The “Half Lives” of Eating Disorders
January 19, 2012

Hello, friends. So glad it’s nearly Friday! Thanks for such enthusiasm over the carrot and oat bread. A good many of you told me you plan to make it this weekend, and if you do, I hope it turns out OK.

Today, I wanted to delve into something a little more thought-provoking than carrot bread, and share with you this very moving article on ED recovery. It appeared in the Huffington Post this week, and it is written by Aimee Liu, whose work has inspired me tremendously.

I was first made aware of Aimee Liu’s writing when a very special CR reader and friend recommended her to me. I promptly began reading her blog, and I also read her book Gaining, which I would urge you all to explore at some point. The book details what I often all the “afterlife” of an eating disorder: not just the road to physical healing and/or restoration of physical health, but rather the months and years that follow, when you’re learning to be at peace with a post-ED life. For me, it was in many ways harder to accept a long-term existence that wasn’t governed by the pursuit of thinness, and feel comfortable in a body that was not underweight, than it had been to originally admit I had a problem. Aimee Liu addresses the ups and downs of “gaining” both literally and figuratively, by detailing all of the things one ultimately “gains” from recovery—intimacy, sense of self, freedom.

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Aimee Liu, by Charles Drucker

In her article this week, Ms. Liu talks about the so-called “half-lives” of eating disorders. By this she means the behaviors and compulsions that, while not necessarily food restriction, binging, or purging, evoke similar cycles of illusory “control.” She describes catching up with some of the women she’d met in recovery communities years after their initial conversations about the ED recovery process, and being dismayed to find that many of them continued to engage in patterns that were reminiscent of their original, full-blown disorders. She writes,

We no longer necessarily binged, purged or restricted using food, but we binged, purged and restricted in other ways. Some used exercise, others sex, drugs, alcohol, work or religion. We still obsessed, still beat ourselves up emotionally, still engaged in compulsive behaviors.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of so many of the patterns I’ve observed in my own work and forays through healthy eating communities: women who “compensate” for a dessert with a whole day of lemon and water fasting the morning after; athletes who “burn off” perfectly reasonable meals with extreme exercise. Certainly, I’m not immune to the impulses: as hard as I’ve always worked toward recovery, I’ve given in to my own moments of self-imposed “punishment.” I do my best to fight these impulses whenever I sniff them out, and part of my own recovery has been a commitment to steady, sensible, and moderate behaviors.

Ms. Liu goes on to say that the explanation for continued ED behaviors—not anorexia, bulimia, or EDNOS per se, but habits that are bound up in the same motivations—may be evidence of the genes that scientists are increasingly linking to eating disorders (sidenote: I just wrote a biology paper on this, so I’m a bit of a nerd in this area of research). If eating disorders do have genetic origins—and indeed most research says they do—it would explain why so many men and women who have been vulnerable in the past can become vulnerable again.

Liu ends the article on a positive note, reminding readers that proactive, early detection and treatment of EDs is the surest means of treatment. While it’s true that an enormous number of EDs go untreated, I believe that much of the shame and stigma attached to EDs is lifting, and that more women and men are seeking out help and support for this reason. I hope so, anyway; when I started Green Recovery, my only hope was to make all of us here in the CR community feel more comfortable talking about these issues. With any luck, such conversations are being struck all over the world, and helping more people to help themselves.

What Liu’s article really brought up for me was the idea that “recovery” itself is a slippery term. I have always thought that my own recovery moved in two phases: first, I came to terms with the fact that I was unhealthily thin and I gained weight. It was quite some time, though, before this physical recovery turned into a fuller and more honest recovery. That process took years: it involved finding veganism, opening up about my compulsions and history with family and friends, and learning to embrace my appetite. It meant finding a way of eating that gave me not only sustenance, but spiritual nourishment as well. That was phase two, and it was only afterward that I was able to successfully and lastingly manage the tendencies and patterns that had made me ill in the first place.

Phase one was terrifying. But phase two was the real test of my strength.

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Readers have often confessed to me that, years and years after a formal (medical) ED recovery, they continue to struggle with compulsions or thought patterns that are reminiscent of their disorders. They get angry at themselves for these lingering vestiges of their EDs, and feel frustrated by the fact that they can’t just “move on.”

