Recovery isn’t a one off choice – you choose it every single day when you wake up and adequately fuel your body rather than giving in to the voice in your head. It’s something that I’ve been facing for the past 3 years and I’ve continued to share my journey with. I recently opened up in an Eating Disorder Recovery Q&A video over on Instagram and afterwards I had number of people asking for a blog post on the topic to. So I’ve rounded up and answered 20 of the most popular questions – including some of the initial questions in more depth, along with others too.
Recovery poses it’s fair share of challenges – whether you’ve developed an irrational fear of foods, are struggling with calorie counting, weight distribution or bloating, but they’re all hurdles that have to be overcome in order to develop a healthier relationship with food and your body.
Of course I’m speaking only from my own experience, so the things that have helped me might not necessarily work for you. But I think that being so open and honest is important in breaking the stigma, highlighting the reality of mental illness and showing other people that they’re not alone. I know that hearing from other people who’d been in the same position was something that I found helpful when I was at the beginning of my recovery journey, so I hope that this post provides you with a little motivation too.
Q1. When did you start and how long have you been in recovery?
I started my recovery journey in March 2016 and have been in recovery 3 years.
Q2. What made you chose recovery?
I’d reached a point where I was so unhappy that I knew that things needed to change. I realised that being thin didn’t provide me with the happiness that I’d once thought that it would and it had in fact stolen everything from me. My hospital admission also gave me a push to commit to recovery as it opened my eyes to the pain that I was not only causing myself and my body but the people who love me the most too.
Q3. Have you ever been inpatient?
I was made inpatient on the children’s ward for nearly 2 weeks in January 2016. At the time I was having weekly appointments with the pediatrician to monitor my physical health however as it continued to decline, it reached a point where it was unsafe for me to be at home.
I was placed in a room on my own and put on a re-feeding programme which consisted of 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, starting on quarter portions before working my way up to full ones over a period of 4 days. I wasn’t allowed to walk around and if I wanted to leave the room then my mum had to escort me in a wheelchair. The aim of my stay was to have my blood pressure and heart rate reach a point where they were stable enough for me to return home.
It wasn’t a pleasant experience – whilst the staff on the ward tried their best, it was clear that they didn’t know how to properly deal with Anorexia and I received my fair share of unnecessary comments. The experience as a whole did however act as a wake up call for me. For the first time I realised how much weight I’d lost – I thought that I looked horrible and realised the pain that I was not only causing my own body, but the implications for the people around me too.
Q4. What treatment did you receive?
I was first diagnosed in November 2015 and referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, where I started seeing a therapist weekly. After my first appointment with them I was put on a waiting list for my nearest eating disorder service. I found that the experience that I had at CAMHS wasn’t helpful – as it wasn’t specialised, there was little support or advice given – it was just something to tide me over in between.
Within that time I did have a brief stay in hospital, which escalated my first appointment. I started seeing a therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy in March 2016. Upon starting therapy all control over food was taken away from me and past on to my mum – I wasn’t allowed to buy, cook or portion my food and I was expected to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. The experience I had wasn’t positive – the relationship with my therapist was turbulent and the support and advice that she was providing me with ultimately wasn’t helpful. I discharged myself in September 2016 as it was doing more harm to my mental health than good. Me and my mum since filed a complaint, which found that there were a number of fundamental flaws not only in the trust’s guidelines, but guidelines which they themselves had created.
Looking back, the negative experience that I had of therapy has been detrimental to my mental health in the long term. Had I been assigned a different therapist, my experience of therapy could have been a much more positive one. I am grateful that I started going though – it definitely got me in to the habit of eating regularly again and I started gaining weight. It provided me with the tools to properly enter recovery however the sole aim was to help me to gain weight, with little focus on the mental and emotional side.
Since discharging myself I have very much been attempting recovery alone with the help of my mum. There has definitely been a lot of progress made in that time and yoga is something which has helped me massively. Although I realise that I still have a long way to go and that I probably do need some extra support in order to help me overcome the final few hurdles. I’m back to having regular GP appointments and as scary as it is, I’m exploring the possibility of returning to therapy too.
Q5. How much weight did you lose?
This is something which I have never discussed and don’t think that I ever will. I simply don’t think that it matters – whilst weight loss is a major physical implication, it’s irrespective to the impact that an eating disorder has on your mental health. I don’t think that an eating disorder should ever be defined by a weight or bmi and the fact that it’s used as a tool to judge the severity astounds me. Everyone is worthy of treatment – whether they’ve lost 2kg or 20kg – you don’t have to have even lost any weight at all to have a disordered relationship with food.
Q6. How do you deal with weight fluctuations and distribution?
I think the most important point is that you have to learn to trust your body. Weight distribution is definitely something that I struggled with as my initial weight gain seemed to go straight to my stomach and thighs, which were the areas of my body that I had always been most self conscious about. But these are generally fattier areas so it’s only natural that the weight went there. I just had to remind myself that my body knew what it was doing and with time, it’s something that has evened out.
Q7. How did you stop counting calories?
