Two years ago, I was 24-years old and exiting rehab after a six-week stint for an eating disorder. I was so sure that my life was going to "make sense" now that I was freeing myself of this 10-year battle. The truth is, I have handled what's come in the process, but the experience of recovery has been very different from the idealism I felt that day.
It's not all roses and anyone will tell you that. But, two years into my own recovery, here are seven real truths I've learned in the process:
1. Your sense of style will evolve.
I spent eight years in over-sized t-shirts and black sweatpants that dragged at the feet. I loved those thigh-hiding safety nets. I wore them everywhere. I made excuses for them and lied to myself by saying that I just wasn’t “the dress-up kind of girl.”
Today, I’m still figuring out what I like and what feels flattering to my body. One day, I’ll wear a bikini and rock my version of a ”screw it” attitude. Other days, I’ll feel more self-conscious and wear black-on-black-on-black. I’m finally realizing no clothing is “off limits” as I once believed.
2. Your body will recover.
Eating disorders affect your body outward and inward. Fluctuating weight over the years has left stretch marks on my thighs. I used to run on stress fractures and shin splints. At my worst, I was told I had bones of a 70-year old. What’s uplifting, however, is that your body is resilient. I recently ran in Central Park and at some point it dawned on me how strong I felt. Nothing hurt and I ran three miles, appreciating what it feels like to be healthy.
3. People will always comment on how you look and it will always bother you.
Comments are the worst, but they’re inevitable. Every time I see my friends and family at home they tell me I look “healthy,” and I immediately go into hibernation mode. I don’t want to know when people are looking at my body, but at the same time I try to remember that this is my family and I have worried them for years.
Occasionally, and possibly the worst commentary, is when my eating disorder comes up in a group conversation. Inevitably, someone turns to me and exclaims, ”WHY would you have an eating disorder? You’re, like, already basically thin.”
I don’t love this commentary on my body, but it isn’t a reason to relapse. There are a lot of triggers in recovery and it’s up to you to be proactive about them. If I’m uncomfortable about a conversation with my body, I change the conversation or I’ll jokingly grin and say “Oh, let’s not even tap into the minefield.”
4. Accepting your body will take time.
I’ve hated wearing bras since the moment my stomach had enough fat around it to roll. There is nothing more uncomfortable than wearing a strapless bra and feeling the indention of the under-wire drive into my fat while I sit.
As you recover from an eating disorder, it’s hard to adjust to your healthy body weight and the changes that occur when that happens. Acceptance isn’t immediate. It’s a process.
5. Dating after an eating disorder is hard.
In rehab, they tell you to wait a year before becoming romantically involved. Instead, I immediately got into a long-distance, long-term relationship which inevitably ended because I couldn’t commit to a plan.
As I approach dating now, I still find it difficult. Do you tell people up front? Do you say you’re ”recovered” to lessen the blow (even though it’s a process)? Do they have a right to ask questions? Do you owe them the truth? In short, I don’t know. For every person I’ve dated it’s been a different way of addressing it.
What I do understand, is that you don’t ”owe” anyone anything. You don’t have to answer questions, and you don’t have to give an explanation as to ”why.” Your eating disorder and recovery is yours, and it does not make you any less respectable or strong. You are human and you struggle.
6. You’ll still be distracted by the mirror.
In the prime of my eating disorder, I was preoccupied with reflections. While it lessened in recovery, body dysmorphia is an ever-evolving mental game.
Now, I’ll go weeks feeling fine about how I look. Yet inevitably, at some point I will panic and feel like I’ve gained weight.
My advice is to find ways to soften this urge. Occasionally, I take a selfie to remind myself I’m the same. It helps me realize I look just like I did three weeks ago As recovery goes along, you’ll find yourself less and less preoccupied with your size.
7. You’ll move on.
You’ll forget that life was once about your exercise schedule; or your eating times. You’ll skip workouts for happy hours. You’ll go to bed late and miss a morning work-out, but appreciate the extra hour of sleep. You’ll eat too much cake and rub your stomach afterwards, groaning and complaining. It’ll pass. You’ll forget calories of things you’d memorized and it’ll shock you.