What It Takes To Get and Stay Recovered

It has been twenty years.

Twenty years ago, I graduated high school.

Twenty years ago, I walked across the stage of the Blaisdell Arena, decked out in a fashionable white holoku, shook hands with the president of my school, held my rolled up diploma in my tight grip, and thought,

“I wonder what kind of food will be at our Project Graduation party.”

Twenty years ago, I was knee-deep in anorexia, running up and down the hills by my home every day, subsisting on veggies, apples, oranges, whole wheat English muffins with jam, brown rice, tofu, and maybe a few bites of tuna or salmon.  If it was a weekend, I’d indulge in banana pancakes and then run an extra mile to burn off the carbohydrates I’d just consumed.

It’s hard to think how I could have studied for school, practiced my oboe, hung out with my boyfriend, went to church, and, well, basically just survived on such a meager caloric intake.  At the time, however, I didn’t feel like I was eating too little.  In fact, I thought I needed to pare down my daily consumption because it seemed like my stomach was getting a pooch despite my sub-optimal meal plan (in fact, my tummy was fine–it was just that my upper body was becoming so scaringly thin that it made it seem like I was getting a pregnant belly).  In previous posts I detailed how I needed the guidance and help of a professional eating disorder treatment team, the love of family and friends, and the grace of God to get me weight restored and mentally and emotionally stable.

But then the real question remains:  After years and years of being “recovered”, how does one NOT fall into the lure of anorexia?

The answer is quite simple, really.  There really is no special formula or pill or trick that keeps one sane about food, exercise, and body image.

Discipline.  And consistency.

It really is discipline and consistency.

In the beginning stages of treatment, eating to a set meal plan is designed for patients to relearn HOW to eat and what a normal plate of food looks like.  Hopefully by consistently eating breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and snack will get one closer to being weight restored–and at that point, his/her cognitions will not be clouded by malnutrition and he/she can make more logical and thoughtful decisions about food and such.

But what about after?  What happens when a person no longer looks like walking death?  Well, that’s when family and friends stop worrying.  It’s when said person goes back to work, school, life.

It’s also the time when discipline and consistency needs to be the most important facet of treatment.

Why not just eat intuitively?  Why not use only half a scoop of peanut butter versus the full spoonful?  What bad thing can REALLY happen?

Well, a lot.

Without the discipline and consistency to keep to eating to a meal plan (and eating food in general), the habit of eating becomes mute.  It’s odd to think of eating as a “habit”, but in reality, for those whose brain are screaming at them that FOOD IS SCARY I WILL GET INCREDIBLY FAT AND HORRIBLE IF I EAT THAT COOKIE, eating has to be habitual like brushing one’s teeth or washing hands after going to the bathroom.  Fall off the habit bandwagon (even if it’s by skimping on peanut butter), and it’s that much harder to get back on.

Discipline and consistency create the good habit of EATING, and while in eating disorder treatment, I distinctly remember thinking, “Well, if I just eat for three days, that should create a shift in my mindset and ability to just EAT, right?!”

Not really.

Some believe that it takes twenty-one days to create a habit.  Others believe it takes longer than three weeks.  Many others believe habits can created in a few days.  To be honest, all of these time spans CAN be correct.  But for one having to retrain his/her neural processes, attitudes towards food, and basic physiology to handle the intake of a normal caloric amount, the amount of time to build healthy eating habits is infinite and individual to the patient.  It may take a month.  It may take a year.  Heck, it may even take five years or ten.  Regardless, the only way to be recovered and stay recovered is to have the discipline and consistency to eat frequently and in quantities where the body is running optimally.  And when that discipline and consistency to nourish one’s self continues even when an individual goes back to the “real world” of work and school and relationships and stress, the chances of staying healthy exponentially increases.

There is much more to discuss in this idea of discipline, consistency, and habits, and I’ll touch on these ideas (particularly HOW to create that kind of discipline when feeling overwhelmed with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors) in my next post.

Got comments or questions?  Leave them below!

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