Everything in life changes day by day, even minute by minute sometimes. Life is transient and nothing ever stays the same. The danger of course with eating disorders, is that when you are not focused on overcoming them, their evolving and transient nature generally leads in one direction. That is, a stronger power over you.
The longer an eating disorder is left unchallenged and allowed to fester, the more ingrained those disordered habits and rituals become and the eating disorder becomes increasingly hard wired into your brain. And of course, those disordered habits and rituals, such as the restrictive eating or the movement compulsions and other means of compensation, all grow over time too, so that the intake becomes more restrictive and the other behaviours increase in length, duration or repetition. Eating disorders are powerful (you don't need me to tell you that) and when left, they will evolve into something with an ever stronger and more torturous hold over you.
This post though is not about the insidious nature of eating disorders, but it is about the fact that just like an eating disorder will evolve and strengthen if left unchallenged, the recovery process and your stages of recovery are also going to constantly evolve and change as you proceed through the very difficult journey that is overcoming an eating disorder. Therefore, in order to have optimal success in your recovery, you need to recognise how your recovery process is evolving at any given time and ensure it is constantly moving in a positive, ED bashing direction and not becoming stagnant or even slipping back.
In order to get your eating disorder recovery done quickly and effectively, it is crucial to allow your recovery to constantly evolve as an ongoing, ever changing process.
Food and Rest
In recovery your needs for unrestricted food and rest will stay ever present and consistent. Over time though, if you fully learn to let yourself hear your hunger, then the amounts and types of food your body will demand will change (sometimes with hunger levels that become what some might consider 'extreme' and at other times at a high but not quite as drastically insatiable level!). At the same time, if you learn to really allow yourself to hear your exhaustion levels, there will be times in recovery when you might need to sleep a lot and feel so lacking in energy that you wonder if you will ever rise from your bed with a spring in your step again. At other times, however, you might have a bit more energy to continue with daily tasks or even start to feel a bit playful again (although no exercise in recovery please until you are safely rewired and done!).
Therefore, it is safe to say that your body's needs in recovery when it comes to food and rest will fluctuate as you proceed through your own unique process and allow your body and brain to heal, repair and take you to a life with more freedom and let's face it, a bit less misery (well, hopefully a lot less misery than life with an eating disorder!).
At the same time, your needs in terms of other factors that will help you towards a full recovery, allowing it to be a smoother process, will also change as you continue to grow, learn and evolve along the way.
Be Vigilant and Honest Throughout Your Unique Process
Throughout your recovery, you will certainly need a lot of support, reassurance and encouragement. You will almost certainly need guidance and you might even feel quite dependent on others at times.
As you progress, you will though naturally become more comfortable with the basics of your recovery (eating more, facing a few fears, learning to rest or not purge etc), but you then need to keep taking your recovery process up a notch, so that you are always facing more fears and challenges. Recovery is only fully done and dusted when you can eat anything, anywhere, any amount, at any time, with anyone... and all without any fears, anxieties or rules and with no need to compensate. Recovery is achieved when you feel completely free around food, movement and life in general! Until you can safely say you are at this point, you need to keep pushing that recovery process onwards and upwards and ensure it is continuously evolving.
Recovery is a constant process of working out at each point in time and within your unique circumstances, what it is that will help you to make more of those essential changes, remaining vigilant and honest as to whether you are progressing. Eating disorders will maintain their grip with strength and determination and in the lengthy process of recovery, it is easy to find yourself either treading water for a time or even slipping back while other things in life demand your attention.
To get recovery right, it is crucial that you make sure you are constantly re-evaluating your recovery:
What still needs to change?
Where is the eating disorder still lurking?
What help do you need to make new changes?
Is your current support level allowing your recovery to evolve or does it need some tweaks?
It is also key to remember that every recovery is unique and what one person does for their recovery might not work for you, so stay focused on your own messy but individual path, working out what might help you in the here and now.
There is no right or wrong in recovery, other than not recovering!
You can take ideas and motivation from others but comparison usually leads to despair in this recovery game and that never helps!
Continuously Re-Prioritise Your Recovery
When you start to make progress in recovery, it can be very tempting to begin to let some new found freedoms take over, pushing the latter parts of the recovery process (which for many are just as tough and sometimes even harder than the early stages) far down your day to day priority list. This is very dangerous territory and this is a key reason so many people stay in what is commonly called the 'quasi-recovered' state for years (where they are a bit less disordered or in a bigger body, perhaps with some less obvious or restrictive rules around food and movement, but ultimately still strongly controlled by the illness).
Another consideration is whether life commitments that you feel obliged to carry out are actually helping you to recover. So often, I see people trying to do it all - study or work, manage families and kids, fulfil carer duties, volunteer, network, etc etc while also attempting recovery and it rarely ends well. Recovery is a full time job and takes so much brain space (it has to, no getting around that), so if recovery is to work for you, it will mean constantly reassessing what else in your life is taking your time and focus and what you can do to take some of those demands away while you get your recovery done.
You will have to learn to be absolutely honest in your recovery process, first and foremost with yourself but also with your support team. It is tempting to want to fly free and start to live a bigger and better life, but do so too early and you risk not finding that absolutely 100% recovered space that you most definitely deserve.
Keep Re-Evaluating Your Support Network
If something or someone in terms of your recovery support is not helping then you should not be afraid to speak up or change things.
Perhaps a therapist or recovery coach has helped a great deal to get you where you are now, but it has reached a point in the relationship where you feel you need more independence or just a fresh perspective. The same might be true for family, friend or partner support.
Of course, it is just as likely to be the opposite case and you feel you need more support, no matter where in the process you are. Keep re-evaluating what you need and the factors or people who might help and don't be afraid to change anything or everything.
Overall though, no matter what, you have to take charge and own your recovery, because only you know who or what might be helpful (or not) and only you can implement the necessary changes that will make getting to your ultimate free and recovered life easier and (hopefully) quicker too.
Eating disorder recovery needs you to always stay focused on your own path and constantly pivot your approach when needed. Recovery also means not berating yourself for any mistakes or setbacks along the way because, let's face it this is a real and quite shitty illness we are talking about here and it is always the case that getting recovery right is messy... but messy does not mean impossible and from the mess you will learn and grow!
**This episode is also a transcription of a podcast episode on my podcast series, Feck it, Fun, Fabulous and Free in Eating Disorder Recovery - available on all mainstream podcast providers or you can download it from this website!**