Anorexia is a complex mental illness, but it is treatable and recovery is possible. Despite how it may seem, anorexia – like other eating disorders – is not just about food. Rather, there are often complex emotional underlying causes that prompt an individual to look outside of themselves to cope.
The behaviours associated with anorexia can cause strong feelings of guilt and shame, which may in turn fuel the “critical voice” of the eating disorder and trap an individual further within their illness. It is therefore vitally important that people are treated with respect, kindness and compassion as they navigate recovery and understanding of their difficulties.
Below are four key messages that we want you to hold onto, particularly during any moments of doubt. You can do this.
1) Despite how it may feel at times, you already have strength, commitment and resilience you need to recover
Everything you need to recover is already within you. Some days you may feel really in touch with this strength, and other days this strength may feel like a distant memory. It’s important to remember that motivation will wax and wane, as nothing is permanent and we will always have moments of challenge (with or without an eating disorder).
No matter what external support you receive (from treatment teams, loved ones, etc), you are the one that recovers. All it takes is showing up for yourself, every single day, and honouring the challenges. Everything – even those awfully challenging days – is an opportunity for learning more about yourself and your needs.
2) Your self-worth is not defined by a number on a scale
You are worthy of people’s love and kindness regardless of your body shape, size, or weight. It may be that a life experience or a person may have taught you to feel or believe otherwise, but the truth is that you are already worthy.
Take a moment to recognise what influences your relationship with your body. Is this your belief or someone else’s? Be curious and recognise that our perspective is always flexible and can change if we will it.
3) Lean into the uncertainty of recovery
Recovery is an uncertain journey – it ‘looks’ different for everyone and there’s no set timeframe or steps to follow to get there. So much of what sustains an eating disorder like anorexia is the sense of certainty and control it gives us. As such, leaning into the uncertainty of life is a recognition that life is inherently uncertain, things can change, but we’re resilient enough to face it and build strength from it.
Recovery is creative. Go gently and allow yourself to be held by people who understand and who want to help.
4) Recovery is absolutely possible
To us, recovery is more than just an absence of symptoms. It’s a ‘becoming’, an evolution, a growth, from a place that we trust no longer serves us. In recovery, we reconnect to our needs, responding to them without judgement, and instead with a tenderness that appreciates how all emotions – even the really tense and challenging ones – give texture and colour to life.
It is a gradual process that won’t happen on any particular day but will deepen and strengthen with time.
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia typically involves restrictive eating; where someone limits their food intake to a dangerous and often life-threatening degree.
An irrational fear of gaining weight and distorted body image can feed into their restricted relationship to food as they attempt to maintain a low weight or strive to lose more.
This preoccupation with food can lead to secrecy and self-conscious eating around other people; contributing towards social withdrawal and isolation as they attempt to hide or protect the eating disorder.
Use that compassion to recognise your strength and courage, and lean into this to keep you moving forward in recovery.