Recovery is Possible!


Full Recovery, In Recovery: How to Know You’re Healing

How do you know recovery is happening? Recovering from an eating disorder may involve medical testing and the close eye of professionals, but the reality is it’s impossible to translate the human experience of recovery into numbers on paper. The mental work, the physical work, the emotional work; none can be clearly detected on a scan or shown up in blood tests. All this to say your recovery and recovery wins still have a real effect on you. But how can you know you’re getting better?


Ultimately, it comes down to how you feel. Digging into the deeper levels of your thoughts and reflecting on where you’ve been and where you’re going is crucial to the process. There might not be tangible evidence that you’re growing and healing, but the evidence is in how you feel about yourself. How others see you in a new light. How you’re going to go about changing and evolving your mindset far above your eating disorder’s limits. 


So in this journey toward eating disorder recovery, it’s important to pause and acknowledge every milestone, both big and small. Each step forward is a step towards a life worth living, proving that you’re able to draw the strength and resilience necessary to heal. Every new recovery win is more proof that you’re on your way to not just recovering, but recovered.


Yet, hitting those goals is rarely straightforward. Ups and downs are common in the eating disorder recovery journey, and this nonlinear path is pretty typical for many going through the same thing. Whether that’s days when your body still doesn’t feel good or right enough or you feel yourself missing your past disordered habits, recovery takes time and dedication to depart from your old ways. 


Processing the “Downs” of Eating Disorder Recovery


On tougher days, it’s important to remember that setbacks are part of the recovery process. Many find solace in self-care practices like reaching out to supportive friends or trying on different clothes to boost their confidence. Other times, a simple self-reflection on how hard they’ve worked to get to the place they are now helps relieve some of the pressure of relapsing. 


If you’re looking for ways to treat bad body days or days where you feel like giving up on recovery, stick around to read just a few of the ways other recoverers cope with these very same feelings. Recovery is hard, and feeling stuck, tired, or unable to really “feel” the progress you’re making is 100% valid. Working to approach these feelings with understanding and clarity, treating them as a regular part of the emotional spectrum, will help your eating disorder recovery journey in the long run as you learn how to empathize with yourself and learn the healthier habits that will stick with you in your recovered life.


Tips for Harder Days in Eating Disorder Recovery 


Each of these tips is unique to the person, and won’t work for every single eating disorder or every single person. This is a process that requires identifying the individual values and aspects of a person and using those traits to form a distinct recovery identity. Taking the time to find what works best for you is critical to sticking to and completing a long-term treatment plan. But showing what works for others may give you ideas of your own when it comes to recognizing your own recovery wins.


In my blog about body image issues and positive affirmations last week, I had the pleasure of speaking to three recovery influencers who each shared their personal tips with me. Continuing with their stories, I’d like to talk more about what they found to be the most helpful in their own recovery journeys. 


Jwana’s Story


Jwana, or @jwanasdiary as she’s known online, provides a safe space to talk about eating disorder recovery and mental health for the thousands that follow her. Throughout her journey to recovery, one of the biggest learning experiences she’s faced is unlearning society’s beliefs about body size and coming to accept that no two people are meant to look or weigh exactly the same. 


Though she says she makes progress every day and embraces her worth as a person as far more important than her weight, she too still has days where embracing herself feels tough. 


During these times, she has a few different go-tos that help her feel better about herself. She said these are the most helpful tips, including:


  • Wearing comfy and baggy clothes.

  • Repeating positive reminders to myself.

  • Remembering that feelings are temporary and I won’t always hate my body.

  • Reminding myself that my body is not the problem but the way I feel about it is.

  • Being kind to myself and doing things that I love to lift up my mood.


At the core of these self-care practices are practices that take care of both the mind and body. Being gentle to oneself and listening to what you need instead of giving in to what you might want (like falling back into body-harming habits) is how you arm yourself against eating disorder relapse. 


Nourishing your needs instead of your wants can be hard; that’s why they tend to be two different categories in the first place. Nonetheless, if you’re motivated to recover, differentiating between the two is crucial to inform what actions you need to take for the ultimate benefit of your physical and mental health. 

Questions to Ask Yourself for What You Need


Ask yourself these questions and see if you can think up even more:


  • Do I need to stop stepping on a scale? 
  • Do I need new clothes to replace the ones that are only kept for a “weight goal?” 
  • Do I need to go back to my old hobbies and find what I love again? 
  • Do I need to reach out to my friends? 
  • Do I need to stop reading the ingredient label for calories?
  • Do I need to talk to somebody about my mental health?


