If there are two things I know I love in the world, they are:
- Recovery from an eating disorder, and
- Numbered lists.
And when you do a quick Google search of “signs of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder,” your search results will list the main, clinical diagnosis points: weight stabilization, less rumination and disordered thoughts, etc.
But recovery doesn’t always work in broad strokes.
Sometimes it’s the little things you didn’t realize were messed up — until, all of a sudden, they’re not.
These are just four awesome items on my list of recovery benefits, but they’re ones I didn’t really think about until much later. They weren’t the reasons I chose recovery, but hey, I’m sure as hell happy they’re here.
As always, these reflect my personal experience: Your personal mileage may vary.
But if you’re wondering what life in late-stage recovery actually means in concrete terms…
And if you, like me, have an ever-abiding passion for lists…
Well, this one’s for you, my friend.
1. Better Sleep Patterns
In the midst of my disorder, my sleep schedule was whacked all to hell. I’d sleep maybe 45 minutes a night — but would spend a full nine hours in bed, tossing and turning.
This wasn’t because I was ruminating about what I had or hadn’t eaten that day, although I certainly had nights when that was the case.
I was just laying there, staring at the ceiling, exhausted, but totally unable to fall asleep.
Why? Because my ED had screwed up my body’s internal workings so much that it didn’t know when to sleep, or for how long. I’d trained it not to listen to its innate signals, and as far as I can tell, it extrapolated the pattern all the way to sleeping.
I don’t have the science to back this up — scientific method is not exactly my forte — but I do know that after a few years of recovery, nine out of 10 times I’m sleeping about thirty minutes after my head hits the pillow.
As someone who loves sleep like Pitbull likes listing city names, this is no small benefit.
2. Functional Digestive System
TMI warning: I’m gonna talk about poop real quick.
My ED really did a number on my digestive system. I never used laxatives (for obvious reasons, my support team shot that option down), but the effects of not using them went on for weeks at a time, which was kind of awful.
Now, keeping my system regular really isn’t so hard.
And for y’all who are wondering how awesome it is to have a digestive tract that actually digests things the right way, let me just say this:
It’s fucking glorious.
//end poop talk.
3. Enhanced Creativity
I didn’t really think about this one until recently. I was a creative writing major in college, and when I was working on cranking out a short story a week, it seemed to me like my creative juices were flowing pretty regularly.
But I flip through old notebooks from time to time (a dangerous endeavor, not to be attempted by the faint of heart), and I can see the difference.
My characters are more developed now. They’re more confident. More interesting.
And my scribblings in the margins of my school and work notepads reflect a mind considering more than food.
My college notebooks boast wordless scribbles, black squares, mindless doodlings, the occasional frustrated outburst on a bad day.
The notepad on my phone now features marginalia like:
Did Renaissance Jews wear hats?
Villain’s personality: Artful Dodger + Ursula + Loki
Cross-pollinating a hangover with an exorcism
What does the early modern tradition think about the bottom of the ocean?
Now, maybe these examples say more about the nonsense that goes on in my mind than any rise in functional creativity. But I think the point stands.
And in case you were wondering, yes. Renaissance Jews did generally wear hats.
4. Fearless Media Consumption
I went through this phase — OK, it was like two years — when I read almost every piece of fiction about eating disorders I could find. I would pour through books looking for mentions of people with anorexia, and then reread the passages over and over, without really knowing why I was doing it.
I wrote eating disorder fiction myself, and for all the wrong reasons. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.
There are plenty of theories about why people dealing with EDs fall into these patterns, but whatever the cause, I fell hard.
In early recovery, I veered in the opposite direction. Nothing that mentioned eating disorders made its way into my purview…
I just wasn’t equipped to handle it, and it was easier to push it to the side.
Now, I can flip on the TV and see a preview for a Biggest Loser–style show or new diet pill without feeling the need to hop on the treadmill, or to turn off the set and engage in a healthy coping mechanism.
With every day my recovery grows, it’s easier to watch and read content that used to trigger the living shit out of me.
And it makes it easier to work in an office where diet talk is practically a daily thing, too.
Sure, big-picture recovery is the end goal. But sometimes it’s worth it to celebrate small victories — however they show up for you.
So, fellow recovery warriors, what are some of the small but kickass benefits of recovery you’ve noticed in your own journeys? Let me know in the comments!