Yes, You Can Recover From an Eating Disorder


Lower Antelope Canyon 478Recovery work involves developing your mind, heart, body and soul from a fragile and insubstantial state to a more mature and capable condition that is your authentic you.

You can heal your way, develop your way, grow your way out of an eating disorder.  Solid recovery from an eating disorder is not about fighting the disorder and winning.  That gives an incorrect impression that you remain the same and the eating disorder leaves.  Solid recovery occurs when you no longer need your eating disorder to cope with the stresses and challenges in your life now or in the future.  * pix

The New York Times, in the April 25, 2011 issues, ran a pessimistic article that risks leaving readers with the idea that you cannot recover

from an eating disorder or that you can recover partially but need to be prepared for a recurrence. I say, this does not have to be your story.  I'm concerned that an article like this may lead people to give up hope or even not to begin their recovery work.

When you seek help in recovering from your eating disorder you make that first call for psychotherapy because you are in pain. You don't want to "fight" your eating disorder. I doubt that you know what that might mean.  You make that call because you want your pain to stop. You want to live a better, happier, more fulfilling life.

To me, recovery work means looking at you as a whole person who is suffering but who, with healing and development, can grow beyond your current limitations so you can deal with the world without your eating disorder.  Recovery is not about bringing eating disorder symptoms to an end.  Recovery is about no longer needing your eating disorder to cope. It's about your developing the ability to have a better, happier and more fulfilling life.  Your eating disorder falls away in this process of your becoming a more complete and healthy woman.

A quote from the New York Times article, "In Fighting Anorexia, Recovery is Elusive“

I say to patients, ‘This is your Achilles’ heel,’ ” said Dr. Daniel Le Grange, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago and director of the eating disorders program at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “If you have another crisis, you’re predisposed to resorting to starvation as your way of managing that issue. It would be foolish of us as clinicians not to prepare our patients that they should be on the lookout for a recurrence.

I agree with Dr. Le Grange insofar as we prepare our patients for what may come in the future.  But my approach differs. I say to patients, once you have achieved a more solid and appreciative sense of yourself and an awareness of how you used your eating disorder behavior, your old eating disorder behaviors become helpful signals in your life. 

You may not have felt an urge to engage in your eating disorder behaviors for months or years, and then an urge is on you.  That doesn't mean you are having a relapse. It's a signal that you are encountering in your life a stress or challenge beyond your present coping abilities.

Your urge gives you notice that something is going on that needs your attention and that you need to grow stronger and more aware in order to identify and cope with it. It's a signal to be mindful, to journal, to do some short term therapy work to discover and learn what your current challenge may be.

None of us gets a guarantee that we have learned, developed or matured to a state where we will not be challenged or need to grow more or need to develop more wisdom or compassion or insight.  When eating disorder symptoms seem appealing as a short cut to relief, they are signals to a person in recovery to put more attention and effort into growing beyond her need for them.

1.   Are you in recovery?

2.   Do you, every once in a while, have eating disorder urges? 

3.   How do you take care of yourself at such times?

4.   Please share your recovery experiences.

 *pix Antelope Canyon, Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona, USA. author: Meckimac
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Note: The magnificent Antelope Canyon presents a challenge to exploring visitors.  

We never know what challenge life will present to us next.  Often, we need to reorganize ourselves, sort through our skills and experience to see what will help us. If we come up short we need to learn new skills or attitudes or both.  The eating disorder will present itself along with other offerings from your past so that you can choose what might be useful now.  Choice is the important part to remember.  In solid recovery, when the eating disorder behavior offers itself to you it is not a relapse.  It is presented as a choice, and you can say,

"Thank you.  You were a tool for me before.  Now you are a tool because you are letting me know something I haven't thought of yet is required."

Then you move to learn, develop, hire, borrow, claim what you need to move forward.


