I have a confession to make: when I was suffering with an eating disorder, I felt ashamed when I put on weight because it made me feel like a failure. It made me feel ugly. It also made me feel like people were judging me. I’m not sure why that was. Maybe it was just my eating disorder, which was trying at all costs to get me leave the path of recovery and pull me back into misery, or maybe it was also because our society puts so much value on our bodies and what they look like. Maybe I thought that people saw it as me losing my “self-control”; becoming “weaker”, or that I didn’t have a serious eating disorder any more. Maybe I thought people would think I looked better when I wasn’t eating and would think I had “let myself go”.
People don’t often realise that people feel shame in recovering from their eating disorders. Feelings like “letting their eating disorder down”, losing their identity as a “sick/thin person”, or feeling weak or a failure, is an issue when it comes to recovering. People who don’t understand eating disorders fully, or haven’t experienced an eating disorder themselves, think it’s great when someone gains weight and is working towards getting better – and it is; of course it is. However, there is another side to it too: we have to face all of our demons head on in recovery, and it is scary to say the least. On top of that, we have to face not only our demons but the society that we live in which tells us that thinner is better, that losing weight is good and gaining weight is bad, that the goal is to eat less, not more. Around us people are trying to avoid certain foods that we need to eat in abundance; nearly every magazine has tips on how to lose weight; our friends are on diets; all the menus have the calories labelled clearly next to them; low-calorie options are advertised. Everything around us – not just our eating disorders – is screaming at us that what we are doing is wrong. It is overwhelming, and confusing, and downright difficult.
A lot of the time an eating disorder is also a coping mechanism, and so losing that coping mechanism can be hard. It also means that that coping mechanism may have made the person feel strong, powerful, and in control and in some twisted way, that can cause someone to feel pride. Most people cant understand that. That means that letting go of that coping mechanism can make you feel weak and shameful.
Recovery is such a delicate process. It is full of ups and downs. It is a path constantly moving forwards to health and happiness, but the path itself is full of extremely negative thoughts and feelings. People supporting those in recovery need to be very aware of this, and that even after the decision has been made to get better, it is a choice that needs to be made multiple times a day. The road is hard, and although it looks very straightforward from an outsiders perspective, take the time to recognise that from the inside, it is a maze.