We center many eating disorder and eating disorder recovery conversations around identifying ways to cope with triggers, making steps toward healing, and strategies to stay in a healing space once you get there. And these are all important, necessary conversations to have and continue having. Another conversation that I think is also worth having is the conversation in which we notice, recognize, and celebrate the victories – large and small – that we experience on our recovery journey.
So, in an effort to stop and celebrate the triumphs along the recovery journey, I’ve curated a list of signs that you are recovering from your eating disorder. Many of these are personal to me, and they are not intended to be representative of the experience of all who are recovering from an eating disorder, and they are also not representative of the recovery journey for all eating disorders.
As we head into more sunshine and warmer weather, here’s a reflection on the figurative winter some of us have come out of, are coming out of, or are longing to come out of.
18 Victories That You May Experience When Recovering From Your Eating Disorder
1. You go extended periods of time without thinking about food
Thinking about food 24/7 can be a norm for someone with an eating disorder – eating it, not eating it, avoiding it, wanting it, figuring out how long until you can next eat and how much you’re “allowed” to have. It’s a seemingly inescapable cycle. When you’re recovering, you may notice that there are hours, parts of days, and then eventually days where you are not thinking about food all of the time. You may not realize it at first, but there comes a point where your day is no longer dictated by food.
2. You feel less nostalgic over your eating disorder
While feeling ED nostalgia is a normal part of the recovery journey, you will get to a point where the feelings are less intense and you feel it less often. I first noticed this when I saw a picture of me when in the depths of my eating disorder and instead of feeling envy for my previous body, I felt a lot of other things: relief that I am where I am at in my healing journey, love and compassion for the girl in that picture. So much compassion.
3. You feel more in general
For a large part of my struggle with my ED, I didn’t actively feel sad; I felt . . . . nothing. My healing has enabled me to actually feel again. Whether it’s excitement about an upcoming get together with a friend or sadness over an emotional story a family member told me, my emotions reemerged in recovery. And it took feeling them again to even realize that they were gone. So maybe it starts small: you feel a sense of joy when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, you feel thankful and smile at the person who holds the door open for you when you are grabbing coffee. They all matter, and they’re all victories.
4. You reengage in relationships
Eating disorders are often isolating. Many of us retreat inward – intentionally or unintentionally – when struggling with an ED. It took quite a bit of time, but I noticed a desire to socially engage with people come back throughout my recovery journey. When recovering from an eating disorder, you may begin to reengage in relationships with those you care about.
5. You feel generally more present
You’re not as distracted when with other people. The distraction from being hungry, irritable, sad, fixated on food or exercise is replaced with a desire to connect with the people you are around. The stabilization in your body and mood allows you to connect more meaningfully in moments in which you were previously withdrawn. For me, this one has been sporadic, but the moments in which I feel present are more frequent. I don’t feel like I am constantly looking for an escape when in social situations.
6. You are excited about going out to eat
Going out to eat may have been something you would dread or avoid altogether. During your eating disorder recovery journey, you may notice that there comes a point where someone asks you to go out to eat and you actually look forward to it.
7. You aren’t focused on the amount of food other people are eating
You can eat around other people now without either longing for what is on someone else’s plate, being disgusted by what someone is eating, or doing mental calculations of the amount of calories other people are consuming. Now, you may not even notice what other people are eating– for the first time in a long time, your eyes are actually on your own plate.
8. You take the work treats!
I used to dread when donuts, cookies, or something of the like made its way into the office at work, but, much to my surprise and delight, a coworker sent an email the other day about having donuts from one of my favorite bakeries. I was actually excited! Something minor like this has helped make going to work enjoyable again.
9. You buy clothes that fit, not “goal clothes”
If you need a new pair of jeans, you’re not bound to a certain size; you get the pair that fits you and feels good on your body. If this size is different from what it was when you felt bound to your eating disorder, you’re okay with it. You notice that your mood no longer depends on the sizes you are buying when you are shopping or getting dressed.
