Eating Disorders: Physical Recovery vs Mental Recovery

By: Liv Crichton (@livlaughlxve)

The definition of recovery is "the return to a normal state of health, mind, and strength." However, this does not specify for how long, to what extent, and does not take into concern the difference and equal importance of both physical and mental health. Recovery is defined differently for people based on their case of eating disorder and the people they are around as well as other vulnerabilities that factor into their lives. Eating disorders range from many different intensities, triggers, sources, etc. however, they all stem from any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Recovering from an eating disorder is much more than returning to a healthy weight for your body, or returning to healthy eating habits, or coping with body dysmorphia. However, this does not discourage the fact that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Though you may need to be mindful of your health both physically and mentally on a more consistent basis to sustain a healthy dynamic, that does not mean you will be forever struggling with your eating disorder. There is always hope, and it is always worth it to keep trying and to keep fighting what’s in your head. 

There is a massive difference between being physically healthy, and being mentally healthy. Physically fit refers to the physical body of the person whereas mentally healthy will refer to psychological and emotional factors (i.e. thoughts, feelings, urges, etc.). A common mistake made by some people is just looking at one of these two elements that are important in the journey of recovery when both are equally important. Physical health is often mistaken to be the dominant factor when analyzing a person’s health however their mental state is equal as important. There is a stigma attached to being mentally unhealthy which discourages many people to avoid professional help whereas it’s sometimes easier to tell if someone is physically unhealthy. Recovery is also a long journey of experience and learning from people you know, people you don’t know, professionals and other sources of support. 

Recovery is made up of many aspects of your life and who is in it. A primary step to mental rehabilitation when recovering from an eating disorder is knowing why you want to recover. And you may not want to, but just the realization you deserve the world and hurting your body is not what you deserve will make all the difference. And this step may be the hardest one to take, but it gives everything after a motivation. It also may take the longest which can be frustrating. Realizing and noticing your body and your thoughts will also help you get to the point where you can understand and see the effects your behaviors and thoughts are primarily doing to your body and health. Another step to mentally recovering is to know who has your back, who will be there for you and who is your support. This may be family, a friend, a professional, it could be anyone, but it has to be someone who cares for you and someone who will be there for you during this process.

Recovery also comes with the willingness to make changes. These changes will not be major; they can be realizing when your brain feels the need to restrict, or going to your recovery institutions when needed, or telling someone something about how you feel so it's not all stuck inside of you. These changes will not be changing your eating habits in a day, or stopping restricting, or stopping a binge-purge cycle or trying to run off all of the food you consume. Celebrating the small achievements will help you realize that you are changing your life more than you may see. These little achievements also give you a sense of control over your body, which is sometimes a fuel for some people with eating disorders. Recovery is not a 1,2,3 step event that takes a week or a month, but it is something that will make crucial and healthy differences in your life. It is also not going to be easy, and it will have good and bad days, but it will be worth it. 

As a person who has been on both sides of an eating disorder, living with one, and in the progress of recovery, it’s easier to see what you’re working so hard for when it comes to working through recovery. There will be good days, and there will be bad days. But that’s how life is, and this will only make you stronger in the end. I completely understand the feelings of hopelessness, disgust, confusion, sadness and everything else, but the days you feel good and happier or healthier, you will greatly appreciate. 

Optimism From Another Perspective
There is such a messed up ideal around who has an eating disorder based on societies expectations, and this extends to when people with eating disorders try to go through recovery. The thing is that recovery is not something that is solved through a couple of months and either weight restoration or normalization of eating patterns. It is fighting the core beliefs around food, weight, shape, control, power, self-esteem, and a million other foundations for the way you see yourself and the world around you. Eating disorders are chemical imbalances. Once you get to a point where your body is healthy physically, your mental struggles don't only go away because your brain has this faulty eating disordered belief systems ingrained into it.

For me, it's constantly trying to learn what purpose my eating disorder serves in my life. Besides being a huge b*tch, it serves as a way to distract myself from my emotional problems that formed much before my eating disorder. And even though it may be hard work to change, I'm so confident in recovery because I know that if I once learned these beliefs that made me believe I wasn't good enough. I can unlearn them. And so can you. We can recover together because honestly, we are all too good to be living in a false belief system that consistently rules our world. So no matter what stage or what weight you may be at in your recovery process, please know this; that I'm so proud of you for doing the best that you can. And to everyone who is a supporter, please know that recovery needs to continue past physical restoration. We need to change societies perception that only certain people are recovered or sick based solely on their physical appearance. Eating disorders have more than just one component, and so does recovery is whole. I believe it's possible because I've seen it, and even though I can't say I'm fully there yet, I know I will get there and so can you.”

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