A lot of people tend to think that recovery is easy: you decide you want to start eating and gain weight and lo and behold, a miracle happens practically overnight. In reality, it’s a very long a painful process, both mentally and physically, something people don’t seem to consider when they tell you, oh, stop fussing and eat that muffin. See, even though the result will be worth it in the long run, given that you stick to your decision, which tends to be shaky at first as well, you encounter these numerous bumps on the road to freedom from ED that make it… a less enjoyable experience.
I have already felt some of the setbacks of becoming normal again but decided not to rely just on my experience and conducted a sort of mini-survey on my Instagram account among those suffering from ED’s but desperately trying to make the pesky not-so-good best friend relinquish its hold on their sanity and body. Therefore, just for your educational enjoyment, as well as my peace of mind, that there are people who know about these things amongst those who have a healthy relationship with their metabolisms:
The Most Uncomfortable Things About Recovery
Getting used to your new body. Awkward.
According to Jenni Schaefer, author of Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me (only read the latter but both are brilliant books for those seeking that extra oomph to really delve into their recovery, highly recommended), getting accustomed to a new, healthy life, which includes a completely new body, is like becoming a leftie after a lifetime of writing with your right hand. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable.
Your body is your home, you live in it every single day of your life and hardly notice the subtle changes until you’re on the lookout for them or until someone points them out to you. Recovery is different, as it is made to ingrain these changes, and sometimes, that leads to strange moments when you’re on your own with your temple.
Your balance has changed. So has your perception of your own size. One of the girls who replied to my Instagram inquiry said she got butt-stuck in a windowpane once because she underestimated her new size.
Your Body Getting Used to You
During recovery, your body realizes it had been abused. And it reacts like any other abused party in an unhealthy relationship: not with throwing away your clothes (although that’s part of it), or telling all your friends your dirty little secrets. It takes revenge by being hostile to this new ‘improved’ you, trying to teach you a lesson of how much influence it really has on your sanity.
The Hunger. Once you start recovering, really, really recovering, your attitude to food changes. You are hungry 90% of the time and the other 10% you spend on thinking about what you will eat when you’re hungry. One might eat a whole bowl of cereal topped off with the fattiest yoghurt in the world (speaking of which…) and go back to being ravenous in just half an hour.
This is normal. Your body just can’t believe its luck. You’re finally giving it food. Therefore it’s stocking up for the winter, just in case the crazy b*tch that lives in it suddenly decides to go back to starvation. It’s making up for months of total desolation. It’s healing itself using the natural building bricks it can make use of: protein, carbohydrates, fat, minerals, vitamins…
The Hunger is sporadic. It follows no pattern whatsoever. To me, a super-organized schedule freak who had been given the ultimate toy to play with – a by-the-hour meal plan, – it made no sense whatsoever why I was hungry an hour before I was supposed to be. The first few days were the worst – there was no end to the Hunger, and my stomach felt like a bottomless pit even though I ate until I could hardly breathe.
The biggest danger – and the biggest fear, for some, – is that this Hunger will never stop and the person would continue eating until they went from one extreme to the other: from anorexia to binge/purge. The best advice here is to keep calm, it will go away eventually, you just have to be in tune with your body. Meanwhile, enjoy the ride: you’re one of the few lucky ones who can eat whatever they want whenever they want and instead of looking down on you, people actually encourage it.
The Bloat. Ah, yes, another one of those delicious things we just love talking about – and by that, I mean that nobody is comfortable enough to share the fact that the inside of their stomach feels like a giant balloon. Again, the body is just not used to the amount of food you’re putting into it, and is having a hard time digesting all this deliciousness.
The bloating is a normal part of the process, too: think of it as the intestinal muscles relearning how to do their job after a long period of dis- or misuse. Just like a recovering sportsperson, your body needs time to get rid of the dystrophy it’s been forced into by your lack of fueling it.
You can also add constipation/diarrhea to this section, as everyone’s colons react differently to the food they are suddenly expected to start processing… just like that.
The Hot Flushes and the Sweating. This is a less common one: some people just sweat a lot, especially during the night (myself included) while being constantly cold during the day (a leftover from not having enough fat insulation to keep me warm); some experience terrible heat at random moments, not too different from the ones menopausal women go through (at least that’s what I was told, I am not that far gone). It’s uncomfortable as hell, you never know what to wear, you wake up at 3 a.m. because you feel like you’re suffocating underneath your blanket… It goes away, too.
The endocrine system has been affected by the starvation just like the rest of your body, so what do you expect to happen when you kick-start it again? Secretion of sweat and other bodily fluids, as well as hormones, goes overboard for a short while…
The Periods. Yes, the periods. A lot of girls that had gone through eating disorders experienced loss of periods, as the body tries to focus the tiny amount of energy you give it to actually keep you alive. As you might imagine, reproduction doesn’t take top priority on the list, and the system wanes away, leaving behind a plethora of hormonal imbalances and, in the more severe cases, a no-child prospect for life.
When you start refeeding, the system goes back on line – unsteadily, shakily, and sometimes quite unexpectedly. For me, it was a bit different as I have always been very irregular about my periods, and therefore had to take the Pill in order to regulate them. Even so, during my anorexic time, my period wouldn’t come despite the drugs. Now, it’s here, and though everyone secretly (and not-so-secretly as well) resents bleeding from their private bits every month, it’s a joy to know that I’m a woman again.