All of these questions can be answered once you prioritize what you need instead of what your eating disorder wants. 


Jwana’s Recovery Wins


As Jwana goes through her recovery journey, there are many bright spots along the way that give her hope in her healing. She says she knows her eating disorder recovery is working when she feels less anxious around her fear foods and her body changing. 


Furthermore, she says the shift in her personality and the difference between her old and new self has been night and day. She knew her recovery was succeeding when she “…started enjoying my hobbies again because I knew that I am gaining my true personality back, which my eating disorder took away from me.” 


Even when you’re not sure recovery is affecting you, know that there are so many small shifts and changes that you might have not even noticed. Recognizing your wins, big and small, will prove to you how far you’ve come in your recovery journey, and what you’ll never give back to your eating disorder ever again. 


Paige’s Story


If anyone understands the importance of small wins, that would be @paigesbalancedlife. Her journey online includes a series of writing down her recovery wins on Post-it notes, spreading the squares across her room as her goals expand. 


“One thing I do to remind myself that I have made progress is I write down my recovery wins and goals and put them on my wall! It helps to have a visual reminder of all the times I challenged myself and it shows that the small victories got me to the big accomplishments.”


Using a visualization technique like physical writing is a great way to put your achievements into view. We tend to take things for granted when we aren’t able to reflect on them. Physically putting those wins into the world can broaden our awareness of them, where we’re reminded every day to be grateful for our triumphs. 


As for her ways of beating bad body days, a few of her favorite self-care activities include dressing up and meeting with friends to boost her spirits and redirect negative energy. “I always found that surrounding myself with people I care about can immediately take my mind off my body.” 


Eating disorders have a way of isolating people. The deeply intimate and secretive nature of the disorder can breed so much unnecessary shame and anxiety. Understand that this shame is not for you to carry; we all struggle with problems that may seem impossible to talk about, but there is always someone to listen. 


Talking about your issues doesn’t make you weak; letting these feelings out will help you unpack and deal with them more effectively than bottling them up. Getting your mind off constant thoughts about your body now will make it easier for future-you to ignore disordered thoughts for good. 


Hopesforhealing’s Story


@hopesforhealing seconds the importance of reaching out to others. Her Instagram works as her personal outlet, sharing her story with others whether she needs support or just wants to share tips for recovery. She says she always tries to “talk or do something with a friend” and says it gives her back control when she feels her disorder is taking up too much space in her head. 


Another tip that she recommends is doing something a little outside your comfort zone to prove to yourself that you’re strong enough to try it. It may take some time to work up to that point, but being able to challenge yourself in recovery is what really moves your progress along. Sitting still and leaving your eating disorder unchecked will only keep you where you are. 


When talking about what she does to feel better during recovery, she said, I know this is going to sound weird, but challenging a fear food makes me feel better too. It gives me energy and amazing memories.”


Even though there is sometimes residual guilt and anxiety after eating an uncomfortable food, she says it helps her self-confidence in attempting a feat she’d never thought possible during her eating disorder. In this case, challenging a food fear becomes one of her recovery wins on her journey to full recovery, with memories of challenging herself helping her to really feel her progress. 


Hopesforhealing’s Recovery Wins


As for her progress in recovery, hopesforhealing says she has made strides. Looking at herself over a year into recovery, she says the differences are undeniable. 


Not only is she back to eating things she never thought she’d eat again, but she’s also come to a peaceful place in her body acceptance journey.  My mind is not constantly thinking about walking or exercising. Yes, I gained weight. But I gained so much more than that. I am able to hang out and join in. I am not always cold anymore, and I have my concentration and energy back. Recovery is so freaking hard, but so freaking worth it!” 


Echoing her thoughts above, making a recovery from an eating disorder is always worth it. Even when there are times when you feel yourself going back, starting over,  or seemingly going “nowhere” in your journey, know it’s all a part of the plan. 


Every inch in the right direction is still going forward. Take the time to think about the things that have changed in your life since starting recovery. Or, think about the things you still want to change. All of these are possible, as long as you have the dedication and motivation to get better within you. 


Here’s a quick shortcut: we all have the ability. Don’t give up on your recovery journey, your future self will thank you for protecting and prioritizing her. 


Thanks so much once again to Jwana, Paige, and Hopesforhealing for their time and words!

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