Devon has courageously permitted me to share beautiful insights about her eating disorder. Her story reveals the truth we all are on a journey with food and body.
I am currently embracing a beautifully unstructured point in my life. If I had not made the conscious decision to seek further treatment for my eating disorder, I would hold a very different perspective towards this current life stage. I moved to Boston a little over two years ago to finish my Master’s program and complete rotations for my dietetic internship, actively fulfilling my self proclaimed identity as an overachiever. I thrive off maintaining a hectic schedule, facing increased anxiety towards having too much free time. Having recognized this, I explored the option of enrolling in a higher level of care. I am currently involved in a partial hospitalization program, a step I have been pushing aside for much too long.
It’s so important to recognize when we need support! How do you feel as a future dietitian, or someone who works in the nutrition field affects your recovery journey?
As an ‘RD to be’ having just completed my dietetic internship, I was hesitant to seek further support. Having gained greater experience within the nutrition field, I became ashamed of my struggles around food and nourishing my body. I became increasingly frustrated simply because I was unable to practice the same guidelines I presented to my patients. Within the greater nutrition field, the emphasis often placed on healthy eating and the participation in regular means of physical activity acted to encourage my disordered behaviors. As a dietitian, I hope to promote the mindset that all foods can be, and should be included as part of a healthy eating pattern. I hope to dissociate the practice of eating from ingrained moral values, encouraging others that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. All foods are comprised of similar nutrients, acting to provide the body with energy it requires to not simply live but in a enriching manner. Food serves a purpose extending far beyond basic nutrition. It is cultural, social, comforting and emotional. Food acts to satisfy both physical and spiritual needs within the body, further validating that one meal or snack choice is no better than another. Through my own personal struggles, I hope this greater understanding I have gained will help others facing similar situations.
What does recovery mean to you?
As I understand for myself, recovery is not static. It is not a singular event or a given ‘ah ha’ moment, but is comprised of many conscious challenges, decisions and actions. It involves establishing daily intentions and a general sense of motivation towards better health and wellbeing. I do not believe recovery to be the absence of disordered thoughts or behaviors, but instead gaining a wide set of coping skills of which enable inner strength and resilience. By becoming more familiar with personal triggers and resulting urges towards behaviors, it becomes easier to face adversity in a healthier manner without the reliance on disordered tendencies. Recovery holds a vastly different meaning for each individual, and I encourage each person to further explore what recovery truly means for them.
When did you decide you needed help? What was the turning point?
In my personal experience, the idea of seeking a higher level of care remained foreign to me for several years. My parents encouraged me to address my anxiety around food following my college graduation in 2015, but I was unable to fully consider this option at the time. I was free to acknowledge my behaviors were feeling increasingly compulsive, but I could not see beyond the grips of the disorder, nor was I willing to part with it. Disordered behaviors often arise as a coping mechanism, one in which feels deceptively supportive in the short term but turns so tremendously destructive. This point in time involved transition, change and growth, all of which spark feelings of discomfort and uncertainty. I was able to establish a care team through my graduate program, taking baby steps along the way towards maintaining a stable health status to allow me to finish both my Master’s program and internship. As a personality trait, I remain highly achievement oriented, a characteristic which discouraged me from previously seeking a higher level of care. Conveniently I always had a larger excuse, one which made me feel that treatment was not an option as I simply didn’t have the availability or interest. I have now come to realize I had been completely blended with my disorder and was unable to make sound decisions for my wellbeing. Having finished my internship, I knew this time would be an opportunity I would not likely face again prior to establishing a career path for myself. I jumped head first into the recovery process, knowing I may grow more hesitant if I did not take action.
When you face challenges, what are some things you do to face them? Or maybe some things you remind yourself of? Basically, how do you keep going when the going gets tough?
Recovery at any stage is incredibly hard both mentally and physically. The body is changing, growing, repairing and adapting on so many intrinsic levels as we engage in the necessary mental work. Eating disorders are not focused solely on food, or the fear of food itself. Disordered eating is so deeply rooted in our psyche stemming from adversity, challenging family dynamics, personal trauma among other triggers. Having to part with comfortable and familiar coping mechanisms is intimidating and introduces uncertainty and a heightened sense of anxiety. Through my personal experience in recovery thus far, I have faced challenges I did not initially anticipate as a result of parting with something which brought me comfort, control and a sense of identity. On harder days, I remind myself of a simple mantra repeated by our dietitian here, to ‘just try’. You are acutely familiar with life as paralleled with your eating disorder, but what might you be missing out on? Can life be a little more comfortable, manageable and enjoyable? I have adopted this mantra as a daily intention of mine. Just try. You can always step back and reevaluate the situation if needed. I take comfort in knowing this is not a commitment, but a choice I am making for my personal wellbeing.
Have you noticed any changes in yourself since starting recovery?
The most meaningful realization in my recovery thus far has been eating more than I may feel comfortable with has not drastically changed the appearance of my shape. Prior to starting treatment, I feared allowing my body the nourishment it greatly needed to heal and repair would cause large fluctuations in my perception of self image. While I do notice slight shifts, I am embracing my body in a manner I was not able to previously. I have gained confidence and a sense of grounding in myself. I appreciate having a more womanly shape and have become much more trusting of the process.
What is one piece of advice or encouragement or reminder you would like to offer others who are struggling or who may also be in recovery?
Recovery is a permissible time to be selfish. It is a time for personal growth, healing and self exploration. By agreeing to take further steps towards recovery, you are practicing the highest act of self-care and love. I encourage others to remain in touch with what is helpful during this time and to reevaluate situations and relationships which may not feel supportive. Part of recovery is establishing a sound foundation, one in which fosters positive choices, thoughts and actions. Removing yourself from anxiety producing environments is not at all self-centered, but necessary to promote sustainable change. Be gentle with yourself, and practice small acts of respect for yourself each and every day.
What do you think are some of the most important ways people can support others in recovery?
Eating disorders can be confusing for both individuals and loved ones. I am aware of my own triggers, but do not fully understand why a given topic might be more sensitive. New triggers may arise in daily life or conversation as life is dynamic and constantly changing. We face evolving circumstances and continue to learn how to best adapt. By remaining in touch with ourselves and establishing personal boundaries, potentially uncomfortable situations can be better managed. Never feel as though you have to justify your feelings or experiences to others prior to setting boundaries. Some examples could be to keep discussions away from food or eating, weight, body size or shape. Although many comments from loved ones are made with the best intentions, it can be helpful to reevaluate the situation prior to speaking. For example, rather than offering a compliment focused on body size or shape, consider complimenting one’s hair style or clothing choice. A focus on body size, even from a place of good intentions may be perceived as triggering as recovery is a highly vulnerable life stage. Similarly, making a well mannered comment that someone appears ‘healthy’ may send one’s mind into a cycle of disordered thoughts towards body image and size. To best support the recovery process, individually focused guidelines should be established among loved ones to encourage positive interactions and further healing.