Wednesday 9 May 2018

What Doesn't Work?

Paula discusses unhelpful pieces of advice she has been given during her recovery from Anorexia.
- Paula

During my recovery from anorexia I relied on suggestions given by doctors, therapists as well as people who had already won the battle. I’d like to mention three pieces of advice that definitely did NOT work for me. Please keep in mind that everybody (and every body) is different, so if in doubt, always follow your team’s advice.

1. Keep your environment trigger-free.
In many treatment centres it’s not only a suggestion, it’s a formal rule. No health magazines with recent fad diets lying around. No discussions about food. Clothing must cover certain body parts.
I agree that trigger-free environment makes recovery easier. For example, reading a weight-loss meal plan just before being served a high-calorie lunch can make the meal extremely difficult. The same goes for looking at actresses with “perfect” (i.e. probably photoshopped) bodies when you need to accept your own weight gain.
However, our world is full of triggers for eating disorder sufferers. If I was getting a pound each time I hear someone talking about weights, calories, workouts or “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods, I’d be a millionaire. In my opinion recovery should let us live freely in the real-world, not only behind the walls of an eating disorder treatment centre.

2. Avoid cardio workout, but do some strength training and go for walks.
I believed this one for years before I decided to just quit exercise cold turkey. In principle building muscle is good for us, and it doesn’t burn too many calories. And walks? These innocent strolls in the fresh air? They can’t do any harm, can they?
Well, it’s more about the mindset than anything else. Sedentary lifestyle felt horrendous for me while I was recovering. I always felt I SHOULD do something, whatever, just as long as I’m moving. But guess what – healthy people don’t get anxious when they spend days going car-office-car-home. Challenging the fear of not exercising was one of the key parts of my recovery and helped me develop a healthy relationship with exercise.
Some might argue that exercise releases endorphins, so helpful for ED sufferers who tend to be depressed as well. However, if we follow this argument, there exists an excellent alternative method of getting the daily dose of happiness hormones. Chocolate. So think about it – if you care so much about endorphins, would you ever pick chocolate as an alternative to your exercise routine? If not, think about the reasons.

3. You need to focus 100% on your recovery.
Which means you probably should take a break from school/work, read recovery books and keep doing CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) exercises in your free time.
While I agree that recovery should be your priority, I also believe that one can overdo it. By no means am I saying that you’re allowed to skip meals or exercise “once in a while” (check point 2). However, recovery shouldn’t be about recovery, but about life. Chances are your ED made you forget who you are, what you enjoy, who you like. Therapy is important, but I think that the actual healing takes place in everyday life.
I truly started recovering when I began to build my life from scratch. Going out. Getting back to my hobbies. Making friends. You need some motivation to recover, something that will show you how much you’re missing when food and numbers are constantly on your mind. As long as your hobby doesn’t involve running or meal planning, go for it!

Whatever you do, make sure that the person in control is the real you, not the sneaky eating disorder. And if you haven’t found your voice yet (which is perfectly fine), always consult a trusted person. Never forget that recovery is possible!

Hi! I'm Paula, a PhD Maths student. I'd like to share my thoughts about mental health in graduate school.

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