What I say to these readers is this: “recovery” does not mean that you never have a disordered thought or impulse again. Perhaps it works this way for many people (I hope it does), but that isn’t the norm. Recovery, at least as I understand it, means restoration of the physical body, restoration of the spirit and sense of self, and a commitment to managing and resisting the compulsions, restrictions, or habits in which your ED resided. It means committing to wellness, in every sense of the word.

Eating disorders rarely just happen to people; rather, they tend to grow out of preexisting personality traits. That’s why it’s so unfair to tell a person with an ED simply to “get better”—how can they do that without seemingly excising the part of their character that the ED fed upon? Instead of advising anyone to “get over it,” I like to remind people that recovery can be a process of self-recognition and management. I still occasionally experience the voices and impulses that fueled my original ED behaviors, but I’ve learned to recognize them immediately, fight them actively, and channel my energies away from them.

I’ve also learned not to feel ashamed of the traits that made me susceptible to my ED. As Liu points out, many of the traits that contribute to ED development, like perfectionism, can be helpful and productive. My perfectionism, my odd streak of asceticism, my compulsive energies, and my obsessiveness all made me vulnerable to disordered eating. But they’re also what make me a great worker, a committed student, and a person of extreme intensity. And I love them for that. I simply recognize that they need to be directed to places where they can help me to thrive.

In her article, Liu quotes psychiatrist and eating disorder specialist Joel Yager, who once said to her, “Know thyself… What is your biology? What is your calling? Study your temperament. Be respectful of it.” If there’s one tremendous thing I’ve “gained” from recovery, it is a full appreciation of my character, with all of its strengths and occasional demons. And life is so much richer with that kind of self-respect.

I’d love to know what you think about all of this: the article, the “afterlife” and “half-life” of recovery, the genetics of EDs. And I’d love to know how you personally understand the word, “recovered.”

xo

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    50 Comments
  1. […] Gena @ Choosing Raw linked to a really insightful article on HuffPo about the half lives of eating disorders. Gena does a much better job dissecting the article than I could, so I encourage you to check out her thoughts on the matter. As a recovered ED-person, I found myself nodding along with both posts, and I think anyone with an interest in mental health would find them intriguing. Liu delves into the genetic aspects of ED susceptibility and personality traits associated with the disease. […]

  2. Amazing….made me think once more about myself and my personality traits that could have led to my ed behaviors. The genetic relation is definitely intriguing, as compulsive / hot-headedness seems to run in my family…
    Thank You for allowing me to have gratitude in where I am now and for reminding me what I should further work on. I really love your writing. It’s such a huge inspiration!

  3. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to say in response to this – it was such a well written and thought out post that I really really want to respond somehow – but I don’t think I can add anything to what you’ve said Gena and commenters. I just wanted to link what you say here back to what you said for NEDA week last year – I see recovery as the time when I will no longer see myself as “the thin one” “the anorexic”, when I will no longer see my lowest weight as my greatest achievement and source of pride and self-respect, when I can forge an identity from building on my skills and putting myself out there rather than destroying myself and hiding.
    Thank you for your sensible insights, they mean a lot
    Hannah

  4. I’m a newer follower of your blog, and I’ve delved back into the archives a bit for some of your delicious recipes and nutritional advice. But this post was the first that really affected me: after reading this, I had the frightening, jolting realization that I have an eating disorder. It’s been going on for quite some time now. Apparently others had noticed it, and tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen to them because I thought they just didn’t understand my seriousness about a vegan diet and exercise regimen. Now I see that I was only harming myself, and it could have gotten much worse had I not read this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you Gena, for spreading the word about eating disorders, and encouraging those of us who have them to break free!

  5. I had written a response to this but my computer froze, so my apologies if it ends up somewhere and this is redundant. I really enjoyed reading this post because I could definitely identify it. I left my fourth treatment center for my eating disorder a little over a month ago, and I am currently 2 1/2 months purge/restrict free which is a really big accomplishment for me.

    I have noticed however that those needs that my eating disorder used to fill are still there, and it’s a constant challenge to determine how to fill those in a healthy way. My urges are still there at times, although greatly diminished, and in moments of high anxiety it can be difficult to not go back to symptoms or “symptom switch” and find a new addiction.

