How My Life Changed When I Respected Recovery As a Lifestyle

“I’m not going to help you manage an eating disorder,” my dietician flat out said to me shortly after I discharged from intensive outpatient treatment. “I’ll continue to work with you, but I won’t help you be a functioning anorexic.”

Whoa! Harsh, right? Brutally harsh, I’d say.

Her words hit me hard in the gut. I felt nauseas and defensive. I was at once insulted and found out by her remarks. After months of inpatient, day, and IOP treatment, and a commitment to long-term outpatient work with my team, I was insulted that my integrity and dedication to recovery wasn’t obvious. Had I not just left my family for a month, taken leave from my job, eaten meals I was terrified of, gained weight, persevered through calorie increases and exercise restriction, and turned myself inside out every day to heal my mind and body? Honestly, what else did she or anyone else want from me?

Still, way, way deep down, I knew my dietician was right. Yes, I had done and accomplished quite a bit during all that treatment; no one was taking that away from me. However, I admit, at the time, living as a “functioning anorexic” was quite appealing. The perfect solution.

If I could pull off being a “little sick and a little well,” if I could do just enough to keep my team and my family off my back, then surely, I’d be “doing” recovery. I’d just be doing it on my terms—or, I should say, the eating disorder’s terms. I’d prevent weight gain, still have room for a little hunger, and feel in charge of my life.

Living this way did not get me very far, and it wasn’t long before I was weary of performing, pretending, and being untruthful to myself and those I love. Merely functioning wasn’t as “safe” as I’d thought it would be. In fact, it was the exact opposite, as the threat of returning to treatment consistently came back in play every few weeks.

I may have dabbled with how “recovered” I was willing to be, but there was positively no way I would settle for being a chronically ill mother and wife. That’s where I drew the line.

And so, I kicked myself into gear by taking a more genuine and sincere approach to healing from rather than merely managing the eating disorder. I did this by adopting the attitude that recovery is a lifestyle, not a side job or something “extra” we must do.

Between therapy appointments and going to groups and keeping food logs, recovery can feel like a time-consuming side job. Over time, this attitude toward recovery can cause us to become resentful. The more resentful we become, the less motivated we are to keep up our efforts. 

When respected as a lifestyle, recovery serves as the foundation from which we must attend to everything in our lives to keep us well and moving forward. To make recovery a lifestyle, I strive to let every choice I make be informed by this question: Is “x” going to support me in my healing or is it going to work against me?

Reflecting on this question guides me to honesty with myself about the people, places, and things in my life that merely help me manage an eating disorder versus those that support me in healthful ways. I choose to avoid the landmines and replace them with things that empower me and build me up. It’s not always easy, but this system of self-accountability has made a profound difference in my approach to recovery and deepened my commitment to myself.

Take a pause and ask yourself: Am I managing or healing the eating disorder? Are there thoughts, rituals, and behaviors in place that covertly are in cahoots with the eating disorder?

There’s no shame in your answer. What’s most important is taking this time to get brutally honest with yourself. I encourage you to tap into your resilience and slowly but steadily begin to loosen the grip on things that do not serve you in healthful ways and replace them with thoughts, rituals, and behaviors that do.

As you shift away from the “functioning” and “managing” mentality and embrace an intention of healing, life will ultimately become more filled with you and the goodness you have to offer this world—your gifts, talents, and passions. And I promise you, it is so worth it!