Up until my hospital admission, I tracked my calories using an app. Obviously being in hospital meant that I was unable to do this and so whilst I was still in there, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t track them when I came out either and so after that, I completely stopped.
I think transitioning to a plant based diet and adopting a different mindset and approach towards food has really helped. It’s so freeing to not view food as a number and focus on cramming in a variety of nourishing wholefoods rather than focusing on macros.
Q8. How did you deal with guilt over increasing calories?
I wasn’t counting calories at this point but it was definitely still hard to increase my overall intake. I had to remind myself that eating is completely justified and necessary and that its irrational to be fearful of something which is such a crucial part of every day life.
One of the things that has always stuck with me is advice that I was given from one of the nurses in hospital who told me that food is my medicine – other people in there needed drugs whereas it’s food which will help me to get better. It also helped to remind myself of all of the positive opportunities that recovery was providing me with, in comparison to everything that my eating disorder had stolen.
I think that eating food that you genuinely love and enjoy is something which is so important too. Try and choose the foods that you like best, rather than what your eating disorder tells you to. If I ever find that I feel particularly guilty after eating something, then I try my best to distract myself – whether it be reading or watching a film.
Q9. What are your biggest fear foods?
The food group that I found most challenging was carbs. My head had completely vilified them; not only had I cut out things like bread, pasta and potatoes – I took it to the extreme and avoided bananas and even grapes.
I can say that I am a whole lot more comfortable with all of these foods now than I once was. I love oats for breakfast, loaded nachos bowls, avo toast made with sourdough and a good vegan pizza.
Q10. What are your tips for eating challenging foods?
The only way to overcome your fear of foods that you find the most challenging is to eat them! Whilst I definitely struggled with guilt at first, it is something that subsides as you eat them more regularly and become more comfortable with them. And you start to realise that really you had nothing to be scared of as there are no negative consequences of eating them either.
Something which has really helped me is eating challenging foods with my mum as it helps to normalise them. I would say also keep at the forefront of your mind why you’re challenging yourself – for me this is all of the positives that eating more and recovery are bringing.
Q11. How do you cope with using oils and butters in cooking?
As I’ve mentioned, the biggest challenge for me in terms of food was carbs and I never really developed an issue with fats. Obviously I don’t use butter in cooking as I’m vegan but I’ll happily use oil – whether it’s for frying, roasting, baking, making a dressing or whizzing in to hummus. I think if they are something that you struggle with then it’s important to remember that they are completely normal. They provide your body with a range of nutrients and most importantly they make your food taste a whole lot better too.
Q12. How did your parents let you go vegan in recovery?
My mum fully supported my decision to start following a plant based diet. Obviously she had control of my meals at the time, so I think that her cooking and portioning helped as she knew exactly what I was eating. She could see how much I began to enjoy food again and knows that I haven’t done it for disordered reasons – trust me, she would be the first person to call me out if she thought that was the case.
That being said, it’s not easy to get other people to support the decision. My therapist initially told me that it’s something that I wouldn’t be able to do, as the recipes from the likes of Deliciously Ella were ‘for thin people’. But I soon proved her wrong! It definitely is possible to gain weight eating a vegan diet. I think it’s just important to know that you’re doing it for the right reasons and ensure that you’re still eating a balanced diet. But if a medical professional or parent thinks that it’s best to wait until you’re weight restored, then that’s what you have to do.
Q13. How did you incorporate exercise in to recovery?
We never had a car and so me and my mum had always walked everywhere, however this got more challenging with the more weight that I lost and so we did start taking more buses. I was still doing some walking, but nowhere near as much as previously and it wasn’t until a few months in to recovery that I felt strong enough to incorporate other forms of exercise.
With the approval of my eating disorder team, I started practising yoga and pilates daily. This was also coupled with an increase in my food intake.
I’m not at a point where I feel so much stronger physically and I exercise to see my body become stronger, rather than to lose weight. I still practice yoga daily, walk maisie and incorporate a workout such as HIIT, spin or pilates 3/4 times a week.
Q14. How did your body react physically?
Other than digestive problems and ibs, I would say that the physical impacts of recovery have mainly been positive. Beefore I felt weak and tired all the time, I was dizzy, I had chest pains and I struggled to walk. I was constantly cold, my skin was dry, my nails were brittle and my hair was falling out at an alarming rate – all of which I no longer experience now that I’ve gained weight.
Q15. What about your digestion – bloating, gas and ibs?
This is one of the more unpleasant effects of recovery which I have been unfortunate enough to experience. It might be a little tmi however it unfortunately is a reality and something that I don’t think is spoken about enough. I definitely suffered quite badly with ibs and bloating for the first 18 months of recovery. I would wake up in the morning with a ‘flat’ stomach but as soon as I would eat I’d look 6 months pregnant and it worsened throughout the day. I had stomach cramps and I spent far too long on the toilet and gas was definitely a problem – obviously eating a plant based diet probably contributed too!
Suffering from bad bloating was something which I found quite distressing. Obviously as you’re going through the process of gaining weight you’re concerned about how your body is changing anyway but this was only amplified by the bloating and I was left feeling so self conscious.
