I am weight restored, but I am far from recovered. I eat around other people and in restaurants, but that does not mean that I am okay. Weight is not an indication of the phase of someone’s eating disorder— a person could have a normal or higher weight but still be suffering from a severe illness. Similarly, just because someone who once was underweight now falls into the healthy category, it is not evidence of everything being better.
Many people fail to understand just how many factors play into recovery. When I first started out, I planned to learn how to eat and keep down what could be considered a “normal” amount, maybe gain five or ten pounds to be in a “healthier” weight range. I wasn’t looking for recovery. I was looking for a way to compromise with my eating disorder. I wanted to get rid of the nasty parts while keeping those that I considered “beneficial”, “good”, and “harmless”— spoiler: As much as you convince yourself that these exist, they don’t.
When I entered treatment, I began to understand that I would never be able to consider myself recovered, or live life freely, if I held on to any part of my disorder. I couldn’t aim for maintaining the minimum acceptable BMI. I couldn’t stick to eating only “safe” foods, while avoiding those I feared like the plague. I remember having salmon for dinner with ease in program, thinking, “Why am I here? I ate my salmon and I ate everything else on my plate. I’m fine, I’m faking it, I’m overreacting.” Two weeks later, I was at the table, crying over macaroni and cheese while my peers tried to comfort me and tell me I could get through it. One successful meal does not mean recovery, but one difficult one does not mean relapse.
Stepping down from PHP back to IOP, I looked at myself, and I looked at the others in my group. Again, the thoughts came back. “You aren’t underweight. You’re not having panic attacks every day anymore. You’re looking for attention.” I ate my hummus and pita. I forced myself to keep my composure as I ate my cupcake.
I eat in the servery, I eat out, and looking at me, you might not even think anything is wrong. But I am not recovered, because the fear when I see food I didn’t plan for lingers, the urge to wander about looking for the safest option is still there, I still regret choosing one thing over the other. Forcing myself to get dessert and complete my meal plan feels like a war in my head. If I didn’t have a meal plan to follow and a treatment team watching my progress, I don’t know if I would respond to hunger cues.
I am not recovered because I gained weight and am eating. I will be recovered when I can eat a meal without planning it ahead of time, when I choose my dinner not because it is the healthiest option, but because it sounds delicious. When I can walk by a scale and not let my need to control the numbers on it control my life, or even better, not step on it because I simply do not care, then I will be recovered. When I get a text from friends suggesting late night food, and I actually order something to enjoy with them rather than just sit there because I’ve already had everything I am allowed for the day, then I will be recovered. When the scoreboard in my head stops keeping count of how much I have left to “spend”, when I don’t scrutinize or pinch myself every ten minutes, when I accept my body as it is, I will be recovered. When I give up my perfectionism, the desire for control, and unhealthy coping mechanisms, and learn how to forgive myself, I will be recovered. And that, that is just scratching the surface.
My eating disorder is not just what can be physically seen. The most difficult part to combat is that which is in my mind, and that which is not just about the food, or about how I look. It is the part that’s about all of the experiences and influences that played into my search for control, self-punishment, numbness, the need to disappear. I felt that I was too much, that I was an inconvenience, and I fell down a slippery slope that I continue to stand on the edge of. My weight is not a sign of my recovery. But it’s a step in the right direction.