May 21st, 2013
What does it mean to get better, to be ”in recovery” or “recovered” if you’ve had an eating disorder? For many people the answer is to be free of the symptoms of their eating disorder. For people with anorexia, that means attaining a normal or near-normal weight, resuming normal menstruation for women, and not restricting their eating. For people with bulimia and BED, it means no longer bingeing and, in the case of bulimia, no more purging. Across the eating disorders, it means exercising in a healthy way, not compulsively or to compensate for eating.
Ceasing to be symptomatic is a huge achievement. There is no recovery without the cessations of symptoms. But to stop here is the eating disorder equivalent of the alcoholic who becomes a “dry drunk”, that person who no longer drinks, but who does nothing to change the underlying experience of self that gave rise to the drinking in the first place. Being symptom-recovered from an eating disorder without addressing the issues underlying the disorder is, for most, a precarious limbo. First and most importantly, a person who only recovers from symptoms is highly vulnerable to relapse. Exposure to increased stress or to eating disorder triggers can send such a fragile recovery off the rails. Beyond the threat of relapse, unaddressed underlying issues will continue to be a drain on vitality, relationships, and one’s connection to self.
Any of the following might describe you if your recovery has stopped at symptom remission:
- You’re preoccupied with thoughts about food/weight/eating/exercise.
- You continue to equate your worth with your weight and assume others do, too.
- You only feel okay to the extent that you can control your external environment.
- You continue to find it hard to cope with your emotions.
If your recovery has so-far focused on ED symptoms, any of the following issues might be waiting for exploration and resolution:
- Childhood trauma
- Inadequate tools for coping with emotions
- Inadequate tools for coping with stress
- Difficulties with social connection and intimacy
- Issues of self-esteem
- Issues of identity, personal wholeness
- Issues of personal agency, empowerment
A symptom-only recovery, for many, can be like holding on by the fingernails. It’s a big undertaking to address those underlying issues and to work on missing skills. But the reward is not only greater confidence that you can leave your eating disorder behind, but the possibility of being more solid and grounded in all areas of your life.
Good luck and warm wishes,
May 3rd, 2013
Monday, May 6, is the 21st annual International No Diet Day. This is a day you can set aside to honor everything you value about your eating disorder recovery and to feel in solidarity with people all over the world as you do.
INDD was originated in 1992 by a British feminist and survivor of anorexia, Mary Evans Young, who’d kinda had it with all the effort she saw women around her expending on counting calories, judging their bodies, and focusing on all the restrictive, appearance-based shoulds of food and weight. She is said to have challenged her friends: “What do you think would happen if you spent as much time and energy on your careers as you do on diets?”
Broadly speaking the goal of INDD is for women to have a more comfortable, healthy relationship with weight and food. The event has grown to encompass many approaches to achieving that goal including education, activism, group activities and personal reflection.
If you’re in recovery, you’ve certainly already learned that dieting is poison for your recovery process. If you still have questions about this, check out virtually any ED website — a great example that focuses on INDD is Psychcentral’s Weightless blog—or ED literature, talk to your therapist, OA sponsor, ED group, or any other reputable source. This is not a matter of controversy! For you the rest of you who are already on board with no-dieting, International No Diet Day might not serve so much as a course corrector as a chance to renew your vows. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Perhaps you’d like to review the ways you’ve benefited from leaving dieting behind.
- Consider one act you might take on INDD to respect or honor the body you have.
- If you are still secretly counting calories, imagine what kind of resources you might need to develop to safely give up the calorie obsession.
- For this one day imagine you’ve already achieved body acceptance. At each point of the day imagine how you’d be relating to your body from that place of acceptance, for example, while you’re getting dressed, when you’re having lunch, working out, spending time with friends, and so forth.
Whatever you do to mark the day, put on your INDD blue ribbon and know that you are not alone, you are part of something bigger than yourself. And consider that your efforts could be like that famous fluttering of a butterfly’s wings that ultimately results in a hurricane somewhere else in the world!
April 6th, 2013
A while ago when I posted on the topic, “Building Resilience in Eating Disorder Recovery”, I defined resilience as the ability to bounce back when bad things happen to you. I also said:
Resilient people can cope with stress or crisis and adapt as needed to difficult situations. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel the punch or go down for the count. It means you have the capacity to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again, perhaps learning from what went wrong , and ending up stronger when the next setback occurs.
Today I’m delighted to recommend a wonderful resource in CD form for helping you build resilience: “Resilient-You®: Bending with Strong Winds”, created by friend and colleague, Elizabeth Lehmann, MA, MSW. Reflecting Elizabeth’s many years of clinical experience helping people build and nourish personal resilience,”Resilient-You®” intersperses cutting edge information about the functioning of your nervous system with highly effective guided exercises for calming, grounding, and mindful awareness. Elizabeth’s approach gently and skillfully allows you to explore your own responses to the practices offered, to go at your own pace, and ultimately to focus on what works best for you.
Strong recovery generally involves a rich library of supportive resources. I encourage you to check out “Resilient-You®” to enrich your own collection! Click here to visit the “Resilient-You®” home page and learn how you can purchase the CD for yourself.
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