Eating disorders love to make you believe you’re not making progress and you never will. They want you to rely on them and trust that though things are bad now, they’ll get even worse the closer you come to fully recovering.
What a load of crap.
On my journey to recovery I’ve been told time and again how important it is to ignore the ED’s lies and celebrate every positive step forward, no matter how small. If you want to make it through the recovery process you need to keep loving and encouraging yourself, especially during the most challenging times. And a crucial part of doing that is knowing why certain steps are so much harder to take.
ED found its way into my life through the wide open door of my perfectionism. I’ve always strived to go above and beyond and succeed in everything I set out to do. Being this way can sometimes be really useful (when it’s coupled with the right attitude) but it can easily be corrupted too. And that’s exactly what happened when I applied it to my eating and the way I viewed my body.
For as long as I can remember I’ve desperately wanted to be known as a skinny girl—someone who was fit, ate ‘clean’ and always had less on her plate than everyone else. I’m not especially tall, but during my school years most of my friends happened to be shorter than me and because of that I was always ‘the bigger one’. My psychologist helped me to realise this was part of the reason I felt the need to be perceived as ‘little’ by others.
As a result, I would scold myself every time I failed to live up to my perfectionist standards by eating two bits of toast instead of one, taking a bite of a cookie or not exercising for as long as I usually did. I was unbelievably harsh to myself (much harsher than I would ever have been to someone else; a common trait of disordered thinking). I became an expert at tearing myself to shreds. When I was finally diagnosed with anorexia this self-abuse had been going on for years, and that made it much easier for the ED to establish a foothold in my life.
It’s taken a long time, and I’m not where I want to be just yet, but with the help of my recovery team and family I’m learning to stop being so hard on myself. Instead, I’ve started to love who I am and the things that make me unique. I acknowledge and celebrate every win and try to treat myself the way I treat others. Whenever I’m tempted to dismiss or ignore a victory I think of what my psychologist often asks me: “What would you say to a loved one if they had accomplished this?” When you shift your thinking like this it can help to see things a lot more clearly.
Victories don’t always have to be massive. In fact, the seemingly minor wins can often cause major positive ripples. A few weeks ago I celebrated when I added sauce to my Monday lunches (which were previously dry steamed veggies). I know it’s still not a balanced meal, but it’s a small step closer and for me that’s a giant leap towards recovery.
I’m also proud to say I have finally smashed the self-imposed rule of no breakfast on Thursdays (don’t ask me why I singled Thursday out—logic and the ED do not get along). Thursdays used to be a day to dread, but now I look forward to a hot, creamy bowl of porridge.
These little triumphs are teaching me that I can choose to listen to my recovery team, my family and my body, and it is possible to silence the eating disorder. And that’s worth celebrating.