I often reflect to my clients the necessity of sitting with and confronting uncomfortable emotions in the process of eating disorder treatment, or otherwise risk a superficial and short-lived recovery. To make this experience a bit less daunting, it can be helpful to know a) your emotions are completely acceptable and b) more likely than not it's not just you, and a lot of people feel that way, too. For example:
- It’s normal to feel nervous or scared.
- It's normal to want to know what you can expect (How long will this take? What will happen to my body?), and to feel frustration when there isn’t one right answer.
- It’s normal to question if you’re “sick enough” to need treatment (you are).
- It’s normal to feel like your needs make you a burden.*
- It’s normal to feel like you're fighting every one of your natural impulses by eating or resisting the urge the purge.
- It's normal to be flooded by emotion- anxiety, shame, and sadness- at every meal.
- It’s normal to question your dietician (“Surely I don't need to eat thatmuch food…”).
- It’s normal to feel like you’re destined to be the exception to the rule, despite the logical side of you knowing recovery is possible.
- It's normal to believe no one could possibly love you or not leave you if you gain weight.
- It’s normal to feel like you’re never going to stop obsessively thinking about food, weight, or how your body looks (let alone actually appreciateyour body).**
- It's normal to want to push back against the advice of your treatment team.
- It’s normal to feel angry when those without an eating disorder don't fully get what it’s like.
- It’s normal to feel exhausted by the process, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
- It’s normal to want to give up, and give into what feels like dwindling motivation.
- It’s normal to laugh sometimes at how illogical your eating disorder voice can be, or some of the behaviors are.
- It’s normal to feel a loss of identity as the eating disorder dissipates.
- It’s normal to feel a confusing sense of loss or grief when the disorder starts taking up less mental and emotional space.
These are feelings and experiences I hear form my clients on a routine basis. Like all emotions, they will pass. This takes daily acts of faith, leaning into the process especially when it pushes you past your comfort zone and reminding yourself of what motivates you, the values you hold, the kind of life you dream of living, and how resisting the recovery process only keeps these dreams at a distance.
**Preoccupation with food and body image can be one of the later symptoms to subside. But it can and will happen. In the meantime, re-condition your mind away from messages that perpetuated this narrative in the first place by immersing yourself with body positive content and words of encouragement from people who have been in your shoes, and know what it’s like on the other side.
Christian Makenna Clements is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #111159.