Nearly six years ago I shared my journey as I began eating disorder recovery. And if you read back through the blog posts, you’ll find that there was no distinct day or time that I felt fully recovered. The process was gradual. Over time I was able to look back and see that all the little things added up. I began living again.
Professional and Emotional Support
Recovery was a combination of many things. I learned tools from my therapist and dietitian. I realized that restricting only led to bingeing and that eating meals throughout the day made the cravings less intense. I began to understand that whenever I was thinking about food, it meant I was actually hungry.
I also had the support of my coach, teammates, and family. They didn’t have to “fix” me. I just needed them to understand I was struggling and that I needed their support. Speaking up about what I was dealing with also helped me to overcome the fear and shame.
Through journaling, I tried to figure out when, where, and how the eating disorder started. I had to find out why I only found happiness/success in running fast and losing weight. Bringing up these issues with my therapist helped us to tackle them. I allowed myself to say exactly how I felt, to express my worst thoughts and embarrassing moments. My therapist was the safest person to release these thoughts and work through them.
Beyond the Control of Food and Running
My identity seemed to be at stake without my eating disorder. I had to find a way to rely on “just Rachael” rather than on restricting food and running. I found out that “just Rachael” was a lot more reliable (and fun) than depending on running and the control of food.
The most transformative day was breaking my scale and realizing I had to accept myself just as I was, even if it meant no longer being a part of the things I thought made me so “special” (again, running and the control of food). It meant being happy as ME–someone who is compassionate, funny, loves traveling, and does actually enjoy food.
That took accepting my body even at its heaviest. It took grieving the eating disorder (it’s okay to grieve something that you relied on for so long!). I had to try new things, face my fears, and get uncomfortable.
Running with an Eating Disorder
As a collegiate athlete, I incorporated that “acceptance” into my running and created new goals for myself. I decided to accept my body as it was. This was not easy, but I knew no other way to get out of my own head.
I knew I had to redefine success. I could focus on pacing my teammates. I could focus on solid communication with them in races. I could find success by how much effort I put into my races.
The focus now was to contribute to others. I decided to base my “value” and “worth” more on effort rather than “perfection” in numbers. This, in the end, led to greater happiness that didn’t come out of destructive habits.
Also, you might be surprised how well you can run with additional weight in other track events. It was uplifting to see my 1500m times improve when I gained weight. I focused more on strength at that point, too, so lifting weights was very beneficial for my mind and body.
When I graduated from college, I used the “do one thing every day that scares you” motto (Eleanor Roosevelt) to go out in the world and try new things. It was by making mistakes and struggling that I became more relatable, had a better social life, and grew as a person.
The eating disorder eventually fell to the wayside.
Recovery is Gradual
There is no one magic cure to make it all better quickly. Recovery is a gradual process. Each week I’d look back at what I accomplished in recovery, and I saw very little changing. But looking back at the whole journey and seeing where I am now, I realize that so much improved gradually over time. I identified destructive habits/mistakes, found out how to change them, and tackled my fears.
It’s easy for me to say how great I feel now and how “easy” it is to live this way because I see the whole journey. Writing about how I felt and analyzing myself with the help of my therapist and dietitian helped me to get to this spot. I was identifying puzzle pieces, putting them together, and completing the picture.
Perhaps I’m moving on to another puzzle that also has many ups and downs, but is more exciting: Life.
**I do understand that many do not have access to all of these things–a good therapist and/or dietitian may be hard to come by, money (even with insurance) may be tight, and support may be very small. I have learned to understand my privilege, and I see how I have benefited from it.**