1. Some days, you’ll wake up feeling thinner and it will be thrilling. You might barely eat and feel like you’ve finally had a “perfect” day and go to bed with a slight sense of hunger and a strong sense of satisfaction. Or you might eat “a lot” or “something bad” because you finally felt like one of those shiny-haired girls with Bambi legs who just have “a crazy metabolism” and have a zillion Instagram photos of them holding pizza and baking Nutella brownies and eating Ben and Jerry’s out of the tub with a massive spoon. Then later, you’ll panic and feel like you’ve eaten too much and you’ll kick yourself for having screwed up. You’ll just have to remind yourself that you’ve only screwed up if you allow yourself to think that eating more than usual, or eating with enthusiasm, is screwing up. A meal isn’t a binge and dessert isn’t a sin.
2. Some days, you’ll wake up feeling bloated and you’ll want to skip breakfast or breakfast and lunch or only have liquids that day. Then you’ll get hungry around lunchtime and you’ll have to remember that you promised yourself you were through with this bullshit.
3. Sometimes you’ll be faced with decisions such as, should I get regular or skim, normal coke or diet, buttered toast or plain, anything I want for lunch or just salad, and with the light dressing? And you’ll have to remember that it honestly doesn’t matter. Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the full-fat, full-sugar option. It means understanding that there is no ‘good’ option, and that whichever option you choose does not define you as a person – no food allegiance will make you daintier or more endearing.
4. Sometimes you’ll see girls who remind you of the girl you were when you were ill. They’ll have thick black tights over their thin legs and big jumpers over their small frames. They’ll be pushing their food around on their plate and gulping water. They’ll be brushing their brittle hair out of their eyes with bony fingers. They’ll look wistful and delicate and you’ll have to try extra hard to remember how miserable you felt when you were just like them. You’ll have to try extra hard to remember that you were always cold and that your insides were constantly gnawing at each other and that you weren’t able to sleep or go to the bathroom properly and that you lived in constant of fear of an inanimate fucking object.
5. Sometimes people will mention that you look “so much better” or “so much healthier” than before and you will have to fight back tears and say “thank you” with a brave smile because to you, those words will always feel like “you’ve gained weight.” And in a part of your mind that you keep trying to forget exists, that will feel like “you failed.” Try to remember that your eating disorder was not keeping you strong, it was making you weak and that choosing to get over it was choosing to live.
6. Sometimes you’ll binge; it will feel horrible, and not only physically. Accept it, try to understand why it happened and find something comforting to do, like taking a bath, seeing a close friend or watching a film. Maybe drink some herbal tea. Don’t purge – as unpleasant as waking up bloated and heavier the next day will be, you can’t let yourself fall back into old habits. Because you’ll do it “just this once,” and then the next time will be “one last time” and before you know it, everything will be back out of control.
7. Sometimes you’ll get nostalgic and look back at the neatness and simplicity of those days. Days when it was a good day if you were “x pounds less than you were the day before,” if you’d eaten “x amount of calories less than the amount you’d allotted yourself,” if you’d burned “x amount of calories doing x minutes of exercise,” if you’d binged on “x amounts of carrots or biscuits or bars of chocolate or pots of yoghurt and managed to get most of it up.” Whatever the mode of persecution, it felt structured and familiar and almost soothing. Now try to remember what most days were like – the hollow feeling in your stomach, the dull aches, the drowsiness, the insomnia, the frustration, the obstinate taste of bile, the cavities, the loneliness. And then the bad days – clawing at your throat after dinner with the water running, crying into your pillow, eating teaspoons of Tabasco, drinking tablespoons of vinegar and slicing up your wrists.
8. You’ll be awkward and touchy about the subject around other people. You might try to pretend that none of it ever happened because you’re past that now and you don’t want to be treated like a special case and you don’t want to admit that you used to be the person they’re all implicitly judging – the saddo with no friends other than the scale and the toilet bowl. You might also be afraid that they’d look at you condescendingly and tell you that you didn’t have real eating disorder, I mean, after all, it’s not like you were 80 pounds soaking wet and, like, dying. However, every once in a while, you’ll subconsciously draw attention to how long you can go without eating and how little you once used to weigh.
9. After a while, you will feel inordinately proud of being able to do normal human things. Like not looking at the calorie content on a packet of crisps and eating it as you walk down the street. Like doing a normal human poo. Like wearing a bikini and not giving a flying fuck.
10. You’ll learn that one of your close friends went through the exact same thing you did and somehow it will make your friendship stronger.
11. You’ll learn that one of your close friends is beginning to struggle with an eating disorder and it will be absolutely devastating. You’ll cry a lot, for her and for your own memories. You’ll be tempted to relapse. You’ll have to try and find the right words to express how well you understand what she’s going through. She’ll need to hear that she looks thinner; you’ll need to tell her she’s wasting away and needs to get help. You’ll have to be there for her without encouraging her. You’ll have to sit with her and listen when she tells you how much weight she’s lost and how little she’s eaten all day and how she puked last night and how she almost fainted on the stairway, because you’re the only one she can tell these things to. You’ll need to just listen, without giving advice, and then hug her and remind her of how much she means to you.