diet culture

4 Small but Powerful Benefits of Eating Disorder Recovery

If there are two things I know I love in the world, they are:

  1. Recovery from an eating disorder, and
  2. 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…

Or dieting.

Or weight.

Or bodies.

Or food.

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!

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Good Days, Bad Days

Sometimes I think I’m over it.

That it doesn’t matter how I look, or what size I wear, or what I grabbed to go from Chipotle on my way home from work because I’ve been pulling 13-hour days a few too many times this month, and sometimes you don’t even care that guac is a dollar more.

But sometimes I feel like I’ve been lying to myself all that time.

It can be any number of things that set the feeling off.

A glance down when toweling off after a shower, which even after all this time I studiously refuse to do, because the wave of sadness I get from looking at my new Buddha belly hurts more than I usually feel comfortable admitting.

Another goddamn rejection letter, when for some reason I really thought we were going to get somewhere this time.

Another lunch break sacrificed to a meeting or a project I don’t feel like I understand, or that I’m good enough to do. Hello, impostor syndrome, my old friend.

Whatever it is, it usually ends the same. Lying flat on my living room floor, staring at my bookshelf without any intention of picking up a book, wondering why my current lifestyle refuses to let me lose weight.

Yes. Yes. I know.

I know that diet culture is a cruel cocktail mixed by capitalism and the patriarchy.

I know that before I chose recovery I was no happier, in fact much less happy.

I know that I still reap the benefits of thin privilege in about a million different ways, and that my health is not in any way connected to the way my body looks.

I can rationalize my way through that. Most of the time I do. I can hit you with a Health at Every Size–based rant at the drop of a hat, literally or figuratively. Like, if you actually throw a hat at me, I will catch it and say “$20 billion annual profits of the US weight loss industry” in the same breath.

But some nights I don’t want to.

Some nights I want to wallow a little in the self-pity I try not to allow myself too often.

I want to acknowledge the weight of a small creature perched on my chest, pressing the breath from me and keeping me here on the floor, this small creature that does not feel exactly the same as my eating disorder did, but is close.

Quieter.

More subtle.

It is the whisper in the back of my mind that says “You failed at being thin. Just exactly the way you fail at everything else.”

I wish I weren’t writing about this. I realize that it isn’t helpful. But maybe the admission that I don’t always have it all together, that I’m not always here to be helpful, maybe that’s worth something. I don’t know. I’m not convinced my thoughts make sense, and I think it might be important to admit that, and edit a little less. Radical honesty does not always make for lucid prose.

But that’s all theoretical. What matters is tonight.

Tonight, I will let these feelings hang there, for the amount of time it takes to write this blog post. Because they are real, and they matter.

And then, also tonight, I will stand up, close my computer, and go do something else. I don’t know what. Sing along loudly to the Sweeney Todd  original cast recording, or finally start the latest Toni Morrison novel, or watch the rest of Season Two of Orphan Black. Anything else.

Because my residual ED feelings are part of my life, but so are all these things.

And they are real.

And they matter, too.