The Outbreaks. Another thing not everyone experiences: nasty skin conditions associated with refeeding. For some, it’s rashes, allergy-like spots on their arms, legs and face; for others, myself included, it’s acne. I’ve never had the most perfect skin, and was aided in my teenage years by my mother’s beautician and her magical potions; during anorexia, ironically enough, my skin was perfect: as I didn’t feed my body anything, it had nothing to react adversely to.
Now, I am going through the worst outbreak since I started puberty. And you know what? It’s okay. I can deal with pimples. I can’t deal with putting myself in the hospital because of my lack of commitment and willpower.
The Distribution of Fat. Now, this is something I haven’t experienced yet, as I still haven’t been able to start gaining weight properly: fluctuations of 200-300 grams don’t count. The girls are telling me the fat you do get back ends up in the wrong places, like one’s face or butt. It takes a while for the tissues to realize where they ought to be going, and that takes a lot of patience to live through.
A lot of girls complain about having ‘fat faces’ even though their bodies still look skinny. Now that, I can relate to a little as I realize that my cheeks have become fuller and I now resemble a doll in the way that my head looks slightly disproportionate to my stick-like body. Whether or not I’m imagining things, this does happen, and here the only thing you can do is wait. And, if allowed to do so by your medical professional, work out in order to get the right weight in the right places.
Auto-Purge. Again, not something I experienced as I, thankfully, have never been part of the binge and purge cycle. Those who have had a brush with B/P tell me the body gets so used to rejecting the food, that even when they are willing to keep it down, the stomach valves don’t work properly. Leaning over especially makes them feel nauseous, as the body is simply used to the position and reacts in a Pavlovian manner to this motion. I’m not a good adviser in this case, as, again, I have never had problems keeping my food (however scarce it was) in my stomach, so I suppose the best way to deal with this is consult a doctor and get medication to stop the sickness.
You Getting Used To You
Now, this is the hardest part, isn’t it? ED’s are so common because they are so comfortable, like a blanket that can be used to cover any part of reality we don’t like. We use them as a sort of buffer between us and the outside world, we slip into the disordered routines because we like the familiarity, and the straightforwardness of them. Well, recovery is a shock. And we need to know how to deal with it.
The Clothes. Oh yes. One of my biggest problems with ED was that I lost a ton of weight – and with it, a couple of sizes in clothing. In the place of my once legendary C-cup bra is now a flimsy barely-B-cup. My ‘fat’ jeans that I used to wear at my normal weight cannot be worn anymore, as they end up around my ankles as soon as I button them up.
I realize that part of recovery is gaining weight back. In my case, it’s crucial as my BMI is much lower than the recommended healthy ratio (though BMI’s are not very accurate, as they don’t account for the kind of weight you have: fat or muscle; as well as individual cases – according to BMI, even at my regular weight I was under the acceptable norm). I get cold all the time, as I have mentioned, and am forced to shop in the kiddie department at H&M, and that is embarrassing (I hate pink and Hello Kitty).
Coming to terms with the fact that your ED clothes are probably going to no longer fit is hard – as well as expensive. This wardrobe will become a thing of the past when you start filling out, and, just like with everything else, I am ready to accept that. I might never wear my Alexander McQueen jeans in size 0 again but you know what? I’d rather have an ass.
The Comments. Those will start pouring in as soon as you start eating. There’s this thing about food: it makes you look better. No, no, it’s completely true. Though I am still scarily skeletal and make my scale weep every morning (well, not anymore, I decided to stop weighing myself hysterically each day), everyone tells me I look better. I honestly don’t see it and I guess that’s fine.
People will tell me I look better once I’ve gained weight. Nobody will say I’m too thin. In my pursuit of perfection (and by perfection I mean a thin waist), I used to take you’re so skinny as a compliment. Well, no más!
Some of the girls on Instagram are worried about others thinking badly of them because they couldn’t keep the weight off. Well, I say, that’s kind of the point of recovery. Some are worried about healthy equaling fat in such appraisals. I say no. Fat is unhealthy. You are healthy. See the difference?
Some are concerned with others saying how proud they are of their progress and instead feeling like a failure. Now remember, this is ED talking. Not you. You’ve come a long way to beat this thing. That’s as far from failure as anyone can get, as far as I’m concerned.
The Food. I was surprised by how many people got irritated about eating meals with others – those who don’t know about their ED’s, especially those who talk about losing weight in front of them. I guess it does seem kind of insensitive, when you think about it: you don’t talk about starving yourself in front of someone who just came out of the same cycle. Yet we have to come to terms with the fact that twenty-first century society is all about the outside, the body image, the weight loss. This is the culture we live in and, inevitable, we will have to come face-to-face with the fact that even though we recovered, other people are still stuck in the mindset of losing weight and getting fit. There is nothing we can do about it, except take it, not contribute to the conversation, or ask them to tone it down and think of the real priorities in life. Like living.
The Expenses. Something one of the girls mentioned that I haven’t thought about until she did, but something that has also been affecting me quite a lot is how expensive we are in recovery. We eat so much. We eat a lot of healthy food, organic stuff, and God knows, this crap is expensive. More so than any supermarket pre-packaged product. I have spent a lot of money on food lately, and my wallet has been taking quite a hit. I do understand, though, that proper refeeding requires real food, not the one-euro doughnuts I can buy at any corner store. Real nutrition. Real body.
Is it worth it all in the end?