Freedom From Anorexia: Why You Shouldn’t Settle for Partial Recovery
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Maybe you have finally reached what your treatment team considers to be a healthy body weight, but you have a rigid and obsessive exercise routine. Or perhaps you are now able to eat at restaurants without guilt, however you stick to ordering the same “safe” menu item. Many individuals will reach a point where they decide that they are “recovered enough” from anorexia and choose to stop there.
The following are three lies that your eating disorder may say to convince you to stay in the state of partial-recovery, along with my counter-arguments.
1. Being on the “thin side” of normal with only some disordered behaviors, is as good as it gets.
Maintaining the bare minimum of recovery from anorexia is better than being in the depths of your disorder-however it is not advisable to stay in this quasi-recovery state, long-term. At this point, your life is still limited and compromised by your disordered behaviors. Additionally, you may be less likely to receive help and support from others, as they may mistakenly think you are “fine now.” If you have regained some weight but are still battling a monster in your head everyday, it is important that you continue to work to regularly face your the foods you fear, without compensatory behaviors.
Letting your eating disorder have even a small amount of control over your life, prevents you from finding true fulfillment and happiness. You have done the tough work of changing some behaviors, and it’s important that you do not stop here. You were given this one life; do you want to spend the rest of it battling with an angry dictator in your head? On the other side of your eating disorder is freedom and purpose. You have come too far to stop halfway.
2. Plenty of people without eating disorders exercise compulsively and have rigid diets, so I can do this too.
We live in a society that is saturated with diet-culture. Furthermore, there are many individuals who have mildly disordered relationships to food and exercise, yet do not meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. The reality is that recovery from anorexia is not compatible with dieting and weight-control strategies. Your eating disorder may tell you that it’s unfair that you can’t have a mildly disordered relationship with food and exercise, without a large potential for relapse into anorexia. However, this is actually something to be thankful for.
There are two major fallacies at play here. The first is the pervasive societal belief, which falsely claims that we have a large amount of control over our weight. Research shows that while our attempts to control our weight through dieting may work in the short-term, ultimately they will fail in the long-term. Additionally, set-point theory holds that your body will work to maintain its set-point weight range through powerful biological and psychological mechanisms. Therefore, almost all people who are chronically dieting will “fall off the wagon” and proceed to regain the weight that they lost.
The second fallacy is the unspoken notion that we can control our world, our relationships, and our self-esteem, through our weight. Your struggle with anorexia is likely a prime example of how being “thin” does not equal being happy, being in control of your life, and having fulfilled and meaningful relationships. Often, eating disorders cause individuals to feel miserable, completely controlled and consumed by their disorder, and isolated from their friends and family.
It is incredibly positive that being fully recovered from anorexia will entail giving up any weight-control strategies, and subsequently reclaiming your freedom.
3. If I fully let go of my eating disorder, I’ll lose part of my identity that makes me feel special and unique.
Your eating disorder may desperately try to convince you that you would be nothing without it. An eating disorder hijacks your true identity and replaces it with an illness. The truth is that the deeper you are in your eating disorder, the more you become a carbon copy of everyone else who is struggling with an eating disorder. I guarantee that there are other qualities about you that make you special and unique, which the eating disorder is currently masking.
Now is the time to truly discover your passions and interests, outside of food and exercise. Think about the amazing contributions you could make in the world if you utilized all of the time that you spend obsessing about calories and exercise for a more meaningful purpose.
At the end of your life, do you want to look back with regret that you did not push yourself towards full recovery? Carolyn Costin, the Founder and Executive Director of Monte Nido & Affiliates, shared her definition of being recovered when she stated,
"Being recovered to me is when the person can accept his or her natural body size and shape and no longer has a self destructive or unnatural relationship with food or exercise. When you are recovered, food and weight take a proper perspective in your life and what you weigh is not more important than who you are...When recovered, you will not compromise your health or betray your soul to look a certain way, wear a certain size, or reach a certain number on a scale."
I challenge you to try to uncover the real fears that are keeping you from working towards full recovery. Ultimately, your life is worth so much more then obsessing about calories, weight, and exercise. Imagine how it would feel to be able to say that you recovered, and that you finally claimed victory over your eating disorder.
Ferdman, R.A. (2015, May 4). Why diets don’t actually work, according to a researcher who has studied them for decades. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/05/04/why-diets-dont-actually-work-according-to-a-researcher-who-has-studied-them-for-decades/
Set Point Theory. (2015) RSS 20. Retrieved from http://www.mirror-mirror.org/set.htm
Working with Recovered Staff. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.montenido.com/to_the_client/recovered_recovering
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, is a mental health therapist who specializes in working with adolescents, survivors of trauma, body image concerns, and with individuals experiencing mood disorders. She has experience working in a variety of settings including, an outpatient mental health clinic, therapeutic group homes, and a sexual assault crisis hotline. Jennifer's articles have been featured on numerous websites including, The HuffingtonPost.com, PsychologyToday.com, PsychCentral.com, NationalEatingDisorders.org, Bedaonline.com, and TheProjectHeal.org. For body-positive and self-love inspiration connect with Jennifer on Facebook.