For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with anorexia nervosa. I have been dealing with this demon for the past seven years, and they have been the most painful days of my life. But this past year, things have changed. I have entered recovery from this terrible disorder, and that journey has included falling back in love with food.
When I was sick, food was enemy #1. Family dinners, which were once a joyous experience, turned into screaming matches about whether or not my mom put too much oil (anything more than two teaspoons, as prescribed by my meal plan) into my food. I stuck to my safe foods (rice cakes, Quest bars, and fat-free yogurt) and avoided anything that was not labeled with explicit and detailed nutrition facts. I hid in my room during Thanksgiving, afraid to eat the sweet potatoes with marshmallows that I once adored, and only ate when my mom cooked me my new favorite meal: an unseasoned piece of white chicken breast with 2/3 cup of brown rice.
In short, my meals and my experiences surrounding food completely revolved around my eating disorder. Forget about preferences, I was unwilling to eat unless it involved eating the fewest number of calories possible (and even then it was a struggle). Eating became a chore at best and an anxiety attack at worst, and I judged myself for being weak with every bite I took.
Things changed, however, after I went into inpatient care for my eating disorder. I went because I was physically unable to take care of myself, because I had spent years punishing myself for my perceived imperfections. Restricting my food intake and working out felt like the only way to take control of my life, but in treatment I was prevented from having these crutches.At first, I was terrified. I thought that I would balloon, fail at everything, and be unlovable with the extra weight on my body. But little by little, with the love of my family, friends, and peers in treatment (shout out to some of the best people I have ever met), and the intensive daily therapy I engaged in, I was able to see that my life in illness was far worse than my life in recovery. I left treatment gaining far more than weight. Though the weight restoration improved my heart and my osteopenia, my mental state improved the most.
I no longer felt imprisoned by the brutal confines of my illness. Through learning to love myself without my eating disorder, I began to love and appreciate food (the very thing that had brought me back to life). At first, I ate because I had to, but my diet had little variety and I stuck to my safe foods. After I while, however, I realized that if I was going to eat, I might as well enjoy it.
I started to order cupcakes and lattes rather than a glass of water. I created a food Instagram (@foodie_in_recovery) and started taking pictures of the food that I ate rather than staring at pictures of the food I would never let myself eat. I joined Spoon University, an act that I once thought would show everyone the fat girl that was within me all along – the one that I tried to hide with my eating disorder.
I'm not going to lie, recovery is hard. I still struggle with bad body image, and I still have voices in my head telling me that enjoying food is gluttonous and that I am not good enough. But I have been able to find passions and supportive people that fulfill me in ways that my eating disorder never did. I am able to get through the ups and downs of recovery because I know that I am a person apart from my illness, and I am stronger than anything anorexia dares to throw my way.
I started to find myself beyond my eating disorder, and I realized that part of me included a love for food, something that I had denied for years in my illness. After blindly following every whim of my disorder for years, I saw that its cruel taunts that told me I wasn't good enough were only as powerful as I let them be. I realized that loving myself included loving the food that kept me happy and healthy.
Find resources here, at the National Eating Disorders Association website.