Life After Eating Disorder Recovery: What I Learned

April and May are special months for me.

At the end of April in 2016, I made a major decision.

I decided to go an entire month without bingeing and purging food. An entire month without my bulimia AND without restricting calories to make up for it. After 10+ years of bulimia, going a month felt terrifying and nearly impossible, but I knew I had to trust God and take the leap.

It was a gradual leap, getting to a full month, though! You can read more about my recovery story and progress here.

At the end of May 2016, not only did I go an entire month, I ended my relationship with bulimia for good. No more bingeing and purging.

While I know that recovery is a process, I consider my recovery to be April / May 2016, when I stopped the vicious binge-purge cycle and didn’t look back. That’s when I choose to celebrate it because that’s when it felt real to me.

However, to say I recovered in 2016 is not to say that food or body image was instantly easier for me. It has all been a process. First, I gradually reintroduced foods I previously deemed “bad” or would’ve binged on. Over a few years’ time, I’ve also increased overall calorie intake and broken other rules I once put on food.

Of course, I am no medical or nutritional professional, so I am only speaking from personal experience and what I felt I needed to do.

Another change I made since recovery was more strength training and less high intensity (HIIT) cardio. It was scary, intimidating, and a slow shift, but I knew it was what my body needed. Now, I love feeling stronger!

Again, I am not a professional. I also don’t believe strength training is necessary for recovery. I only know it helped me and your physical needs and preferences may be different than mine.

My point is that post-recovery has been a process. A beautiful learning experience on how to listen to my body, treat it well, and make progressive changes that I knew were sustainable.

What I learned from my bulimia recovery

I’ve already shared a number of posts about eating disorders and my personal recovery that I hope will help others who are struggling. If you haven’t read those yet, and you find yourself (or someone you know) in need of hope or help, here they are:

Why I wrote an eating disorder recovery devotional book

A guide for what TO say and what NOT to say to someone with an eating disorder

The power of hope in eating disorder recovery

When disordered eating becomes an eating disorder: 9 warning signs

And, again, here is the link to my recovery story of hope.

Today, in honor of being 7 years bulimia-free, I want to share some things I learned along the way. Things I maybe didn’t expect, or didn’t truly understand till I went though it.

I share these things for few reasons:

  1. It may help someone who’s just starting recovery. The unknown can often be so terrifying and keep us from taking that first step. So, my hope is these words might make life after bulimia—or any eating disorder—seem less scary for anyone who’s afraid.
  2. I think at least a few of these realizations are applicable to anyone struggling with poor body image or chronic dieting. It doesn’t always take a full-blown eating disorder for negative effects to occur.

Long-term bulimia = long-term side effects

My body went through hell for ten-plus years of disordered eating that turned into bulimia. Daily bingeing and purging. Multiple times per day. It did a lot of damage: chronic dehydration, vitamin deficiencies, gut issues, dental problems, and more.

Here’s a true story to explain how dehydrated I truly was. After I stopped bingeing and purging, I started peeing the bed. As an adult in my 30s. Yes. Peeing the bed like a child. My body wasn’t used to holding any liquid while I slept, and it took months before I re-trained myself to wake up if I needed to pee at night.

While I’ve long since rectified my dehydration and even vitamin needs, I’m still working on my gut, and my tooth enamel will never be the same.

Even though I’m recovered, some side effects of bulimia still linger, and I know I have to give my body grace to heal in its own time. I also have to accept that some things may never be the same.

I don’t say that to scare anyone! Instead, I hope to show that even through challenges, my body is resilient. And even if I do have to live with certain consequences, recovery is still worth it.

Our bodies need sufficient fuel EVERY day

Even when I’m not as active one day or maybe I ate more the day before, that doesn’t give me license to eat less that day. My body still needs food to function on any given day! Restriction is a slippery slope back to a binge-restrict cycle that I refuse to put myself through again.

It took time, but re-learning to feel my hunger and fullness cues—and HONOR THEM—has massively helped in this area.

I’m not an expert at how to do this. Google “intuitive eating,” and you’ll find dieticians who specialize in this. What I will say is, it takes time. For me, at the beginning of my recovery, I made sure my meals were more than what my restrictive mindset would want and also added more fats and carbs overall.

If it seems daunting at the beginning, that’s normal. It takes patience and practice.

No foods are bad or off limits

If I craved ice cream or a cookie or anything previously deemed “bad,” I allowed myself to eat at least a little bit and sat through the uncomfortable, all-or-nothing feelings. My day wasn’t ruined because I ate some, and it no longer led me to say “screw it” and binge—because NO food is bad.

And, once I got my hunger and fullness cues back, eating what I wanted till I was satisfied became easier, too.

Again, it was a process!

I don’t actually love some of the foods I used to binge on

Crazy, but true. Some foods that once had so much power over me and caused me to binge are no longer desirable to me. When given a choice, I’d rather not eat them because they just don’t satisfy.

It’s amazing what can happen when you take away food’s power and stop making foods off limits or feel guilty for eating anything.