    I feel like I can relate to you Gena when you talk about how finding veganism and being spiritually healthy really helped you move forward in your recovery (if I understand it correctly). I’ve been a vegetarian for seven years and I’ve been moving towards veganism for the last two years. I’m lactose intolerant and I have had IBS since I was 7. I physically feel so much better when I adhere to a vegan diet, although many eating disorder treatment centers believe that those with ED pasts cannot and should not be vegans. I do not agree with that but my biggest challenge now is how to allow myself to not label foods as unhealthy/healthy, but to move forward with a vegan diet that both fits my personal code of ethics as well as makes my body feel good.

  6. Thank you for the link, what a great read!

    I especially relate to what you say about EDs coming from preexisting personality traits. Many of us who have had EDs share some of the same characteristics – perfectionism, drive to succeed, sometimes a competitive streak – which all, unfortunately, make us great at having EDs. It’s interesting to think about two steps of recovery – the clinical aspect, and then the later, “half life” bit. I have been meaning to read Gaining for ages and haven’t gotten around to it; maybe this time I’ll actually order it. (So many books, so little time!)

  7. I love this post, Gena.

    I consider myself “recovered” because my detrimental eating habits and “that ED voice” are both no longer an issue. That, to me, defines “recovered.” I can stand strong and say “Shut up!” to the voice and mean it…because I love myself.

    I think genetics definitely come into play. There iscertainly a genetic disposition in my family, specifically when it comes to compulsive/obsessive behaviors due to many of the things you mentioned above (i.e. perfectionism and the desire to do what is morally sound).

    Brilliant article, amazing post. <3

  8. “Eating disorders rarely just happen to people; rather, they tend to grow out of preexisting personality traits.”
    “Study your temperament. Be respectful of it.”
    Thank you for this beautifully written and incredibly important article. I could not agree more with the idea that our EDs morph out of our existing personality tendencies towards compulsion/ self punishment/ control etc. For me, EDs and the attachment to disordered thinking patterns that dominate and determine these compulsive behaviours are as potent as any kind of addictions to substances. Personally speaking, my primary addiction was to perfectionism, control and self punishment, with its focus on food restriction as its expression. It was the recognition of this addiction to these thinking patterns and behaviours that I needed to break in order to start the recovery process. And, yes, recovery is an ongoing process, not simply a matter of gaining weight. To a certain extent one can work to get over one’s addiction to restriction/ control/ bingeing/ by recognising the mental maelstrom that precedes such setbacks, observing these thoughts, and, as Gena says, working out strategies to redirect this destructive focus into constructive channels. However, I fully agree with whomever made the point about these thoughts as continual background noise that need to be tuned out continuously as part of the process of vigilant self observation and management. It is learning where these thoughts have come from, why and learning to tackle the root causes that precedes the path to a genuinely sustained recovery. For me, the real lightbulb over the head moment came when I realised that my constant and obsessive system of checks and balances regarding food intake and exercise, were not universal thought processes occupying the mental space of all and sundry but a key component of my marked tendency to perfectionism and self punishment.
    Great article, Gena.

  9. How do you square the (positive) desire to tread lightly with the (negative) desire to disappear entirely? This is the one I struggle the most with.

    I don’t think these problems are entirely created by misogyny, but I think they fuel it. Feminism saved my life. And veganism has made me happier than I’ve been for a long time. It’s a constructive use of the thoughts that I don’t deserve certain things – I really don’t deserve to harm and kill other sentient beings for my pleasure. I agree that it’s mostly a personality thing. I can’t get rid of these thoughts, they are part of me. All I can do is identify them, and either ignore them or put them to useful work. It’s the same with my other problems, also including OCD. Always two steps forwards, one step back, but that’s still progress 🙂

  10. Brilliantly written, Gena, and thank you for bringing that article and book to my attention. I do find it frustrating when, despite being truly in love with what “recovery” has brought me (self-worth, freedom, not running from sexuality, curves, spontaneity), an ED thought will appear seemingly out of nowhere, usually manifest in some sort of feeling of discomfort. For me, recovery isn’t about never feeling these thoughts (because, [swear word deleted], we live in a world where such thoughts are sprawled on magazines) but, as you mentioned, recognising them, getting angry at them, and rejecting them. And also, of course, (and I can’t think/say this without giggling): Constant vigilance! 🙂

  11. I really loved this book. It gave me so much insight into my own mind and some reasons why, as well as the minds of those around me. though it actually triggered me at the time, it also made me aware of triggers and a better grasp of moving forward. It’s been a few years now, and I still think of that book.

