier, inside and out. Most women have somewhat distorted views of themselves physically, seeing less beauty and more “flaws” in themselves than others do. When you have an eating disorder, this can happen -to the extreme. “I thought for sure that I’d have to settle for fatness to recover from bulimia,” said Carrie R., a social worker student in Minneapolis, MN. “I used to see someone atrocious in the mirror. Now I see someone vibrant and happy, and I’m not the only one who notices. I even feel lighter, though I’m not. I never expected recovery to make me feel beautiful, but it does.”
Greater energy. As anyone who’s endured an eating disorder knows, the illnesses require an incredible amount of physical and emotional energy. Upon healing, that same energy can fuel more positive pursuits. “I can’t believe how much energy I have!” said Maria S., a stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles, CA. “The ironic thing is, I was stressed out over trying to be the perfect mom to my kids. I have so much more to give them now.” In her spare time, Maria volunteers for a self-esteem boosting program in her local school district. “I love having more to give,” she said.
Food enjoyment. “When I was binging or starving myself, I longed for food and hated it at the same time,” said Hanna M., a radio DJ in Santa Monica, CA. “I never thought I’d have a normal relationship with food, much less enjoy it.” After a year in inpatient treatment and additional efforts on her own afterward, she’s healed her relationship with not only her body and emotional self, but food. “Now I can eat a meal and taste it instead of worry about calories! I don’t eat perfectly, but I realize now that that’s not the goal. You can be healthy and happy and taste food, and still be okay. You can even be awesome.”
Freedom! Five years ago, Zoe M. decided to give up her obsession with thinness—the consequences of which many eating disorder sufferers fear. Once she fully “let go,” Zoe found freedom. “I was surprised that I can live without the obsession over food consuming my everyday existence,” she said. “I used to be conscious that my eating was disordered, yet felt that if I didn’t have the disorder, I would become out of control of my eating habits, and that in turn, my life would be out of control. I didn’t realize that I was a slave to my own mindset.” She went on to finish her dissertation, obtain a Ph.D., marry and have two beautiful children. “These are things I couldn’t fathom before,” she said. “My life revolved around my obsession.”
Gratitude. All of the individuals I talked to about eating disorder recovery expressed a deep gratitude they may not have obtained had they not healed. Lisa P., a substitute teacher in Burbank, CA, says she “oozes with thankfulness,” filling up multiple pages in her gratitude journal per day. “Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for a healthy body and to be free of that monster in my head, telling me what to do and not do,” she said, pausing to wipe a few tears. “My recovery feels like a second chance. How could I not be grateful for that?”