woman facing white field with backpack at daytime

Eating Disorder Recovery Is Not Always Picture-Perfect

Trigger warning: Eating disorders

Living with an eating disorder has complicated almost every aspect of my life. The simplest tasks and conversations become daunting and overwhelming. Most things that people do not even think twice about throw me into a debilitating spiral. Whether it is a simple invite out to dinner or eating lunch at a new job in the break room, my eating disorder is always at the forefront of my mind. Even though I am in recovery, most days it still feels like my anorexia is making all of my decisions for me.

Meeting new people is no exception to the list of things my eating disorder has made anxiety-inducing. What seems like a simple ice breaker question has the potential to send me into full panic mode because I have become so fearful of how everyone around me will perceive me.

During a recent job orientation, our trainer had us all introduce ourselves as well as say what our favorite ice cream was. To most people, this type of introductory exercise would be a breeze and something they would most likely forget about right after it happened. To me, I was instantly filled with anxiety. Speaking in front of a large group is scary enough, but having to also discuss food, one of my greatest sources of anxiety, was truly terrifying.

As my trainer went around the group and questioned all of us, I desperately tried to think of ways I could answer the question without calling too much attention to myself. I contemplated skipping the ice cream question, in hopes that no one would notice, but I quickly became too afraid that it would only prompt them to directly ask me instead. I thought of saying what my favorite local ice cream shop was but quickly became too afraid that it would only inspire the group to ask me more questions about it. I finally settled on chocolate ice cream as my answer; simple enough to not inspire further questions, but not so simple as to raise any eyebrows. I spent more time trying to decide what a socially acceptable answer would be than I did speaking.

It hurts me to think about how after 17 years of living with an eating disorder, I still can’t confidently complete the most basic tasks. Even though I know that none of the people in that job training cared at all about what my favorite ice cream was, I was still so afraid to give an answer that they might disapprove of. My eating disorder tells me that I shouldn’t even be eating ice cream, so there is no reason I should have a favorite. My eating disorder tells me that everyone will think I am fat if I even talk about eating ice cream. My eating disorder tells me that my worth is based upon my physical appearance, even though deep down, I know that it is not.

Being on the recovery side of an eating disorder doesn’t mean the intrusive thoughts do not come. You don’t wake up every morning feeling amazing and loving your body. You are not instantly healed the moment you begin your recovery or return to a less destructive diet. Being in recovery is a constant battle between what you know is true about your body image and what you know your eating disorder just wants you to believe.

I have a difficult time looking in the mirror most days and loving what I see reflected back at me. Most days, I have to remind myself that what I see in the mirror is not reality; my mind may never allow me to see my body as it really is. I have to constantly remind myself that fat is not a feeling. Any time my mind tells me that I am feeling fat, I have to work so hard to convince myself that there is another emotion actually at work there. I have to spend so much of every day just trying to pretend like I am normal.

I have to pretend like I’m not upset that I am actually eating lunch again or that I had to disclose what my favorite foods are. I have to come up with an acceptable script for the food-related questions that might come my way at any given moment. I have to convince myself that it’s okay to eat in public, even if it often feels like the worst thing I could ever do. Every day is a challenge, and every day is exhausting. Some days, it’s like I never even had an eating disorder, while others I am transported back to rock bottom. I am never quite sure which type of day I will have because I never know what triggers I might encounter.

Recovery is an amazing milestone, but it does not mean that you are magically healed. There is work to be done every day, and you need to be proud of yourself for all of the progress you have made, even on the days when you feel like you’re moving in reverse.

Like if a unicorn were a person going through an emo phase.

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