  12. Wonderful post, Gena, thanks! I can relate to going through ED recovering phases accepting both the physical and metal aspects of the ED. Having it morph into other compulsions during the recovery process is something I experienced too, but rarely read similar experiences on. I remember obsessively cleaning the house, exercising, and creating long task list before allowing myself a treat or to punish myself for one.

  13. This is one of the most thought-provoking blog posts I’ve read in awhile, mainly because I’ve never considered the true after-effects of having binge-eating disorder as an adolescent. I never was treated professionally for my problem, I grew out of it as I got healthier as a whole. I do see certain traits in myself, however, that are indicative of someone who has had an eating disorder. I’d like to think that I use these traits as you do, Gena, to be a better student, a more focused blogger and an inspiration to others who want to lead healthier lives. My biggest hopes are that I can incorporate joy and appreciation into my work and life and, as you suggest, be more respectful of my self.

  14. Thank you for bringing attention to this idea and article. The line that most inspires me from the article is: “Note to everyone who’s ever had an eating disorder: We are ALL supposed to enjoy living.” I believe (or perhaps this was only in my case), that when one realizes her potential for and claim to happiness and health and FULL life, that is the moment when recovery becomes possible and marks the difference between hanging onto the personality traits and tendencies that may have the ED and still being in its throes. I also wanted to note that I think the “half-life” is a very adequate metaphor for ED recovery, encompassing both the partial existence that many experience during/post-ED and its tendency to linger and only gradually recede.
    As always, I continue to be impressed by these discussions on Choosing Raw.

  15. It’s funny how some authors resonate with us, while others do not. I read chunks of Gaining at a bookstore in Philly last spring but ended up not buying it because I found the book more annoying than anything else. I liked the Huff Post article better; I agree there’s more to recovery than gaining weight. And while I generally attribute my own eating disorder to a combination of family dynamics and personality traits, I appreciate the new research into the biological basis of anorexia – I have two first cousins who were severely anorexic, oddly enough, one on each side of my family.
    For better or worse, I did not “recover” physically until I had already done a lot of deep inner work. I gained enough weight to avoid hospitalization and then just kind of maintained it for eight years. On the plus side, during that time, I was in and out of therapy and seeking “recovery” in the broadest sense of that term. I guess i knew intuitively that it wasn’t about gaining weight. The downside of course is that over the course of eight years of severely restricting my food intake, I developed a lot of habits that persist to this day (like calorie counting, a tendency to not eat when stressed, etc.) that made gaining weight hard. And it’s no surprise I relapsed a year into graduate school.
    I recovered again, it took a couple years, and I do call myself “recovered,” pretty insistently, because even if certain habits persist (for example, I say that I don’t count calories, but the truth I’m always keeping a running tally, it’s kind of automatic, I did it for a decade and now I can’t stop, I just don’t pay attention, it’s just background noise), I have a completely different relationship with food than I had when I was anorexic.
    I appreciate the effort to distinguish what are life threatening eating disorders from the kind of “disordered eating” that may be culturally driven, and I personally have little patience with the weight struggles of ordinary women. It’s ironic, you would think as a result of my own history I’d have more compassion, but truthfully, I have no patience for it. And not to be smug (though, might as well admit it, I’m almost as smug about my recovery as I was about my weight, back in the day), but I think, despite my long ed-history, I have a healthier relationship with food and with my body than most women, including those who’ve never had an eating disorder. Yes, I still lose weight unwittingly, under duress, when traveling, etc., but I know I am at a point where I am invulnerable to relapse. So much so that I find all the talk of restriction, “cleansing,” fasting, purity, etc. that permeates the raw community so far from triggering as to actually turn me off. It makes me want to RUN to Baby Cakes for not one but TWO frosted carrot cake cupcakes.

    • wow…so agree with you so so so much.
      oddly, i’m still vastly underweight (and taken to binging…i don’t “compensate” for the binges..i just binge…but stlll underweight…not the way i want to gain weight, so i am incredibly feeling ashamed for this)…but still i almost get so fed up with blogs or anything about raw, fads, diets, “cleansing”, detox, etc etc..drives me nuts.

