If you have stumbled across any article on this blog, it will come as no shock that eating disorder recovery is an integral, foundational part of my life. I do not always operate from the healthiest mindset in my relationship with food, exercise, or body image. But I am open about all facets of my continuous healing process, whether it's a step forward or a slip backward. In fact, I tend to be much more transparent and vulnerable online than I am in daily face-to-face interactions. When someone I know in real life inquires about my fitness or nutrition habits (because, to the surprise of no one, this a body-conscious culture), I notice my cheeks start to flush, and I choose the vaguest answer possible. That reaction strikes me as curious, though. Why am I still embarrassed about my eating disorder after all these years?
Anxiety and Eating Disorders
I have a long history with perfectionism. In fact, I cannot recall a time in my life when this fixation wasn't driving my performance and achievements. I suspect this is one reason I have always been drawn to activities or pursuits that measure excellence in visible, quantifiable terms. In school, I only accepted straight As. In athletics, I gravitated to sports like archery, where I could aim for the center of a literal bullseye. And in my career, I have turned to writing—a skill based on technical precision. But as I continue to heal my thoughts and behaviors from the residue of anorexia, I am learning to appreciate that eating disorder recovery is not about perfection.
This year, I started training for a particularly ambitious fitness goal: a 10-day trek in the Himalayan Mountains. In October 2023, I will travel to Nepal and embark on the adventure of a lifetime, but first, I need to acclimate to hiking in extreme weather conditions at the highest altitude on earth. That's no small feat for someone who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, a desert with minimal elevation.
When I spent three months in residential treatment back in 2010, the clinicians would frequently encourage the other patients and me to communicate and honor our needs. This practice was meant to teach us how to separate our own inner voices from the control and influence of an eating disorder. As well-intentioned as these clinicians were, however, I remember asking myself: "How can I learn to express my needs if I'm not sure what they are?"
I talk about eating disorder recovery all the time. You might call them healing conversations. I unpack the layers and nuances of it with my therapist. I excitedly share these revelations with my partner once the session is over. I journal about what I'm learning in the process. Then I pass on those lessons to the younger women I mentor, who deal with similar experiences of their own.
Hello, my name is Obsessed with Metrics. I say this with snark, but I also genuinely mean it. A few months ago, when I wrote about my exercise addiction, I briefly touched on how metrics fuel this behavior. I count the number of steps I take. I count the number of miles I run. I count the number of stairs I climb. I count the number of minutes I exercise. I count the number of calories I burn. At times, I feel like a human calculator—ironic, since math has never been my strong suit.
When I think about an anorexic mindset, two primary features stand out to me: deprivation and control. Within the eating disorder framework, these attributes often manifest in behaviors such as caloric restriction, compulsive exercise, food rituals, or body image obsession. However, an anorexic mindset can impact many areas of life outside the parameters of an eating disorder as well.
I am not the type who writes a meticulous, in-depth list of resolutions each year. But with the start of 2023 just around the corner, I have been reflecting on which aspects of my life should come with me into the future and which ought to be left behind in the past. Which behaviors, mindsets, attributes, or relationships have I outgrown? Which characteristics align with my core values, and which no longer serve the person I want to become?
I’ve chosen to avoid pregnancy conversations over the years. I hesitate even to broach this subject in therapy sessions, and the reason is simple: I'm ambivalent about motherhood. The irony is I love children. I am a huge fan of my friends' little ones. I find my nieces and nephew irresistible. But I don't feel strong maternal instincts, and I lack the desire to parent children of my own.
Each year, as the calendar flips to November, I'm hit with a reminder of how complex the holiday season feels in eating disorder recovery. Of course, that's not unique to those with a history of eating disorders. This time of year can be overwhelming for anyone. In 2021, three out of five surveyed Americans felt their mental health worsen over the holidays, with 60 percent noticing a rise in anxiety and 52 percent noticing a rise in depression. Now couple all that with eating disorder stressors or behaviors, and this hectic season can become even more fraught. So with the 2022 festivities just around the corner, let's acknowledge it: The holidays are complex in eating disorder recovery—and that is alright.