Recovered Vs. In Recovery.

Will she ever see differently?

Five years ago, I was a nervous wreck around food.  When I first got out of treatment, I would obsessively cook the same meal for dinner over and over: tofu, parmesan couscous, and green beans.  I would measure each portion, making sure the pasta grains didn’t rise above the 1 cup mark.  I would sit in front of the TV and eat alone, methodically taking bites of each of the three foods in order, over and over again until nothing remained.  There was no joy in this routine; I was simply eating because people told me it would help. 

I did the same at breakfast.  I ate strawberry yogurt mixed with granola at the same Au Bon Pain table every morning before I went to my “get-well” job at Jasmine Sola.  I was terrified when Crystal took me that summer to Chili’s for my first “normal meal out”.  I had ordered something safe, like salmon, after deciding everything else on the menu would make me gain five pounds instantly.  I couldn’t sit still in my newfound fat.  I thought no man would find me attractive, unless I was 110 lbs and waif-like.

If you would have told me then that five years later I’d enjoy a piece of pizza in the same day that I happily ate chocolate-chip pancakes at 4 in the morning after going clubbing, I would have laughed in your face.  Which gives me hope for other things I am going through.

There is a school of thought that is currently passing through the eating disorder field: it is that one can be completely and totally recovered from an eating disorder.  Jenni Schaefer, the author of Life Without Ed, and the spokeswoman for the Center of Change, is a major advocate of this school of thought.  On her website, she states,

“I want people who struggle with eating disorders to know it is possible to move from being ‘in recovery’ to being ‘fully recovered,'” she says. “I want them to get into life and follow their dreams, not be stuck in or defined by an eating disorder.”

Now, before I go on, it should be known that I respect and perhaps emulate Jenni Schaefer; I had the pleasure of meeting her and briefly debating the why’s and how’s of why there are no eating disorder anonymous groups, akin to AA.  However, I have to play devil’s advocate to this one.

I believe once you got it, you got it for life.  Whether it’s alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, or OCD.  And I think that’s a. too scary for some people to deal with, and b. not marketable to the general american public, who want a quick fix for everything.  Which is why Aimee Liu and Jenni Schaefer’s new take on a terminable recovery process is so popular.

I know for me – I will always have to take care of my eating disorder.  My therapist explained it the best back in 2005.  She said, “It’s something that will always be there, but it will be louder at some points and quieter at others.  When it’s loud, you take extra steps to take care of yourself.  You go back to basics.  Either way, you’re always going to have to take care of it.”  I hated hearing this at the time – I didn’t like accepting the fact that there was something weak in me that I would have to watch out for the rest of my life.  But I learned, after losing 15 pounds in two months last year without noticing, that it can sneak up on you without the slightest warning.  The disease is sneaky, and I fear that a terminable outlook on recovery may be dangerous to those who think they’re out of the woods for good.

Perhaps none of us are out of the flawed or defined by their disease.  Maybe it’s still possible to consider yourself permanently in recovery, AND to be successful and known in your chosen field.  One can fill many roles at once – daughter, engineer, mother, woman or man in recovery.

I wonder if a desire to be “recovered.” indicates some level of hatred for the disease.  And I can’t hate it.  I used to, but now I’m grateful for it, for it’s given me a spin on food not a lot of people I know have.  I don’t believe in diets, magazines, or value-laden food talk.  In fact, I won’t stand for it.  But I stay humbled, especially when others quizzically inquire about my natural instinct to tear up food to make it less scary, or when they notice my tendency to skip meals unless I push myself.  It’s still there.  It’s there when I stop in front of the mirror and robotically check to see how thin I look in the morning.  It’s still doing push-ups in wait.

Which is why I’m a grateful recovering eating disordered woman, even though I do not appear it outwardly today.

What do you think?


(Image provided by

8 thoughts on “Recovered Vs. In Recovery.