10. You don’t obsess over missing a workout
I used to move mountains in order to get my workout in every day, sometimes even twice a day. I would plan my entire day around when I could and couldn’t work out, even rearranging plans to make sure I didn’t miss workout opportunities. If it seemed like I was going to struggle to get in a workout one day, I would experience debilitating levels of anxiety and stress. I am thankful that I no longer engage in this obsession, and my anxiety and stress levels do not rise when I cannot exercise. When you are recovering, you may get to a point where instead of trying to fit your life around your workouts, you plan your movement (which may or may not be formal “workouts” any more) around your life.
11. You enjoy foods you previously avoided or feared
For me, it’s a caramel apple from my favorite local market or a bowl of pasta. I got to the point where even seeing these foods made me upset, but now, not only do I not get upset, I look forward to them again. And when I eat them, I don’t feel guilt or shame over the number of calories in them. Food is not just fuel; it is a source of enjoyment, and I’m thankful to find joy in it again.
12. You’re no longer calorie counting
I freed up a lot of room in my phone (and in my mind) once I stopped tracking everything I ate and drank in the notes app. This was a distinct marker in my own healing journey. And maybe you’re here, too – the liberating moment when you realize you just ate an english muffin with (regular) peanut butter without thinking at all about the number of calories in it or how many you “have left” for the rest of the day.
13. You do less body checking
You walked past your mirror this morning without stopping to analyze every inch of your body. And the best part? You didn’t even *think* about it until you read this and realized that you haven’t only been resisting the urge to body check, the urge itself has dwindled. When you look in the mirror, it may be to help put in your contacts or do your hair, and you can now do these things without feeling the desire to scrutinize your body.
14. You agree to social plans that include food (without checking the menus online first)
“I’ll get back to you in just a bit; let me just double check my schedule” used to be code for me having to first scour the menus of the place or places someone suggested we go to eat. If I couldn’t find a “safe” option, I simply would not go. Now, I’m excited about the prospect of meeting someone for a meal, and my “yes” is not dependent on the menu options.
15. You don’t feel the urge to step on the scale constantly
Maybe you ditched the scale during your recovery, but for a while, you still thought about weighing yourself, but now you have realized that you have gone a day without thinking about the scale. That day turns into a few days, a few days into a week. And now you feel the break in the mental chains that had tethered you to the scale.
16. You aren’t making separate meals for the people you live with or have over anymore
Spaghetti for the family, spaghetti *squash* for me. Vegetables sauteed in olive oil for them, vegetables steamed in water for me. I’ve been there. Then the gap started to close; two completely separate meals gradually became one. With this transition, I have become less self-conscious and anxious around meal times. It feels like another barrier between me and the rest of the world that has slowly but surely been chiseled down.
17. Your social media feeds are now more than just recipes
My instagram and TikTok feeds have shifted drastically. While I still love to bake and cook, my obsession with doing it for other people has become less of a fixation in my own healing. My feeds are more diversified – now sporting more posts about motherhood, ED recovery, and messages of empowerment.
18. You actually believe that your worth goes deeper than your appearance/weight.
You’ve heard it. People have told you; you have maybe even told yourself, but you didn’t always believe that your worth transcended the way your body looks. Now, you not only believe, but you can also see, understand, and celebrate that your worth is so much more than what you look like and how much you weigh.
Celebrating Your Victories on Your Eating Disorder Recovery Journey
When you’re at the heart of your battle with an eating disorder, it can feel disingenuous to “look on the bright side” and consider victories you may have in recovery. You may not even desire some of these victories at first, and others feel so far out of reach that it may initially feel discouraging to think about them. Those feelings are legitimate and valid.
These 18 victories didn’t happen all at once for me, and many happened, and have had to happen again as my own recovery journey follows the nonlinear pattern that is characteristic of most of our healing journeys. My hope is that, even if you are still in the midst of your own struggle, even if you are currently feeling defeated, that you are able to notice and celebrate any and all of your own victories – big and small – throughout your recovery journey. We are here with and for you as you head toward your own list of victories.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
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If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you achieve and celebrate your own victories during your eating disorder recovery journey, our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help! You can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.
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