When I had a relapse in my eating disorder in 2018, I was ashamed, afraid and truly so disappointed in myself. I was 27 and had already considered myself well recovered from my anorexia and my eating disorder during my college years, from ages 18 to 21. My eating disorder was in my past, from my younger years, right? How could it be happening again?
But it was happening again, and I had to face the facts. I had slowly been losing sight of my recovery goals since I moved to Los Angeles in 2014, a city that feels sometimes like it keeps eating disorders in business. Throughout my years in LA, my relationship with exercise became more and more unhealthy – I was doing trendy exercise classes seven days a week and not allowing a day of rest for fear of losing my newly acquired “LA perfect” body. My relationship with food broke down, too. Gluten-free, vegan, low-sugar, high-protein, super foods, green juices — you name the fad diet, I was doing it. And with trying out these new restrictive meal plans, it became easier to cut calories, skip meals and ultimately lose weight. Another so-called win for my “perfect” Los Angeles body size.
It wasn’t until a tough breakup, a few fainting spells and looking at the double digit numbers of my weight that I realized my “frenemy” the eating disorder was not only back, but flourishing.
Luckily, I was already seeing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, so she helped me gently come to understand how and why my eating disorder came back, and most importantly, how to seek eating disorder treatment.
I knew I wanted to recover, not only because I was so truly miserable in my day to day life and on absolute rock-bottom emotionally, physically and mentally, but also because I knew I had a commitment to my company, Gemmed. How could I help others recover from their eating disorders if I was still deep in my own? All of these things combined allowed me to get on the recovery and eating disorder treatment path fast and furiously.
I was lucky to have the support of an amazing therapist, a fierce dietitian and an eating disorder support group full of strong women, alongside my loving family and close friends, but it was still the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was in some sort of therapy group three times a week, I was eating double or triple what I was used to eating in order to weight restore, I wasn’t doing any sort of movement or exercise, and I was also doing the hard introspective work of journaling, processing and thinking deeply to cope in the quiet moments between.
It took me just over a year to fully weight restore and get to a place where I felt truly recovered and that my eating disorder behaviors were in the past. And as I got to this place, I was able to start realizing and doing the things that make me truly happy — things I didn’t come to realize until I had hit rock bottom and come out freely on the other side.
In eating disorder recovery, the great Carolyn Costin talks about the idea of building up one’s “soul self” as opposed to the “ED self.” The soul self is who you truly are, the things you love, the things that make you happy, the true essence of your being. The ED self often gets in the way of all these things and makes us think that it can offer us all the joy and happiness we desire, when it never, ever can.
So what did I discover of my identity, of my “soul self,” throughout my eating disorder recovery journey? Well, I found out that I love yoga, and I’m good at it. It’s the only form of exercise I’ve done since I’ve recovered, and I’ve found that just doing a few short home session a couple times per week is more than enough to help my body feel nourished and strong. I find a lot of joy in being in my apartment and having my friends over for coffee and snacks while burning some delicious smelling candles and palo santo. I love spending time with my cat and the simple happiness in playing with, brushing and taking care of him. I love reading ridiculous young adult fiction novels like the “After” series by Anna Todd. I love singing and am starting voice lessons to become a better shower singer. I love walking around Target on weekend mornings and wandering the aisles to find fun new goodies. I started doing Home Chef and enjoy getting back into the kitchen and trying new recipes that I never would have thought of trying.
When I look at this list, which I could have added dozens more things to, I feel so warm and happy and fulfilled in my soul self, my true identity. My eating disorder never brought me anywhere close to that feeling.
And as I ponder the meaning of things in life, I am reassured that for me, hitting rock bottom and relapsing in my eating disorder was a blessing in disguise. Because without it, I never would have discovered my true identity, my soul self.