0 # I also have a hard time believing that rPTC 2011-04-30 05:14
I also have a hard time believing that recovery is possible. I think that I might think that it's possible for some but maybe just not for myself. I'm not really sure.
0 # Joanna...I find this a really interestinshh 2011-04-30 05:19
Joanna...I find this a really interesting topic, as I often question whether I'm "on the road to recovery"(probably), "in recovery"(prob not yet), and how I will know when I get there?

In terms of the actual eating, I haven't had a "proper binge" for 5 months now, because my relationship with food has evolved into something a bit more healthy, and I have enough self-awareness now, not to let things escalate into a full blown 2000 cal binge.

That doesn't mean that I have all the answers, and I definitely still have lots of work to do on an emotional/psychological level...there are times now when I still reach for food, but by the time I hit about 500 cals I'm reminding myself that no amount of food is going to satiate me and deal with whatever it is that I'm trying to get away from...and I can put the food down and take myself off to think & write down what's going on in my life & in my head, until I hit on the issues.

I'm tuned in to myself now, in a way that, I know that if what I write provokes tears or any other strong emotional reaction, that it is probably the thing I need to explore and work on to stop me from keep wanting to binge.

I feel like work on self-awareness & self-development will always be an ongoing thing...but I don't mind that, the enlightenment & rewards always outweigh the struggles, no matter how hard they are at the time.

I feel like recovering from ED is an evolutionary process...there is never an "end" as such, but there is a point in the process whereby we can maintain a reasonably healthy relationship with food, and appreciate being able to tolerate our own emotions.
0 # PTC...I used to feel that way, (had my Eshh 2011-04-30 05:28
PTC...I used to feel that way, (had my ED for 25+ yrs, 4-5 years of searching for the courage to ask for help, and 8 years of trying to find the right treatment, but in the last 6 months I feel like I've found it) it will come - one day someone will say something or you will think something that moves your attempts to deal with your ED to a different level, and then you will start to see the rewards of your efforts and start to believe that you are going to get there!
0 # I dont know if I'll ever be totally RecoKymL 2011-04-30 08:35
I dont know if I'll ever be totally Recovered or not, but I do know that just as some people should never drink, I should never diet. I have to keep remembering that. I have to trust that if I really work on my recovery, ED urges or no ED urges, I will be able to handle what life brings me.

I have my once a year big handbell concert tonight and last night I found out that the one firend whom I thought would come, isn't. Every year my firends make up excuses and every year I don't admit how bad it hurts and just feel bitter when they ask me to do something later. But last night I started crying and allow the feelings of disappointment and loneliness to happen, and the really great thing....I didn't notice until this morning that I didn't even consider using ED behaviors to deal with the feelings. The only coping questions were if I share my dissappointment with my friend or not...and I think that's normal stuff for anyone!
0 # Kym...I'm glad you cried, even though I'shh 2011-04-30 21:32
Kym...I'm glad you cried, even though I'm not glad that your friend didn't go to your handbell concert.

Maybe it would be okay to tell your friend that you would really like it if he/she came to see you in the concert next year, and that it would mean a lot too you? That way you are keeping the tone positive.

Want to send some hugs to you, as I can feel your disappointment! (((hugs))) xx
0 # Thanks Shh, I did end up telling her howKymL 2011-05-01 07:10
Thanks Shh, I did end up telling her how disappointed I was that none of my friends were coming. She still didn't show up, but I think she knows for next year. Another friend whom I haven't seen for awhile surprised me by coming (got the info from my Facebook page), so it was nice. And the concert was great!!!!!
0 # Dear Shh and Kym, It wonderful to seepinkjoanna 2011-05-01 11:46
Dear Shh and Kym,

It wonderful to see how you support each other.

Kym, you are describing feelings that come in hard but necessary realizations. Every step in our development (in recovery and beyond) involves creating greater sturdiness of self so we can be there for ourselves.

People show up for us in different ways depending on their agenda. They support, share, come to learn, come out of duty, come to celebrate.

When we are fragile and needy we need their support. As we develop we appreciate their presence if they are sincere in wanting to be there.

The more secure and developed we become the more solid we are in showing up for ourselves and what is important to us.

