#nedaweek2023 #edaw Theme: It’s Time for Change
Find more of my NEDA Week blog posts here. Trigger warning: This post contains a discussion of eating disorders, both my personal experience and a dialogue on the existence of eating disorders in the wider athletic community. Please consider whether this post may be upsetting to you or others before reading or sharing.
The concept of “truly recovering” has been on my mind a lot in the last few years, as I first tackled OTS, then faced chronic lyme, and then myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (me/cfs): a diagnosis that comes with a 5% chance of recovery, and symptom management as the only real course of treatment.
That was never going to do it for me. The story of my recovery is all over my blog and Instagram, if you’re interested in learning how I took what I saw as a life-ending diagnosis and turned it into a level of self healing and self understanding I could barely have anticipated before. All throughout my recovery, I had a clear vision of what I considered “full” recovery. I remembered times in my past where I felt like my whole body and mindbody system had been thriving, maybe even optimizing its potential. I had experienced that, but only intermittently. To me, full recovery meant I would experience that a majority of the time. (So yes, it meant I would be stronger than before I got sick.)
That’s still a work in progress. In fact, over the last year, I’ve mostly found myself in a stage of recovery similar to where I have long identified myself to be in my eating disorder recovery. That is to say, I’m fully functional, living a normal life, but things aren’t quite right yet.
2016 was the last time I went through a period of very restrictive eating and weight loss, followed by rebound weight gain and the associated mental strains. I then spent several years eating enough, but trying very hard not to think about it. I knew my internal state wasn’t quite right for me, but I was relieved to be avoiding active damage to my body, and decided to maintain that status quo until I felt capable of taking the next step.
Unlike my recovery from me/cfs, for a long time I didn’t have a clear image of what “full recovery” from eating disorders meant. I couldn’t really remember a time that I felt like I had a relationship with my body and its fueling that was worth aspiring to. I couldn’t imagine what full recovery would feel like, and I didn’t know what was possible.
As I shared in 2021, I have hoped that one aspect of my full recovery might be to be able to have a preference for how I fueled my body and how my body looked and performed athletically, without that preference becoming disruptive to my mental well-being or physical health. For a long time, looking at that goal in anything other than a hypothetical way seemed like a real threat to the stability I was very tediously maintaining. So I chose not to think about it.
Now, I can see that this is going to be a secondary goal in full recovery, because sometime between 2021 and now, despite having dedicated 0% of my conscious intention to eating disorder recovery in that time, I found a place of ease that I never knew was possible for me.
In the last year, I have returned to exercise after four mostly sedentary years. I’ve been getting to know my body again after the life-changing years of illness. Part of that is exploring my new, and ever-changing, nutritional needs. Looking back on this year, I can see how I have adjusted the amount, type, and timing of food I’ve eaten to match my changing activity levels and the signals my body gives me. I’ve done all of this without paying that much attention…you could say I’ve done it naturally.
The lack of any disordered thinking, in addition to my long-regimented lack of disordered behavior, alongside the complete absence of anxiety about food or body image has given me a freedom I never knew I could have. This is by far the most significant change I have ever experienced over the course of my experience of, and recovery from, ED’s.
This is the key that has been missing. With this freedom I will be able to do whatever I choose to do with regards to fueling, body composition, nutritional goals, or any other secondary piece of full recovery. Being where I am now means it’s safe to have a conscious relationship with these things. It means I no longer need to avoid thinking about these secondary goals for fear of triggering a relapse.
How I came to arrive at this place is a bit of an open question. Years of training myself to not give brain space to the voice of ED has likely contributed, allowing those pathways to atrophy in their uselessness. Years of force-feeding the proper amount of food has probably allowed a partial, though not full, metabolic recovery from the damage years of restricting did. The trauma and distraction of chronic illness and the other horrors those years included may also have helped; my brain simply had other things to worry about. It’s also possible me/cfs literally rewired parts of my brain that weren’t even noticeably involved in the illness or my recovery from it. For example, while I seem to have significant memory loss of events spanning 2017 to now, I also seemingly have a new ability for spatial mapping! I’m so much better at navigating than I used to be, it’s absolutely wild. All that to say, I don’t know exactly how my brain rearranged itself into an entity that doesn’t obsess or get anxious about food. But I LOVE it.
I was so delighted to see this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week theme: It’s Time for Change. Indeed, there are so many ways to write about the necessary changes, within many personal stories and in the broader conversation about eating disorders and eating disorder treatment. Others are valiantly carrying many of the other messages that need to be amplified. Here, in my personal corner of the world, this past year has seen the biggest change I’ve ever experienced in my ED journey, and I will say of that what I’m saying most often these days:
RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE!