Tag Archives: recovery

How do I get to the point where I want to recover?

Having written about being ambivalent about eating disorder recovery, this is a natural question to ask.

For people who don't understand why someone with an eating disorder wouldn't want to recovery, please read here.

It was my ambivalence to eating disorder recovery that got in the way of a lot of therapies that I tried. I would put all my energy into the therapy but recovery just wasn't happening because, underneath it all, I didn't want to recover.

I was very fortunate to come across a therapist who asked me "do you want to want to recover?" No-one had ever asked me this, no-one had ever said, no matter how long that sentence is, if you want to want to want to want to recovery, that's a good enough place to start.

So many people find themselves in limbo, they have a sort-of-life mixed with sort-of-functioning-anorexia. But still they wonder about recovery, what it is and what it could look like but remain stuck.

Ok, so if we establish that there's a small bit of you that's interested in getting to the point where you want to recover, it's about looking at what makes you want to get to that point?

I can only talk about my experience. I'll be honest, every minute of every day, while I was unwell, my interest in recovery fluctuated. It wasn't a smooth linear progression and there's no point in pretending it was, this wouldn't be fair.

I did a few things throughout my recovery:

I was honest about why I was holding onto my eating disorder:

  1. I rated thinness over everything else in life.
  2. Getting fat (restoring my weight) felt impossibly terrifying.
  3. I kept me "safe" – I could avoid social events etc.
  4. I could be excused from life whenever I wanted.
  5. It gave me a framework for making decisions (i.e. choosing foods on the lowest calorie content and doing activities that used the most calories).
  6. I liked the identity and I didn't know who I'd be without it.
  7. Recovery looks too hard.
  8. I'm such a bad/evil/fundamentally flawed person, I don't deserve recovery/happiness/freedom.
  9. I thought I'd done too much damage to myself and my life to bother trying.

Once we're honest with ourselves, we can start to be curious about what it all means.

I looked at the negatives of being unwell:

  • I wasn't taking a full part in life.
  • I was letting people down.
  • I experienced poor physical health (tiredness, coldness, lumbago, anaemia, aches and pains).
  • The only thing that made me happy was the number on the scale going down.

I thought about what professionals were telling me:

  • I was unwell (even if I didn't think I was).
  • I was damaging my body.
  • I was putting my life at risk.
  • Recovery was possible.
  • A better, more for-filling, happier life was possible and I deserved it.

I thought about how arrogant it was of me to rate my thoughts and beliefs above those of the professionals. If I ever didn't think I was sick enough or thin enough to deserve treatment, I thought of all the people who were sitting on waiting lists and realised the professionals wouldn't waste their time on me if I didn't need or deserve their help! I often checked out with professionals if they wanted to see me, probably sounds hideously manipulative but I needed to know they really wanted to help.

I imagined some positives of recovery:

  • I'd discover who I really was.
  • My physical health would improve.
  • I could enjoy "bad foods" – actually, maybe no food would be bad!
  • I could go on holiday/eat out and fully participate without fear.
  • I could help other people recover and believe what I was saying.
  • I'd choose a life I wanted rather than one anorexia dictated – this was really scary since I had no idea what I wanted but I had to have faith this would come

I looked at whether my reasons for holding on were valid:

  1. I'd be happy if I could rate something else over thinness (I didn't know what it would be but the possibility of valuing something else was appealing)
  2. The reality is, weight restoration is not about getting fat (even if Ana screams this everyday). Weight restoration is purely and simply about nourishing my body adequately for health
  3. What is "safe" about starting myself? (Yes, it feels psychologically safe but in reality it's killing me)
  4. I could learn assertiveness so I didn't have to use my eating disorder as an excuse.
  5. Learning my likes a dislikes could be exciting! Instead of choosing an apple due to it's calorific value, I could choose chocolate, just because I fancied it!
  6. As scary as losing the 'ill' identity was, the reality of people feeling sorry for me or treating me differently was tiresome. Recovery could give me the opportunity to choose an identity. I could be defined by my job, my achievements or my hobbies.
  7. Yes, recovery is hard but I had people offering help and they were telling me I was strong enough to do it.
  8. I had people telling me I did deserve recovery. If I was such a bad person, why would anyone stick by me?
  9. Continuing to think "what's the point of trying" just isn't sustainable. I tried this a few times, i.e. Disengaging with services etc but it doesn't have a happy ending.

It's very common for people with anorexia to feel they're not sick enough to start recovery. Sufferers feel they've not been a "good enough" anorexic if they've not been tubed or not reached a certain BMI, but everyone's experience is different. It's always worth considering what you'd say to friend in this situation. If they were saying "I'm not sick enough", would you say "yeah, you need to lose more weight, eat less, exercise more, then you could consider recovery"???

It's not simple or easy but going through this sort of process might help when trying to get to the point of wanting to recover. Everyone's different and will have different motivations so it's important to go through the process for yourself, not comparing yourself to anyone else.

