by Julia Hawkins ‘22
National Eating Disorder Week is February 21st-27th. It is the week to bring awareness to eating disorders, how they affect those who have them, and the recovery process. In my last article, I talked about eating disorders, including what a few of the most common ones are and my own experiences with eating disorders – a journey of recovery that I’m still on.
If you’ve never experienced an eating disorder, you’re lucky. I’m genuinely so glad knowing that others may never have to experience an eating disorder, the pain, the anxiety, and the cycle of attempting recovery with relapses. It’s something I’d never wish upon anyone. I’m a part of the few lucky ones: I’m currently seeking treatment and working on recovery. Though I’m still working on this and it certainly hasn’t been easy. There is so much I wish others knew about what recovery is all about.
We don’t always know everything that’s going on with someone in recovery. If one chooses to let you behind the curtain, to tell you everything that is going on with their recovery, you still don’t know everything. There is so much more beneath the surface with recovery that no one will know, because it’s so hard. It’s so difficult to explain to someone exactly what one is feeling because sometimes, it’s hard for the person to understand what he or she is feeling during recovery as well. The biggest thing I’ve noticed with my own recovery is that when people reached out, I never really know how to communicate with them what I am feeling, because I don’t even know what I am thinking or feeling. “Brain fog” is a symptom of an eating disorder that’s hardly discussed. It constantly feels like a cloud is surrounding my thoughts, making it nearly impossible to think clearly. Once that cloud clears away, then comes the especially hard part – dealing with all the thoughts that were hidden behind that fog, the good and the bad. It can be incredibly overwhelming and difficult to process.
Recovery is painful. On the surface, recovery sounds great, particularly with eating disorder recovery. The concept sounds great. Eating habits get regulated, the metabolism functions normally, and energy levels increase. But the truth is, eating disorder recovery is painful. It can be so hard to eat normally again, because food can be scary. When your relationship with food is skewed, it affects how your body operates. My therapist explained it to me like this, “When the ‘mammal’ part of your body that relies solely on food stops getting food, or there are wider gaps between when it gets food, it loses trust in your ability to feed yourself. So, everything begins to slow in order to preserve its energy from food.” Before seeing my therapist, that’s exactly how I felt, sluggish and slow. When you start eating normally, your body doesn’t immediately go back to functioning normally. It takes so much time and effort to rebuild, and all of that can be painful. In addition, your body is typically in pain. The ED Institute’s website says, “In the progression of an eating disorder the shift from feeling fabulous to feeling numb is usually when the patient starts to get a bit scared and she (or he) feels a sense of isolation, as any attempt to try to break away from the eating disorder creates instant punishing waves of guilt, anxiety and shame.”
ED recovery cannot be done alone. This one is probably the biggest misconception. Before I met my therapist, I was mostly on my own in terms of my own recovery. I was able to make small amounts of progress, but it always ended the same: in a relapse where I felt terrible and discouraged because it felt like all of the work I had put into recovery was gone. Going through ED recovery is one of the most isolating feelings if done alone. Unless you reach out and gain a support system, you are alone because often people don’t see what’s going on with ED recovery unless you tell them. For me, the biggest, and arguably the most terrifying part of recovery, is letting people in, telling people when you’re struggling is hard because it’s actually admitting to the people that care the most about you that you’re struggling and can’t do this alone. Gaining a support system of professionals, friends, and family is the most helpful tool someone can have. By having a support system, you no longer have to fight alone.
If you know someone who may be struggling with an eating disorder, or someone struggling with recovery, be there for them, check in on them. Actually checking in on someone in recovery is more helpful than most may think. Recovery can be so scary, it’s scary for me, but by checking in on someone who is in recovery, you have the ability to make a genuine difference. Eating disorders are scary, recovery is even scarier, but there is hope within recovery. If the work is done, the hard work of recovery, life becomes so much more than just an eating disorder. Life becomes vivid again, when someone isn’t hyper fixated on how the body is feeling, or thinking about food, life can become enjoyable again, and the future version of one’s self will thank the past version for putting in the work to strive for recovery.