Content warning: eating disorders and body image. 

A year and a half ago, I stepped into my therapist's office to, for the first time, address the unresolved issues I had with my body image and disordered eating habits. To be honest, I almost talked myself out of seeing my therapist. I was terrified. Terrified of vocalizing my neuroticism, terrified of opening up to a stranger, terrified of treatment not working, but, mostly, terrified of the unknown.

My entire life, especially the four years of high school where my insecurities and perfectionism manifested into a battle with anorexia nervosa, I've had a contentious relationship with food and my appearance. Yes, my habits and thinking were self-destructive, but I rationalized them as predictable. It was what I knew. It was a routine that I had mastered over the years of self-loathing. To begin the process of recovery, however, I'd be forced to alter my behaviors. The thought of undergoing such a significant change, without knowing the outcome, process, or effects, almost prevented me from getting my foot through the door (both literally and figuratively).

But something compelled me to take that first step: the hope that the uncertainty that I feared might benefit me in the long-run. And so, more than a year since my first session, I've reflected on all the lessons I've learned, both positive and negative, since I have been in eating disorder recovery. Here are the most significant.

It is normal for your weight to fluctuate, especially in the early stages.

As a recovering anorexic, the prospect of gaining weight troubled me. Intellectually, I knew that I needed to gain weight and body fat so that my body could recover from constant starvation mode I put it under, but I was astonished and frustrated at the rapid weight gain I experienced immediately following treatment. It seemed to stubbornly persist, even after readjusting my eating habits and exercise.

But here's the thing about the human body: it's resilient. It's evolved so that, after a disruption, it'll eventually return to a state of homeostasis. For example, eight months into recovery, my weight dipped suddenly, and has since remained at more or less a constant level. Now, instead of fixating on the number on a scale or the size of my jeans, I focus on how I'm feeling and how my clothes fit to make sure that I am within my maintenance or homeostasis range. Going through this physical transformation, and being able to make peace with it, has led me to the conclusion that not only are humans physically resilient, but mentally, as well.

Food is not the enemy. And neither are you. 

During a particularly dark time last summer, I found myself unconsciously and obsessively logging my caloric consumption to control some aspect in my life, when it felt like I had none. I remember feeling helpless once I realized what I was doing. I resigned myself to the belief that my relationship with food was never going to be normal, and that the rest of my life was going to be a battle of controlling my urges to obsessively monitor my intake.

However, once I took a step back, I realized that food was not the enemy, and neither was I. Rather, I have triggers that compel my disordered thoughts to take precedent over my behavior, which can be identified and dealt with to avoid a relapse. To this day, identifying such triggers can be difficult. It takes a lot of honesty and self-reflection to pay attention to physical and emotional signs of distress, trauma, or anxiety. That being said, shifting my mentality from placing blame on internal factors to knowing myself well enough to recognize my triggers has allowed me to separate my illness from who I am, which is key to recovery.

There's strength in vulnerability and authenticity.

Isolation and silence create the optimal breeding ground for eating disorders and mental illnesses in general. By closing oneself off from the world and not talking about these issues, mental health concerns worsen. It makes sufferers feel as if they lack agency and support, which perpetuates a cycle of further withdrawing from society and becoming embroiled with their illness.

To break the cycle, the first step was to be open and honest about what I was going through, because doing so allowed me to connect with others and feel less alone. Taking ownership over my experience with anorexia empowered me to stop hiding and being reclusive, which gave me the strength to ask for help from others and, eventually, to help others by my openness and honesty.

#SpoonTip: click here for a list of support groups in your state.

You don't owe anyone an explanation or apology.

On the flip side to the previous lesson I learned, although speaking out can be empowering, it can also be emotionally taxing. Last summer, I published an article about the Netflix film To the Bone, which deals with anorexia nervosa, and it got picked up by Insider. As a result, I received a lot of exposure and visibility, but also scrutiny. I felt as if I were living under a microscope. As if my words didn't really belong to me anymore.

Sharing my words with the world gave others the permission and excuse to analyze them like a novel for English class, dissecting my logic and poking holes in my argument. For the weeks and months following the article's publication, I was on the defense, prepared with an explanation to speak for and represent the eating disorder community... until I remembered that I wasn't obligated to.

I had a choice of what I wanted to share. I had the power to engage in conversation about my article and my experiences, but also the power to excuse myself if I needed to. And I didn't have to apologize for my candor or choices. My only duty is to do whatever I need to do to heal, so long as my mechanisms do not harm anyone.

Past struggles, though a part of your story, don't define you.

I struggled and continue to struggle with finding a balance between advocating for eating disorder awareness and just being me, an otherwise normal 19 year-old college student. Although my experiences with my eating disorder are a part of my identity and impact how I view the world, I am more than just my mental illness.

This was one of the more challenging lessons for me to conceptualize, because for the majority of my life, food and body-image were at the forefront of my identity. Now, after seeking professional help, depending on friends I trust, and reevaluating my values, I can confidently say that I am a recovering anorexic passionate about eating disorder recovery, awareness, and de-stigmatization. But I am also a nut butter enthusiast. I am a woman of color seeking to break into the predominantly white, male field of politics and the law. I am goofy, introspective, outspoken, opinionated, and determined. And so much more.

Just because you're in the process of recovery doesn't mean that every day is going to be easy.

Besides writing for Spoon, I'm the VP of Mental Health for my university's student government, as well as the co-chair of wellness in my sorority. Sometimes, though, it's hard to practice the principles of body-positivity, holistic wellness, and mindfulness that I preach. Some days, I look at myself in the mirror and long for more defined collarbones or slimmer thighs. Some days, I plan out my meals excessively so that I can make room for an event that I know I'll be consuming more calories than I typically do. Some days, I admonish myself for not being as "disciplined" as I used to be.

It's difficult to admit that I still don't have a perfect relationship with my body. I've avoided stepping on the scale because I don't know how I'll react when I see the number. There are times when I revert to old habits and practices. And it makes me feel greatly ashamed and hypocritical. But, that's because recovery is a process. I don't have all the answers. I'm not perfect. I'm still learning, and that's okay. Remembering all the progress I've made otherwise and being less hard on myself has allowed me to shake off my inner demons and doubts. It's important to celebrate milestones and not mull over setbacks. But, most importantly, forgiving myself and taking each day in stride so that I can move forward have made it possible for me to continue this process of eating disorder recovery.

Recovery is possible. And it feels damn amazing.

Three years ago, if you had told me that I would be more than a year into recovery, I would have brushed off the comment as incomprehensible. I was convinced that I would be in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and hatred of my body, food, and myself.

From reaching out for both professional and informal help, being honest with myself, and finding positive, productive ways to cope, I can confirm that recovery is possible. I'm not going to lie; it's been one of the most challenging years of my life. But the freedom recovery has given me makes all the tribulations worth it. No longer preoccupied with appearances or weight or calories, I can make mistakes, challenge myself, and live unapologetically, and that feeling is unlike anything else in the world.  

Recovery has been many things for me. Transformative. Empowering. Telling. Demanding. Rewarding. Unexpected. Sometimes it's been all these things all at once. So, no matter where in the process you're at right now—whether you're reaching out for help for the first time or years into recovery—I'd like to leave you with these reminders:

Recovery is all those things I've listed and more, but you conquered all those things and more, so you should be proud of how far you've come, and excited about where you're headed next. And you are never alone in this journey.

If you or someone you know is suffering through an eating disorder, you can call 800-931-2237 or click here to talk to someone and seek guidance.