15 July 2013

Is complete recovery from an eating disorder even possible?

In 2007, an inexplicably irrational and frightening disease entered my life — anorexia nervosa. I was familiar with it, of course, although I did not have any close friends who struggled with anorexia or any other eating disorder, at least that I knew of.

My first contact with anorexia was with a two-sentence entry in my Abnormal Psychology textbook. It was the 1980s, and eating disorders just weren't getting a lot of attention. My next encounter with anorexia was in the early 1990s, when I was hospitalized at the University of Michigan Hospitals after a particularly bad bout with depression and anxiety. There was a young woman there, very thin and pale, who was on complete bed rest. I later found out that she had anorexia. I scoffed, eating my bacon eggs, that anyone would willingly starve herself.

Little did I know that years later, that woman would be me.

I developed anorexia after a bout with another frightening disease, hypoparathyroidism, caused me to lose a significant amount of weight. I found that I liked being that thin, and thus was kicked into anorexia and five years of utter hell.

There have been many fits and starts during my recovery, when I would go so far, only to jerk back and start clinging to anorexia like it was my best friend. I became a serial patient at my ED doctor's hospital, being admitted eight times between 2008 and 2012.

I still sometimes ask myself, will there be a ninth admission?

I started working seriously on recovery after my last hospitalization. I was discharged on 1 January 2012, and days later, I slammed my scale against the trash can and tossed it out. I have not owned a scale since.

But eating disorder thoughts still come and go, some fleetingly, others taking hold until I feel as if I am smothering.

Fat. Not so fat. Cellulite. Dimples............fatttttttttttttt.....oh so fat!!!!!!!! I wouldn't be caught.dead.in.a.bikini, said in a clinched tone. FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT, SCREAMING AT ME, GOD PLEASE STOP THESE THOUGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course, anorexia isn't really about weight and food and body image. And yet it is. My life is pretty stressful right now. I'm looking for full-time work after finishing graduate school. My living situation isn't idea. I feel like a failure after the twin disasters in December and June.

It is characteristic of me to turn inward, churning up self-hatred, berating myself for actually nourishing myself as a normal human being, hating myself for no longer being a size XX.

But all of this leads me to think, will I ever be completely recovered?

I mean, the truth is, I am at the high end of the acceptable weight for my age and height. I do need to lose some weight. I am risking my health, or I was, with all the sugar and simple carbs I've been ingesting.

So how does a recovered anorexic — if I am truly recovered — address possible health issues and the need to lose weight? How do I do it safely, or is it simply not possible?

Or will this simply trigger another relapse? Can I safely maintain my healthy, get to a healthy weight, without inviting anorexia back in?

Does anyone ever really recover from an eating disorder?


Meliss said...

i know, it's so cuckoo.

i'm dealing with not having a scale right now, and it's driving me kind of nuts. somehow, i need to learn that i, Melissa, am okay without a number. and that i am okay, NO MATTER what that number would happen to be, (if i let myself know what it was.)

just curious -- if you don't have a scale, how do you know you're on the high end of normal weight? do you really need to lose weight or do you want to lose weight? i get confused about most things weight related!

i hope life looks cheerier soon. job stuff is so, so difficult. you're such a lovely writer!

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

Aww, thank you for your kind comments! And thank you for reading.

Elaine Mingus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine Mingus said...

After 12 years of being bulimia-free (though I still own a scale) I still struggle with those thoughts.

I wrote a blog about my guilt about eating the WHOLE box of Triscuits

What I didn't say in the blog was that I SERIOUSLY considered reverting to those behaviors.

It is in those dark moments when your healing and your character is truly tried.

Luckily, I won!

I understand being on the "high" end of weight for your height. I've had my fifth baby recently (a real success considering I was so unhealthy at one point in my life) and each pregnancy poses the issue of weightloss and how to approach that in a healthy way.

I believe that recovery is like life...a process. Once you think you've "arrived", you peel back another layer.


Thanks for blogging!

Anonymous said...

EDs are a pain in the butt!

I always ask myself whether its possible to "recover" especially when my weight remains a constant fixation in my life. I remain very calculated in what I eat but in saying that, I balance it out with fitness and holding my attention on nutrition over fat content, health over calories.

It seems to me that "uncertainty" is clouding your life right now caused by the stress you identified in your blog post. Focus on dealing with the stress but not at the risk of your body. Keep yourself fueled with nourishing wholesome food. I find that this helps me.

EDs are a journey. And you have a whole community of support at your fingertips. All you need to do is reach out and I am sure everyone will jump on board and work through the situation with you. Whilst it can feel like a lonely journey and not necessarily a journey you want to discuss with family or friends in fear that it might make them worried, this online community is here to give you support too.

Let the prospect of the 9th admission fall away. Make it your goal to achieve what it is that you want to achieve.

Chin up buttercup.


Peach said...


I believe it is possible.

I have struggled for 10 years with anorexia. But I have had miraculous days, inspired by a variety of events and feelings, that the thoughts are absent. Completely absent. Days of pure freedom. Clarity. Truth. 100% freedom, clarity, and truth.

These days are REAL. You can't convince me otherwise. It's like seeing snow for the first time, or falling in love for the first time - something you could never have imagined but that once you've experienced, you can't NOT know deep down. They are gifts of hope. I know it is possible.

Don't give up.