You love bell ringing! It's wonderful to be able to share that love with others. At the same time, the love for the bell ringing is in you. You bring it with you. You carry it always. That love always shows up for you.

Can you learn to rest in that love and rely on it? :-)
0 # Joanna, I've thought a lot about your reKymL 2011-05-01 16:02
Joanna, I've thought a lot about your response and I'm not sure I'm getting the message correctly. Are you saying that if I didn't have feelings of dissappointment in my friends for not coming to the concert it would have been a sign of a stronger me? I can see that in many situations, but because of my love for making music, isn't it natural to want to share? I want them to enjoy receiving what I enjoy giving and I'm thinking that might be a normal response especially since we do have a relationship. Now if I got terribly upset and mad at them, or depressed, or thought less of myself from them not showing up, that would be a sign of some issues going on inside of me, but feeling dissappointed (especially since I get turned down year after year) seems like a healthy response. But I'm not an expert in this field, so please tell me if you think my responses mean I have more work to do? This feeling stuff is new to me, but I guess I thought it was a normal, healthy response; maybe not. Thanks
0 # Dear Kym, Your disappointment is a nopinkjoanna 2011-05-01 18:21
Dear Kym,

Your disappointment is a normal response. It's lovely and gratifying to share what we love with people we love.

At the same time, sometimes we can develop expectations that will lead us to disappointment.

You ask, do you have more work to do? The answer is that we want a rich and fulfilling life we are always challenging our limits and always have work to do. That's the healthy normal of living.

Learning to accept people as they are, i.e. having their own foibles, agendas, strengths and weaknesses is ongoing work for most of us.
When we can accept them as they are we have less expectation. Actually, over time, this results in more satisfying experiences. :-)

You are doing fine. Does this clarify?
0 # I know people have their own lives and IKymL 2011-05-01 18:32
I know people have their own lives and I'm not dissapointed in any specific friend, but it felt like planning a party for 9 months and then no one can come. I can still have a nice night reading a book or taking a bath, but it still feels lonely and dissapointing because I had hoped to spend time with friends. Last year I made their no-shows personally by letting ED tell me that I was a loser with no real friends. I quickly fought that off this year. Recovery has made me much more social this year, so I think I had more hope of friends coming. It was just disappointing....that's all.

Thanks for clarifying.
0 # Yes, I remember my first conference prespinkjoanna 2011-05-01 19:26
Yes, I remember my first conference presentations.

I was scheduled to be present as one of a five member group. We all were colleagues from Los Angeles, worked together and practiced together. At the same conference I was scheduled to give a presentation, solo. It never occurred to me that none of my colleagues would attend my seminar. We were all there in the same city, at the same time, staying at the same hotel and presenting at the same conference. We all were interested in the topic. I was terribly disappointed. I struggled with not taking it personally, and failed. I had to do some personal exploration and learning to move past that disappointment - or disillusionment - or both. My expectations did not relate to reality.
0 # So I'm rereading this blog after a couplKymL 2011-07-06 21:22
So I'm rereading this blog after a couple months and seeing something totally different this time (you've warned me about that!! ). You speak of recovery as not needing my ED to handle stress. Last night I was struggling with losing my ED idenity. I've heard many people and have thought myself, that my ED makes me special, but last night I felt for the first time that it's not that I fear the lose of "specialness" but rather I'm scared of having to really be human. Healthy humans handle their feelings and know how to take care of themselves in stressful times and last night that seemed so far out of my reach! I cried myself to sleep and wondered if healthy humans cry themselves to sleep!? ED gives me the ability to numb my feelings and an excuse for my failures; But with recovery I'm expected to be self-sufficiant and able to handle life. That scares the hell out of me right now. I've some really bad things happening at work right now and although on the outside I've been able to hold it together, I feel like the broken and weak Kym who relapses during times like this. I haven't yet, but it's shown me that being Human can really suck!!!!
0 # Kym...I actually got a bit choked up reashh 2011-07-07 06:16
Kym...I actually got a bit choked up reading your post, it sounds like you are doing brilliantly, especially in the face of adversity.