  16. I have made peace with the fact that my eating disorder is something that will always be a part of my life, even if it’s just tucked away in the corner of my mind. Though I consider myself recovered, my binge/restrict tendencies do creep up from time to time; the difference now is that I know how to handle those feelings instead of give into them. I always learn something about myself when I’m faced with those feelings and it helps me to better deal with them the next time around. Gena, you have no idea how much I appreciate these posts and your Green Recovery series. Thank you for opening up the dialogue and giving us a voice!

  17. As always, Gena, you’ve “brought to life” for us all the most critical issues facing those of us who consider ourselves recovered from an ED. I know that your objective here is to offer insight relative to what real recovery means so that we can set realistic expectations for ourselves, and most urgently, encourage us all to take the necessary action in our own lives now to ensure that we have the tools that will allow us the best chance for living a full, rewarding life, non-encumbered by lingering demons/personality traits.

    I could not be prouder of the outreach work you are doing in this area, Gena. Much love and respect to you.

  18. I believe I have mentioned this here before, but I often wonder if my food/health blogging is just another symptom of the disorder, or if it is me channeling my personality (compulsive, obsessive, perfectionistic, but also wanting to help others, solve problems and be a leader) in a positve way? At this point, the jury is out. When I think about my life without blogging, it seems,well, almost boring, and I don’t want to give it up. I guess like most things in life, it’s not black and white, just shades of gray.
    xoxo and have a great weekend Gena!

    • Hi Wendy,

      I struggle with that same question, and interestingly, Aimee Liu recently announced her own decision to move on from her work in the ED community as essential in her personal evolution beyond that ED related “identity.” Her departure letter was incredibly illuminating for me personally.

      All the best,
      Karen

      • Great question, Wendy. I know that many bloggers have pondered whether blogging is yet another form of obsessing. And as Karen points out, being a person who writes about eds can in some ways limit one’s freedom from the disorder.

        For me, one of the amazing things that happened with recovery is that I finally learned to embrace my innate and intense love of food. Ive always tried to make cr an outlet and celebration of that love. Its not a food diary or a place to be “accountable” for anything, but rather a tribute to beautiful Vegan dishes. In this sense I think it is the very embodiment of my “post recovery” self. But I do see how blogging might serveto hinder, rather than represent, progress and growth.

        • Wendy and Gena – Here’s an excerpt that you both might find pertinent, originally posted by Aimee Liu on her former blog on Gurze.com a few months ago (which, by the way, is home to many other blogs on various facets of ED’s, and offers numerous other related resources and publications.)

          “As difficult a decision as this has been, I believe that it reflects a necessary stage for those in recovery. In Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives, we call that stage Discovery. On the surface, the preoccupations of this stage have nothing to do with eating disorders. With restored health, individuals in Discovery pursue passions for rock climbing, improvisational acting, graphic art, photography, teaching. They achieve the dreams that were beyond their reach when they were tethered to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and when their focus was on “recovery.”
          With full recovery comes a fully integrated self. This means that you have the power and the freedom to shift gears when you need to. You choose to direct your focus to positive passions and pursuits. You embrace change that opens up your horizons. You “know thyself” well enough to balance your life and prioritize your goals. Acting to organize your time and energy, rather than constantly reacting to the demands and expectations of others, you choose to devote a greater proportion of your attention to fulfilling your own highest needs and loves, while controlling the amount of energy you give out of a sense of obligation or guilt.
          Over the past eight years, my research, speaking, and writing on the topic of eating disorders has dominated my working life, and I am proud of both Gaining and Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives. I am profoundly honored to have helped many, many people struggling with eating disorders. But I’m not a therapist or a researcher, or even a science writer, by trade. I am a novelist and a teacher, and literature is my true home, where my mind and spirit are most fully nourished. I need to regain the balance that lets me spend more time in this home.”

          • wow…i love this letter..
            i want so badly for this focus because i know i have different passions…but i’m still in the abyss of this and so its like i cannot focus on those things…so i’m wasting time…driving me nuts.

            i wish i could have that focus NOW…

            i’m particularly confused when i have 2 competing passions…and one is in nutrition ..but i’m relunctant to pursue it because i’m still in “this” , so its like i think maybe thats not really “me”…so i kinda instead want to get out of “this” and then pursue that separate opposite passion that I think might truly be “me”…so hard to know…in meantime, i feel shame for my lack of awarness and direction and productivity in life.