Here are a few examples of foods I no longer buy or care to eat:

  • Pie — Okay, okay. I don’t hate all pies. But, most berry or lattice-style pies rarely hit the spot for me like other desserts do. Even some creamier pies are just alright. My pie standards are now pretty high!
  • Crispy cookies — I’m 100% team soft cookie. Slightly underbaked? Even better! We all have our preferences, and that is mine.
  • Swiss Rolls and a few other snack cakes — To be honest, they’re kinda dry with a poor cake-to-frosting ratio. And fake frosting to boot. Plus, they’re too crumbly. Not for me.
  • Peanut butter filled pretzels — Talk about dry! In theory, these should be amazing, and I used to devour them because peanut butter was an off limits food I binged on. Yet, I realize now, I don’t actually like them!
  • Cake donuts (or donut holes) with powdered sugar or cinnamon — Again, too dry. I need donuts to melt in my mouth, with an all-over glaze or a whole lotta frosting.
  • Cheap frozen pizza — John and I love to grill frozen pizzas. But the cheap cardboard ones ? I just can’t. (I also can’t tolerate dairy now, so it’s dairy-free pizza for me.)
  • I could go on and on. Cheap jelly beans. Dollar menu breaded chicken sandwiches. You get the idea.

As weird as it might sound, it’s actually been fun to rediscover which foods I truly love and now consider my favorites!

The main point I want to make here is… eat what you LOVE.

Stop telling yourself you can’t. But also, don’t settle for lesser things because they ultimately won’t satisfy you. Don’t feel forced to eat something offered to you if you really don’t want it—for lack of desire, not restriction.

If I ever turn food down, it’s either because I’m truly full, or I simply don’t care for it.

Ditching the scale is freeing

I haven’t owned a scale since 2017. That number owned me for so long, and I knew early on that I had to let it go to truly stay recovered. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Do I know I weigh more than I used to? Yes. I wear different sizes now and have occasionally seen my weight at the doctor’s office. (I know, I know. I can tell the nurse I don’t want to see it or just not look, but it truly hasn’t bothered me like I once thought it would.)

Who knew that not fixating on a number could lead to so much freedom?!

Clothing sizes don’t matter

It took years of confronting the lies in my head, but I am now at a place where I can go shopping for new clothes and not let the size on the tag affect me. Again, this took years. Replacing lies with truth is yet another process!

Now, instead of focusing on size, I focus on fit.

I don’t let the major size inconsistency between brands control my emotions when I fit into three different sizes of jeans on any given day.

I remind myself that no one knows what size I’m wearing, nor should they care!

I embrace online returns as normal, if I choose to order something without trying it on.

I wear what I love, whether it’s trendy or not.

And, I don’t beat myself up if I do have a random, bad body image day. Those days still happen occasionally, but I’ve learned that one feeling doesn’t have the power to define how I really feel about myself, or how the rest of my day goes. And, it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve failed!

Want more on how to find freedom from bad body image when shopping? Click here to learn how to change your mindset, too.

Being skinny does not make you happier

Yes. Even at my skinniest, I wasn’t satisfied. I saw flaws. I picked myself apart. I didn’t think I looked good enough, and I lived in perpetual fear that the next day I’d suddenly gain weight.

There’s this false idea behind losing weight that it will somehow lead to a happier life. For me, that was absolutely NOT the case. I never reached a point of genuine happiness when I had an eating disorder. It was exactly the opposite. I was mostly miserable.

Sure, there were fleeting moments when I thought I was happy. But, I argue even that was not true happiness. First: keyword “fleeting.” Second: I was basing my happiness on my physical appearance.

Today, I choose God as my ultimate source of happiness. Secondary to Him are my relationships with people, my passions, and the little things in life. How I look or how I feel about how I look? I don’t let that affect my happiness anymore—good or bad.

Read more of my thoughts on this topic here.

If you try to control your weight, it will control you

Thinking about food and weight nearly every waking hour was exhausting. All-consuming. And that was my life for more than a decade.

That was my life.

Which means, I didn’t really have a life.

Yes, I had family, friends, a job, read books, listened to music, went to church, prayed to God, and traveled with my ex-husband. All of those things I did while I was bulimic. But—and this is a really big but—all of those things in my life felt absolutely secondary to my life of bulimia.

I’m not kidding.

Bulimia was my life during that time. More accurately, it took over my life. And I let it.

Do you know what I did when I first recovered? I went skydiving. If you haven’t read that story, click here.

Learning how to live again was really bizarre because I genuinely didn’t know who I was without my eating disorder. It took a few years of traveling solo, living alone, getting introspective, trying new things, and embracing each day to find me again.

God’s grace is bigger than anything in your life

This was by far the greatest thing my eating disorder taught me.

It wasn’t until after I recovered that I truly understood God’s grace. Even after growing up a Christian. Hearing countless messages on grace. Reading about grace in my Bible. And knowing the definition.

It was a head knowledge. Not a heart understanding.

God’s grace has no limit. No expiration date. No stipulations.

I was never too far gone. Too late. Or unqualified.

Today, I am alive because of grace. Every day is a gift. Everything in my life is a blessing I don’t deserve. At my lowest points, I never imagined a future with the life I have now. I’m literally crying happy, grateful tears as I type this.

And, even as I say I “truly understand God’s grace” now, I know my human brain will never fully fathom the depths of it.

All I do fully know is this: I never want to take my life—or God’s grace—for granted.

Recovery is a process. Recover is possible. And recovery is worth it.

If I had to share one simplified message about what I learned, it would be this. It is a process, yes. But, it is POSSIBLE and so, so worth the effort.

If you, or someone you know, struggles with an eating disorder, that is what I hope you take away from this post.

Need a resource to recover with God? I got you. Check out my devotional Recover with God, on Amazon (ebook and paperback) or on Barnes & Noble’s website (paperback only).

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