I found I had to choose recovery everyday. Some days this was harder than others and some days I chose to be ill but every new minute gives us an opportunity to choose recovery, to choose wellness, to choose to definite ourselves differently.

Advertisements

The ambivalence of eating disorder recovery 

It’s really hard for people who’ve not experienced an eating disorder to understand the pull towards destruction.

Ambivalence…the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings towards the same person, object or actions, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.

When your life’s completely falling apart, you’re not able to hold down and job, you’re losing friends and you’re feeling physically unwell, how could anyone not grab hold of recovery with both hands and run with it?!

If, however, you’ve lost everything else, the only thing you have left becomes your identity and a place of safety. If you feel like your eating disorder is the only thing you have in the whole world, how could you possibly consider letting it go?

Eating disordered behaviour not only becomes habitual but it’s a compulsive addiction.

Weight restoration is a significant part of anorexia recovery and this, for me, was terrifying. Having spent years trying to lose weight, put my body through all sorts to try and obtain the unobtainable skinny body of my dreams, thinking about throwing all that work away is unbearable. All the professionals who claim they have my best interests at heart are trying to make me fat, how could they not understand that’s the one thing I can’t do?!

It feels impossible to understand when you’re told “you have to put on weight before you can engage with therapy”. Once your weight is below a certain level and you’re body is malnourished, your brain is not receiving enough energy to function to do everyday tasks, let alone process and absorbed any new understanding in therapy.

“But I can’t gain weight unless my head is straightened out”… this feels like an obvious plea as multiple professionals are telling you your medicine right now is food. “How am I mean to eta when every fibre of my being is telling me not to eat?”

That is what anorexia does, it takes over every fibre of your being, it infiltrates every cell and permeates every breath you take. It feels like you become anorexia. I didn’t feel like I existed beyond my anorexia therefore doesn’t it make sense that I wouldn’t want to let it go? That’s the impact it has, that’s what it makes you believe, anorexia is your identity, without it you are no one, you do not exist… 

Now, I didn’t want to exist, part if my anorexia was about losing so much weight that I would disappear but there was a tiny part of me hanging onto life. In an odd way, although anorexia was killing me, it was also enabling me to hang onto life. When i stopped and thought about my life and what a mess it was, ending my life was an appealing option but focusing on avoiding food and losing weight gave me a purpose.

The first step towards recovery is putting more faith in the people around you than in the anorexia that’s been with you for many months and helped you cope with all that life throws at you. This is quite a tall order. The leap of faith feels impossible.


As I started making progress towards recovery, it felt like the anorexia fought back, as though, it felt threatened. The voice I heard in my head began shouting louder, it continued to tell me I had to lose weight. How do you keep following the meal plan when day in, day out, you’re being told how fat you are, you’re eating too much, your greedy and you should engage in all behaviours to lose weight?

I had so many questions, if let go of my anorexia, who will I be? What will I do? What else will I think about? It felt like I would be nobody and I would be completely empty but as my recovery journey developed, I learnt who I was and things naturally became part of my life. 

How could I stop weighing myself multiple times per day?…then I wouldn’t know how much I weigh

How could I start eating chocolate?…what if I enjoy it?

How could I eat food if I didn’t know how many calories were in it?…then I wouldn’t know how much to restrict the next day

How could I stop exercising?…how would I know how much food I’d earnt?

I confess, when I was in a full blown eating disorder intense recovery programme, I would engage in searching for the web for hints and tips about how to “stay anorexic”, how to stop the hunger pangs without eating, what foods had the fewest calories, how to exercise when exhausted and on the verge of fainting, it’s all there and it’s down right dangerous.

The ambivalence is unbearable, desperately wanting to recover but also, desperately not wanting to recover. I could see the pain I was causing those around me, I honestly did want to recover so I could live a “normal” life but at the same time, I wanted to lose more weight and cling onto certain aspects of my anorexia.

The lack of energy you have when starving yourself makes the fight even harder. The recovery journey is tough and the tougher it gets the easier it feels just to stay indulging in anorexic behaviour. It gets even scarier when you get to the point when anorexic behaviours arent second nature anymore, what now? I thought, “if I’m not anorexic but I’m not recovered, what am I?”. At this point the feelings of failure are rife. Feeling like a “failed anorexic” is all too common but feeling like you’ve failing at life is also a tough obstacle to overcome. At this point, it feels like there’s no way back but the way forward feels equally impossible.

I did make it though, I did put faith in the professionals, I started listening to my body, when it was hungry I would feed it, when it was tired I let it rest. The signals are mixed at first, hunger pangs are confused with feeling full, tiredness gets confused with a lack of motivation. I found it really hard, I’d spent so long ignoring my body I had a brain-body disconnect so initially trusting the professionals and going through the motions was all I could do. I had to trust that they’d been through this more often than I had! It does help when you hear it from people who’ve actually lived through it, when recovering I found it helpful to speak online to people at various stages of recovery.

