With pride, happiness, strength and a smile, I can say that I have been in recovery for 5 months, and life is pretty great on the other side. I share with you my story about nutritional and medical rehabilitation where I compare being in the hospital and being in residential treatment. One place saved my life and the other made my eating disorder escalate. You can guess which one attributes to saving my life. I actually went to residential first and immediately when returning home, slipped into old behaviours which landed me in the hospital six months later. Sorry for the typos – but I will challenge myself to not be a perfectionist and not edit it.
On my first day at the residential center, shivering, nervous and thousands of miles from home, the first question they asked me was what I thought would be a healthy range for my body; of course, I had no idea. They also asked what my “goal lowest weight” and how much I think I weighed at that moment. Does that really matter?
At my rock bottom, they asked me if I wanted to be a lower weight than I was currently. Of course I did. All that question did for me was imply that I am not sick enough or at a low enough weight, which I definitely was. But why would they ask me that question when I had already hit rock bottom? Why would they ask me what my goals are after hitting rock bottom?
They then told me that they wouldn’t push me too much because I would be uncomfortable at a much higher weight and they didn’t want me to relapse. They told me to not binge, to never go over or under the meal plan, to exercise in balance and eat in balance, to not eat too much at one snack and if I did eat too much then I could take exchanges off my dinner or whatever meal was to follow and all sorts of other controlling rules attributing to a meal plan. I was surrounded by people hiding food, talking about how many times they have been in treatment, how they will never recover, and how “full recovery” was not possible.
One night a poor girl was so deep in her eating disorder that she would sneak cups into her room and purge. The nurses found out and called everyone to the common area yelling at us, treating us like animals because “it was so disgusting, filthy, and completely unacceptable behavior.” The last thing this girl needed to hear was being called disgusting and filthy. It broke my heart. It also broke my heart that they did nothing but punish people for acting on behaviors. I think some support, just a little, (insert sarcasm here) may have been beneficial rather than treating us like creatures.
I was also put on a medication that made me a zombie because I had “too much energy” and they needed me to calm down. I kept telling them about my exercise compulsions and they kept upping the dose of the medication instead of finding ways to manage and cope with those compulsions. I felt like I was being punished for everything I said and did and was told that I don’t have the ability to handle discomfort so I will never fully recover.
My dietitian also at one point lowered my meal plan when I got to my “restored weight” and when we went out to lunch together, she told me to stop eating the sandwich because I had “enough” to fulfill my meal plan! I was still hungry! I wanted the whole sandwich! But I didn’t trust my body because I had already made the exchanges for lunch. It was so frustrating. I began to get hungry again, now that the meal plan was lowered, and started to enjoy those feelings of hunger, which of course led to more restriction and extreme exercise, and then eventually the hospital. The only positive thing I got out of that treatment center, was learning how being at a restored weight feels pretty damn good… until they lowered the meal plan.
In the hospital I realized it was time to wake up and trust my instincts about what I need to fully recover. This is where true recovery began- a place that focuses on healing the inside despite what the outside looks like. I like to give this place the motto of “Inside Out”.
I was hospitalized for a dangerously low heart rate. The doctors told me my heart could have stopped in my sleep but somehow that didn’t even scare me. It’s crazy how the eating disorder manipulates the dangerous truths of health. Anyways, not once did the hospital mention if I was gaining or losing or maintaining weight. All they focused on was my heart rate, my vitals, my bodily functions, my mood, my thoughts, my motivation, and the most important things that make me myself; which obviously is not my weight! They were focused on the things that keep me alive, not the thing that every person with an eating disorder thinks is the most important piece of their life (I will say it again, their weight). I ate loads of food but enjoyed every piece of it because I knew I was doing it for my internal health. The outside wasn’t going to look like I wanted it to and well, it never will, but that’s okay! It is okay because my insides were coming alive, they were crawling out from under the spider webs and finally seeing the light. Well, that is how I imagined it. I could poop again, I got my period back, I had a laughing attack all by myself because I suggested we play hide-and-go-seek around the hospital and no one found it funny.
I started to notice details in the landscape outside of my window, including windmills on top of a mountain miles and miles away. I felt absolutely amazing. I realized that if I focused on how awesome my insides are doing, like getting my period back, being able to shit again, having a normal heart rate, watching my nails and hair get thicker by the day, seeing my skin glow, having the energy to pay attention in conversations, being able to see the colors of nature and feeling warm, then my outsides will eventually do awesome. That means that if I am thriving internally, then externally I will thrive regardless of what the numbers say.
It is so cool realizing how your body is becoming a functioning body again and focusing on that rather than what your brain is telling you about yourself and your worth if you let go of behaviors. In the hospital I was solely focused on getting my health back and not even once did they tell me if I was gaining or losing weight. They never even said the word “weight”. This for me was revolutionary and I wish more places were like this hospital. I was only there for a few weeks because it was for medical stabilization, where people usually go to residential or treatment afterwards. But even in these two weeks, my mind and body felt better than they ever have and who knows how much weight I even gained. It didn’t matter, because my life was saved, I could shit again, I was so happy and alive, and my heart was revived.
What I have learned throughout my crazy treatment experience is that no one is going to be able to help you fully recover except yourself.
I did not return to residential treatment after the hospital. I continued seeing my wonderful therapist and dietitian and turned to Tabitha Farrar’s books and podcasts. Which were mind-blowing, for lack of a better word. I found out that the eating disorder caused the need for control, the need for control didn’t cause the eating disorder. I found it helpful to not believe that the eating disorder protected me because then I would always want to go back to it for protection. Instead I have to believe that it was a barrier to actually stand up for myself and be a strong human.
I am convincing myself that I am not afraid of eating. I am believing that I can live a full life in a full body. As my eating disorder voice gets quieter, I am starting to hear the voices of loved ones and the voices telling me that I am okay.
Recovery feels wrong. Eating feels wrong. Taking care of myself feels wrong. But sometimes doing the wrong thing means rebelling. Rebelling against the eating disorder, rebelling against what society deems right. In the end it will feel so good, and I will have more freedom with food than anyone consumed in diet culture and I think that is pretty cool about recovery.
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To read other eating disorder recovery stories of incredible people around the world, please click here.
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Finally, if you have a story to share of eating disorder treatment – good or bad from any corner of the globe, please do contact me!