I want to talk a little bit about a specific topic that’s been on my mind…recovery weight, ideal weight, etc. Now, my definition of this term, as accrued by numerous visits with nutritionists and doctors, is the weight at which one can be called “recovered,” i.e this person is no longer anorexic, bulimic, or a binge eater (don’t forget that recovery weight can also be less than where a person is at right now if they are struggling with binge eating). The idea is that once a person reaches this golden weight, they can slide out from beneath the doctor’s microscope and start living life as a recovered person. It sounds so easy, right?
WrongI have so, so many problems with this term. My man issue, and what I think is the most important point to mention, is that being at a “healthy” weight (where your body is no longer under stress because of your eating habits) does not mean you are recovered. As so many of us know, and eating disorder is as much, or more so mental than it ever is physical. Any disordered eating behavior is a manifestation of thoughts and beliefs one holds to be true. To keep it simple, changing the body does not necessarily mean changing the mind. Gaining or losing weight does not equate to an instantaneous process of psychological healing. Now, don’t get me wrong, gaining or getting control of one’s weight is, at the end of the day, essential, and the process carries with it numerous opportunities to challenge the disordered mindset. However, so often an eating disorder is rooted in more than self-image, and requires work beyond changing one’s weight.
I have been “weight restored” for about a year. I gained about 10-15 pounds from my lowest weight the summer before my freshman year of college. I was getting stronger, running faster, and feeling better every day about my body. I felt recovered. I felt as though my issues with food has simply dissolved with the fifteen pounds.
Enter the injury. Enter the navicular stress fracture that has been keeping me on the sidelines for about 16 months now. During my freshman year, I stayed in excellent running shape by biking and lifting weights almost every day. I was depressed, but I staved off the worst feeling my keeping my body in shape. I’m going to skim over the actual injury journey through the first year, because I’ve already talked about it extensively and it’s not really the point of this post. After I realized that this injury was not healing quickly or in a linear fashion, I became more depressed and stopped exercising as much, especially after I got out of my cast. I began falling into behaviors that were unhealthy and destructive.
One of the worst? Binge eating. I gained about 30 pounds the summer after my freshman year and a little bit into the school year. Keep in mind, even typing this makes my heart race, my face flush, and I feel vulnerable and weak. I was perplexed. Wasn’t I supposed to be all nice and recovered? Self-confident and secure in my body? Wasn’t I supposed to have rid myself of the demons ruled my mind?
Yeah, I thought so. But here I am, 30 pounds later, feeling horrible about myself and my body, and wanting nothing more than to be thin. I feel out of control, and as though self-worth is a foreign concept. In the couple weeks following my departure from college, I was more depressed than I have ever been before. Gaining weight is still one of my most insecure areas, especially now that it’s brought to a place that is, just as my body was when I was thin, unhealthy. Now that my body is beyond a point where I am comfortable, I’m angry – pissed off, in fact – that this has happened. This has forced me to confront the fact that I have a lot more work to do. What I had previously believed to be a “recovered” self last year was truly a wounded and angry self with a nice, big yellow smiley face bandage over it. So I have to call bullshit on this “recovery weight,” because I reached it, and guess what? I wasn’t and still am not recovered.
So….I. work. every. damn. day. to continue to challenge my mindset and return to a healthier and more balanced perspective on my eating. For the first time in my life, I’m facing the challenge of having to lose weight the healthy way. It’s challenging for me to even speak about it on social media because as an ED recovery advocate, talking about losing weight can be tedious ground. I have to. I owe it to all the girls and guys out there that are struggling with binge eating or any eating disorder, who feel ashamed to talk about it. That’s why we must get rid of this idea of one “recovery weight.” What even is this “recovery weight;” it’s something set by medical professionals and parents whose priorities, most likely, lie solely in immediate physical health, not long term mental AND physical health. What if this weight is reached, and you feel happy, but then a month later you’ve put on a couple pounds, or twenty, or thirty? Does this mean you have now moved past healthy and are becoming unhealthy? Does this mean you are “more recovered”? These are the questions I ask myself and so often come up short. But all I can say is this:
Being recovered is contingent on physical well-being AND mental and emotional well-being. You cannot (sustainably) have one without the other. So ditch the “recovery weight” and focus on healing your mind as well as your body. I can say, from personal experience, that real, meaningful, sustainable, life-long recovery is a non-linear, often long-term journey that is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but easily one of the most rewarding.
So here’s to strength. Here’s to positivity. Here’s to the courage to stick up for yourself in the face of fear, self-hatred, and depression.