  1. I think a useful distinction is “recovered” vs. “cured.” Will I ever be cured of my eating disorder? No! But I feel like there are times when I am recovered — when I eat intuitively, as opposed to the recovery meal plan I followed for *years.* Or when I can go to a restaurant without looking at the menu first, or when I enjoy that a blizzard is keeping me from running and I can watch movies and read all day.
    The susceptibility is always there, though, just hanging out with my perfectionism, anxiety, etc. So some days I feel more in recovery, but today I feel recovered. Might change tomorrow . . .
    p.s. I grew up in the Metrowest but live outside of MA now. A lot of your little details (Jasmine Sola!!) remind me of home 🙂

    1. Sara,

      Thanks for reading! What a great point you make. And I loved the example you used – “I enjoy that a blizzard is keeping me from running”. Ditto, same here. Love having that feeling.

      I wish not to drive a divide between schools of thought in recovery, just to stir up a little discussion about it, ya know?

      Ahhh, Jasmine Sola! Out of business now. Glad I could provide a little bit of home for ya. Thanks again! 🙂

  2. It’s funny- this is more or less what I said to a friend’s sister– who is still very much struggling with her bulimia– right before she left Cambridge (home) to attend NYU. I told her that the WORST thing she could do while away, was try to act “normal” and pretend that her eating disorder was not a part of her. And I believe the same is true for those “in recovery”: You have to protect yourself. I am amazed almost every day by the things I can do, eat and be comfortable with, and i am thankful that I am in this space. But I also need to not push myself over the line by ignoring my needs– for example, during vacation week, I don’t immediately go into panic-mode (anymore) that I will not be teaching dance and taking class every day, I enjoy a couple days off, it’s nice! But after resting, I also need to get out and take a long walk or a class I don’t normally take, and use my body a little, otherwise…evil little thoughts sneak in. And I couldn’t agree more about being appreciative for my eating disorder (now that’s it’s not tormenting me at every moment) although trying to articulate why, would be more information than anyone cares to read :). Thanks for this.

    1. Ariella,

      Your friend’s sister will be in my thoughts. ugh, college can be such a breeding ground for eating disorders.

      I’m so happy for you that you seem to be in the same place; I think it is so cool that food has become a passion for you, I wonder if your blog is therapeutic in a way. I love the relationship you have with food!

      And you NEVER share too much, I value your comments. hugs to you, we’ve come a long way since sitting on the Footlight Club steps, baby.

  3. I’m not sure if I ever had an eating disorder, exactly, or whether I could consider myself “recovered”, since the recovery happened more or less on its own.

    In the summer between junior and senior year in college I talked myself into a “CRAN” project that involved eating 1400 calories per day, a lot of willpower and obsessive attention, training for 10Ks and half marathons, feeling like I was going to faint when I stood up too fast, and a low point of 132 lbs on a 5′ 11″ (formerly) mesomorphic male body.

    The reason why I might place this in the “eating disorder” as opposed to the “stupid ‘health’ fad” category is that it may have been a response to a lot of uncertainty about my post-college future, and a underlying desire to control something controllable.

    That compulsion never returned in such a strong form, but I’ve wrestled with emotional eating (to displace boredom, anxiety, etc) in the more recent past. Yoga and meditation has helped me with that issue.

    1. Jack,

      Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your story. I think it’s really important to hear that male perspective on this.

      Yeah, sounded fairly disordered…it’s interesting, my first “round” with my eating disorder kicked in right before I started high school, because it was a response to a lot of uncertainty about high school, very akin to your experience. So funny how humans are always after that unattainable control.

      I’m glad you found something to help, in fact you seem a pro at that stuff now! Look forward to your blog/thoughts about spirituality at some point 🙂

      1. My name has a link to the blog – there are a few articles up there already. 🙂

        That story not something I really talk about a whole lot – not because I avoid it, but it never really seems to come up in casual conversation. In a lot of ways it felt kind of situational, but looking back it does seem to fit some of the eating disorder warning signs.

        I still have those wishes for “perfect” self control and a “perfect” body, but I aim to express them in healthier ways like reasonable exercise and healthy diet rather than anything too extreme.

Leave a Reply