I don't know whether Joanna would agree, but I think "normal" humans probably do cry themselves to sleep from time to time, and as long as it's not happening regularly I think it's okay....sometimes, in certain situations, there is nothing else to do but cry...but crying is a sign that you are allowing yourself to acknowledge how you truly feel, even though you may not know how to deal with things...which is such a positive thing!

This might be totally out of place and irrelevent, but I have found that facing up to my ED has made me reflect on the events of the past and say that I might not have dealt with things very well at the time, but I am still here to tell the tale...and so I know now, that I might not like what life throws at me, and I might not handle it well, but I will get through it, and I will survive!
YOU are a SURVIVOR too Kym, I hope you can help yourself to see that, and I really hope that you manage to deal with whatever is happening and work and get back to a more comfortable place in your life. xx
0 # Dear Shh and Kym, First, I love seeinpinkjoanna 2011-07-07 09:05
Dear Shh and Kym,

First, I love seeing how you support each other and at such deep levels of care and understanding! :-)

Now, the issue you are exploring is a topic - more like a revelation - that comes up in a particular phase of recovery.

The person becomes less clouded by fantasy wishes/beliefs and more aware of reality. At this stage (and I said it too, in my recovery work) she say or shouts or screams - "This is what the real world is?!!! I worked so hard to be able to see this? !!!! This is horrible! This sucks!"

The dream, fantasy, wish, belief is that the eating disorder is the cause of pain. Therefore, when the eating disorder and its hold on you diminishes you will be in a happy healthy world that is unclouded by ED miseries.

Instead, you get the real world. Just look at the front page of the newspaper. Terrible things are going on and have been going on, as the Irish say, "Since God was a boy." (or girl. :-))

Of course we cry ourselves to sleep or storm around the block on a walk to release rage or cower in the dark in fear.

The full range of emotion emotions is available to us as we respond to the conditions of this real world.

With an eating disorder you are oblivious - and often have no idea how oblivious you are. In recovery, oblivion fails and awareness pours in. Often you don't like what you see.

Okay. So the adult, mature, healthy and courageous position is, what do I do about it? How do I best handle this?

Starve? no.
Binge? no.
Treadmill till I collapse? no.
What then?
Avoid? maybe
Get political? maybe
Get more education? For sure!
Learn how to learn? Yes
Find people who can or want to address the negativity? Yes
Be creative myself? Yes
Seek out the positive in the world? Yes
And support the positive I find? Yes!
And create more positive myself? Yes! Yes!

Crying or raging or trembling with fear shows us the raw energy we have. Instead of suffocating that energy with ED we harness that energy to create, build, support the life (and the world) we want.

(I think I'll tweak this and write it as a blog. More people need to hear this. Do you agree?)
0 # I think it would be a good topic for a bKymL 2011-07-07 10:44
I think it would be a good topic for a blog. Thank you Shh for the support and Thank you Joanna for letting me know that this is normal stage of recovery. It’s exactly how I’m feeling!! Until the recent issues at work came up I think I was able to stay positive, but the last few days I’ve let my inability to handle all the stresses go into my “misery mind” which tells me I will never have what it takes to handle life…..if this is what life is really like. My biggest stress right now is that a friend of mine is dyeing of cancer and everyday I expect to hear she’s gone, and every night I cry because I know she’s in pain and I know it’s going to be sad when she’s gone. My wise mind keeps reminding myself that this is a normal feeling and the waiting would wear on anyone, but our mutual friend seems to be handling it well. But he’s doing what you suggest…..he’s becoming active in the fight for cure by organizing a team for the Race for the Cure in her honor. Maybe I should get moving on fundraising for our team and that might help me get out of my “misery mind.”

I want to believe that life is good (I even collect “life is Good” shirts-I’m up to 16!!) and my Wise Mind knows it is. Knowing that my current struggle is just part of recovery gives me light at the end of the tunnel. Again, thanks!!

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