The cramping pains also completely took over my hunger queues which I found really stressful. It left me not wanting to eat and feeling guilty for doing so.
It’s something that has definitely improved a lot with time, as my body has gotten used to me eating regularly and adequate amounts. There’s also a large correlation between mental and digestive health and I think the fact that there has been such an improvement in my anxiety and depression is something which has helped massively. I also did all that I could to improve my gut health by taking probiotics and including more fermented foods in my diet.
Q16. Do you believe in bmi? At what bmi did you feel recovered?
I personally don’t agree with bmi. Whilst it has become a standardised method of measuring health, I think that there are a number of fundamental flaws as it doesn’t take in to account muscle mass or body fat percentage. Take rugby players for example – put them on a bmi chart and they’ll measure obese, yet they’ve got to be some of the healthiest people out there.
I don’t think that weight should ever be something that’s used to determine health. I personally found that having a target bmi or weight was unhelpful, as it put more emphasis on the numbers and I then felt as if I couldn’t allow myself to go over that number because the one that was set for me was my so called ‘healthy’ weight.
I don’t know my weight or bmi currently, however I don’t think that it should be associated with whether or not you feel recovered. Anorexia is a mental illness and whilst gaining weight is an essential part of recovery, reaching a certain weight doesn’t make you recovered – that’s all down to your mindset. Plus there’s also the argument that you could be classed as ‘obese’ according to the bmi scale yet still be suffering from Anorexia.
Q17. Hair loss?
Hair loss was one of the main side effects of my eating disorder. It would fall out in huge clumps in the shower and I was left unable to brush it. For over two years I was left unable to wear my hair down – until I had extensions fitted in March 2018.
Whilst I know that there will be people who don’t agree and say that I should have waited for it to grow back naturally, it’s made me feel more confident when going out socially and in all honesty I don’t think I would have ever started going on nights out had I not done it. It might sound shallow, but you don’t realise what a huge part of your identity and femininity it is until it’s gone. Whilst I’m still working towards getting my natural hair to a point where it’s at my healthiest – me and my hairdresser are always mindful of protecting my own hair, having extensions has worked miracles for my confidence.
Q18. Did you lose your period? How did you get it back?
Losing my period was actually something that flagged up my eating disorder. I was having regular hospital appointments with the pediatrician at the time for unrelated health issues and upon raising concerns that I hadn’t had a period for a few months, concerns were then raised about my weight and eating habits. I actually haven’t had a period now since June 2015, other than two which were induced by taking the morning after pill. It’s something that I am working on as I do want it back – it’s a sign that your body is healthy and happy; not only is it crucial for fertility but it has an impact on bone health too.
I’ve recently started seeing my GP again and she has raised her own concerns about the fact that I haven’t had a period in nearly 4 years. I had blood tests done which confirmed that my hormones aren’t functioning properly and I’m being referred to the endocrinologist to see how they can best support me in getting it back. Ultimately I know that I need to gain weight and reduce my exercise in order to do that.
Q19. Do you believe in ‘healthy’ recovery?
A lot of people turn to veganism and clean eating when they first enter recovery as another form of control and restriction and I have definitely experienced it myself. I believe that it is possible to recover eating a healthy diet, however there is a very fine line. I definitely fell in to the clean eating trap and developed an orthorexic mindset – I became so obsessed with everything being free-from, natural and homemade. I was avoiding foods unnecessarily and it was definitely damaging for my mental health.
That being said, I’m not in the same position that I was. Thankfully I was able to recognise the disordered behaviors and pull myself out of that place. I do think that it is possible to recover eatig ann overall healthy diet, but you just have to be very careful and mindful that you’re not unnecessarily avoiding foods. I also think it depends what you define as ‘healthy.’ I see it as the inclusion of all food groups, as many sweet treats as you fancy and a healthy balance between home cooked foods and more ‘processed’ options. But again it’s different for everyone and I think that it very much depends on your mindset and the point that you’re at in recovery.
Q20. Tips for recovering at uni?
I haven’t moved out and gone to university myself, so it’s not an area that I have any experience in order to be able to give advice. However it is something that I am considering – on one hand, I don’t know how I would cope moving out and living in a uni environment when I’m still struggling with so many routines and rituals. Having to share a kitchen with other people and not having the freedom to cook or eat when I’d prefer is something that definitely worries me. But I know that at the same time, it could be the challenge that I help me to recover so it’s definitely a tough decision to make. I also think that it would benefit me massively when it comes to the social aspect. Although I’m not entirely sure what degree I would want to complete – whilst nutrition and psychology are obviously two areas of interest to me, I want to be 100% of the path that I choose and not fall in to it for disordered reasons.
I love hearing your thoughts and feedback so please leave your comments and questions below, or let me know over on Instagram @nourishingyas.
Other posts in my Anorexia Recovery series:
- Introducing Yas: The Story So Far
- Anorexia Recovery: One Year On
- The Next Chapter
- Anorexia Recovery: Two Years On
- My Vegan Journey
- Anorexia Recovery: How To Deal With Bad Body Image
- Anorexia Recovery: 3 Years On