What I’ve learned from my eating disorder

When we think of eating disorders, we always think about how they have harmed lives and have broken people – emotionally, physically on pretty much all levels. Hearing stories of experiences and events typically leave me thinking terrible things and despair about recovery. Hearing other people wallow in the hardships of the disorder is tough to hear at times as well.

But today, I am not looking at what eating disorder has taken from me. I am not referencing the emotional trauma, physical limitations and the time wasted. Even though recovery is hard, it is also very rewarding (at times). I have gained a lot from my eating disorder (pun intended!).

Living through this eating disorder is hell, and each time I think of relapsing, I know that I do not want to go back to the depths of it again. I have lost a lot in my struggles with this illness, but I have gained so much as well. So… what have I gained?

I’ve learned about hope – and facing fear

I’m a firm believer that without hope our would cease to exist. Hope is what gets us where we want to go. Hope is what drives us from day to day. Some may disagree, but I stand firm on this one. We hope for a great day, a new job, a great date, an easy night etc. Without hope a person loses everything.

I have learned hope through this process with this disorder. Hope for something better, and it always pays off. Hope also plays a key role in facing fears. This disorder has taught me to face the fears that I have head on. I’m not saying facing fear is easy… Lord knows it’s tough. But, with the help of hope, facing fears is much easier.

Recovery is all about facing fears. You literally have to face a new fear through each phase and face fears through each meal. This process has shown me how strong I am and how much I can handle. I think we often believe we cannot handle as much as we are given. So many things seem so impossible to deal with, understand, and handle. This process has taught me that I really can handle much more than I thought possible. This will be one of the hardest things I go through, so I know that many other things do not pale in comparison.

I’ve learned an appreciation for health

I have gained a strong appreciation for how healthy we need to be. Through recovery, I have learned a lot about limits, balance and how we really only have this body for the time that we are here.

I have been given the chance to really learn how to be healthy. I have been given the opportunity to work with so many intelligent and amazing dietitians. Many Americans really don’t have a clue about healthy eating. They have skewed thoughts and understandings of what dieting is and also what healthy eating is! We also are very confused about what normal eating is. So many of us think it’s normal to look at a dessert and say, “Oh, I shouldn’t have eaten that, it had too many calories.” – our bodies need those special calories; all calories.

I can’t believe I’m about to admit this — don’t tell anyone I did — but our bodies need lipids! I can’t believe they have brainwashed taught me to believe this! Our bodies need lipids to survive and feel satisfied. Now, this realization didn’t come easy because I was still that person standing in the cafeteria at Hershey Med Center crying because I had to add a lipid to my meal.

I have learned so many fun interesting facts that people don’t realize, and I love to tell them they are wrong  misinformed in their health knowledge. Just to name a few:

  • We need lipids at every meal.
  • If we take out lipids (non fat foods) our bodies crave more! You know those diets where everything tastes like card board??? Yep, you run for those bags of cookies because your body is screaming for what you’ve deprived it of!!
  • We need a minimum amount of calories per day just to function. If I were in a coma, I would need a minimum of 1300 calories JUST TO SLEEP all day!!! Anything over that is addition. So, diets below that calorie amount will just deprive my system and slow my metabolism.
  • When people drastically cut their calories, they slow down their metabolism and weight loss doesn’t happen — in fact, you hold onto food even more! Your body goes into survival mode and keeps everything you eat!
  • Our bodies need a balance of fruits, vegetables, lipids, proteins and carbohydrates. Without the balance we are left feeling sluggish, unhealthy and it increases our health ailments.
  • Our bodies want to be at a set weight. We may not know that number, but our body does. We can make a choice to fight that number and diet to manipulate it down, or we can work to accept that our bodies want to be somewhere and let it happen. Our bodies will always fight to get to that healthy set point (that is different for each person). So, I’ve learned we need to decide if it’s worth the constant struggle to keep it down.

So, dieters out there…. when you grab your plain salad with low fat dressing and your 100 calorie pack with no fat…. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Diets don’t work because they take the health out of eating. Your body wants and needs all food groups, and when you don’t give them, it gets stubborn and will hold onto weight!

I’ve learned more about who I am, and ability to learn how to love myself

I have the opportunity to REALLY find out who I am, and what makes me happy. I think so many of us walk around for so much time of our life trying to find happiness in all the wrong places. I get the opportunity to really sit and look at who I am and figure out who I want to be so I can be truly happy. Yes, it happens through some annoying therapy appointments, and often I end up telling my psychologist she was right (that gets old fast, by the way).

Often, people don’t get the opportunity to really take a look at the relationship they have with their own self, their body and even other people. I think people often walk around working with trial and error. I get the opportunity to sit down and discuss who I am, how I perceive myself and my body, and analyze why my distortions have happened. As much as the conversations are tough, they are incredibly purposeful.

There are many people who never achieve happiness. They continue to stay unhappy for their entire life and that is a sad way to live. In order to recover, I have to be honest with myself and my treatment team. I have to answer questions about myself in the most honest manner that I can. I have to achieve happiness in order to recover, so it is really a win-win situation.

I have the ability to fill missing voids in my life

This process has really taught me about what is missing in my life. Happiness being the first and most important thing, but in that search, the voids get replaced and filled. I have learned that I needed to increase the spiritual side of my life. I believe I was walking around with my faith, but not living in my faith. This process has forced me to be honest and say that I need to grow in my faith.

I have learned coping skills and will be able to cope with anything in life

I have been given the opportunity to look at many types of situations and cope with them. By the time I’m done with this process, I will be able to cope with just about anything out there! I have been able to look at everything and say, “is this a battle I choose right now?” I can look at every situation and know how to deal with it — appropriately. I will/have been able to identify the emotions involved and think about it clearly.

So often, people are unable to deal with hardships appropriately and it causes problems in their lives. I have learned how to look at a situation and analyze the proper way to deal. Okay – maybe I don’t deal 100% well right now, but I will eventually….

 

Overall I have been given the chance to improve my quality of life. I have been able to see what is normal and what is not. I don’t have to be focused on what society wants me to be, and I’m learning to do what is normal so I can live in peace. It’s not normal to hate your body, and it’s not normal to manipulate your food to achieve anything. I have learned that I can live in peace and my body will not make me feel any better if I manipulate my weight. I can spend so much more time focusing on the greater things of life instead of what holds us from peace. I would never wish to do this again, and I would never wish this on my worst enemy, but I can at least find something out of this struggle. Sometimes we learn best when we are tried.

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