For me, therapy was the most important part of my recovery but it couldn’t have engaged fully in it until I was nourishing my brain fully. I tried to kid myself that I could sort my brain out while still starving myself but I was wrong.

I may not be totally happy with my body but now I nourish my brain I’m able to think more objectively about it and see that now, my life is full of all sorts of other things that wouldn’t have had space if I’d not let go of my anorexia.

Confessions from a disordered mind

So, it’s eating disorder awareness week again and I fear, yet again, I will be “preaching to the converted”… not that I preach (I hope) but I fear my blog only reaches those people who already know about mental illness, those who are already interested, those who suffer themselves or who care for someone who is or has been mentally ill. People reading this do not really need their awareness raising, so…what’s the point?!

I’ve challenged myself to go a bit deeper this year. Maybe my audience are aware of mental illness, even aware of eating disorders and anorexia. But how many of you actually know what it’s like to be stuck on the treadmill of starvation where you beat yourself up because you wonder if you’ve chosen to be ill but when you try eating an apple, a voice tells you “if you don’t cut it into 36 pieces, you’ll put on 6 stone”?

Anorexia isn’t about choosing not to eat or just liking healthy eating. It isn’t sexy or glamorous. It isn’t about losing a bit of weight, being a moody teenager, being awkward or deliberately deceitful. It’s a serious mental disorder where your every waking moment is driven by a desire to lose weight and your nightmares are dominated by fear of fat. The interlinking of thoughts, emotions and behaviours and your interpretations of these is incredibly strong, it can feel impossible to break the automatic cycle.


The voice (I later called Ana) was with me 24/7, in bed, at the supermarket, while with friends, when I was alone, she never left me alone. I thought she was my friend as she gave me hints and tips to achieve my goal. She persuaded me to make trips to a supermarket that was further away because they sold products lower in fat and sugar. She kept me going when I slowed through exhaustion while out running, she made me run faster, harder, further. She helped me say no when I was tempted by cakes and biscuits. She made me walk instead of use the car, even when the weather was cold and wet. She gave me a buzz when I lost weight but didn’t let up, she made me strive for the next target.

With anorexia I was devious and deceptive. I’m ashamed of some of the things I did. This is common. My focus became losing weight, my aim was to consume as few calories as possible and use up as many as possible. Continuing with a vaguely normal life became difficult, impossible at times. I’d pour milk into a bowl to pretend I’d eaten cereal. I’d say I wasn’t hungry when my stomach was in knots. When offered food, I’d say I’d already eaten when the truth was I’d not eaten for days. On one hand I hated wasting food, on the other, I’d throw food away. I hated lying but if I was to achieve my goal I had to. Unfortunately, the more weight I lost, the more I had to hide. I also self harmed, I had to hide this as well.


Why was I so determined? I felt out of control of my body (during puberty) and of my emotions. I’m a highly sensitive introvert who felt like I didn’t fit in the world. I thought my food intake and losing weight was the only thing I could contol. As with any other coping mechanism we use to make ourselves feel better/happier (smoking, shopping, drinking alcohol) there comes a point where they stop helping and start becaming a problem in themselves.

The more weight I lost, the better I felt about my body, I got a pleasure, I felt a a sense of achievement. But each time I achieved my goal, I had to set a lower goal weight. The lower my goal weight, the harder it was to achieve. The harder I had to work at my eating disorder (yes, it’s hard work) the more unhappy I was. Anorexia is full of contradictions.

There came a point when I realised my goals for life weren’t compatible – I did not have enough physical or emotional energy to be the person I wanted to be and to continue losing weight. I had to decide which I wanted more. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just choosing to recover.


When trying to recover the juxtaposition of desperately wanting to get better with desperately wanting to continue losing weight (because you know you feel better lighter and feel worse heavier) is an impossible battle. It didn’t make sense to enter into a recovery programme, signing up to gaining weight, knowing this would make me unhappy. I was unhappy with my life dominated by thoughts of avoiding food, avoiding social situations involving food and constantly trying to use up excess calories, I knew I would be unhappy gaining weight and feeling excess fat on my body. This is a very difficult experience to explain.

As I wrestled with recovery, there were so many reasons to fight to get better but anorexia is powerful. I needed people around me with a lot of patience. Recovery is never a smooth journey and there were many hurdles and many set backs but it is possible.

When I tried talking about the voice I heard I was asked to give it a name (a well established therapeutic technique) but I insisted on calling it Frances because I knew rationally it was me… it felt like someone else but I knew this wasn’t actually possible. In an odd way, my insight was working against me.

Once I gave in and called her Ana, it became easier. Instead of blaming myself, feeling angry at myself, beating myself up etc…I started aiming all my anger and frustration at Ana and started fighting against my illnesses instead of against myself.


Is life plain sailing now I’m recovered? No, of course not! But, although I may never love my body, it is what it is and I make my own decisions now, I’m not dictated to by disorered thinking.