  19. Hi Gena,
    Thanks for yet another lovely and very thoughtful post. Lately I’ve also been considering the factors that contribute to the pattern of self-harm, self-degradation, and somehow it’s all coming full circle to align with veganism and compassion as practices of self-care. I was in a space of self-harm, mental and physical. I didn’t know I was trying to punish myself for something, and I certainly wasn’t trying for it consciously through what I ate, that just manifested on the sidelines while I wasn’t paying attention while I was too busy not getting out of bed every day and too busy dreaming of ways to quietly escape my life. Luckily I’ve been able to move past that place but that came from me, not because the world around me changed but because I was finally able to see what I was doing to myself and had to find a way to pull myself up before I died or otherwise destroyed my life irreparably.

    However- that doesn’t mean that girl, those tendencies, aren’t somewhere in my head, as much as I wanted to imagine they were gone. A few weeks ago my boyfriend of four years just walked out on me and I felt a WAVE of that paralyzing sickness crash down on me. I assume that’s what they call a “trigger.” The urge to hurt myself in some way was so powerful that I had to find my roommate and tell her (that’s a change) because I genuinely didn’t want to do something to myself (that’s also a change) but I was scared I couldn’t maintain it for long, I was certain I was going to lose my mind and lose control.

    I didn’t, though, because as I sat there with tantalizing and damaging thoughts dancing through my head, a louder voice made itself heard. I’ve come way too far on my path to let myself slip in such a stupid way, but I was so sorely tempted. Progress can’t be tested when everything is going well, it’s what happens when the pressure is turned up that will show if something has truly changed. What I found that night truly surprised me. Over the past year, I’ve found my veganism transform from a place of wanting to help my body to a place of knowing that the choices I make affect the world around me. Making choices for the sake of animals and mankind, for the sake of NOT HURTING OTHERS finally made it clear to me that I am not ALLOWED to hurt myself either, because otherwise I would be the biggest hypocrite on earth and I may as well go eat a steak. Uh, so as hyperbolic as that sounds, finally, finally I had that full circle realization that being vegan is about the world, is about me, is about always making the choice of compassion and non-harming, and will continue to save my life again and again.

    I guess this is a long-winded way of saying, I agree, recovery is not about the number on a scale or what kinds of clinical checkmarks you can meet, but about the process that goes on inside your head on a daily basis when you encounter the pressures of daily life and extraordinary life. It is not about never having those thoughts again, but instead about having the wisdom, the foresight, and the SELF-COMPASSION to remember that thoughts are fleeting and misleading.

    “We create the world we live in. If we want to change what we don’t like in the world, we must start with what we don’t like about ourselves. This is a task that we can handle and one that will actually succeed in changing the world.” -Sharon Gannon, Yoga and Vegetarianism.

  20. Thank you for this…I am smack dab in the middle of recovering from bulimia and this post was so enlightening. Thanks Gena.. 🙂

  21. Thanks so much for sharing this!
    I’ve been in touch with Aimee quite a bit and actually have a letter published in her new book “Reclaiming our Bodies, Reclaiming our Lives!” Things have changed so much for me since I wrote the letter that I don’t think abut it much now. “Gaining” was an amazing book for me to read (about three years ago or so). I was in a relapse at the time, and in some ways it seemed triggering, but I think I was already in “that” space and actually, it helped not to make things worse than they were. I love the “half life” imagery, and the early intervention emphasis (although in my case that can add to a sense of hopelessness).

    Genetics: I was shocked when I went to Israel at one of the worse points in my ED and it transpired that several of my second cousins had had ED’s also.

    Sorry, blathering, up too late…
    love and admiration
    Ela

  22. Gena,

    it’s always necessary for me to “awaken” to the nature of my disease. In this way, the monster that, very much, lives in me has little power when I am aware and focused on it’s power…lest we be decieved of reality, just because IT has power does not mean it wins. I believe that there is a higher power that BEATs it (disease) every day that the higher power grants me the gift of victory on a moment by moment basis.

    i LOVE the interpretation that is “half-life” … being a science background, there is almost NO BETTER way than to describe recovery in this way. almost, do I think “HOW DID I NOT SAY THAT ALREADY?!” (probably because I ain’t genius like you or Liu”

    thanks for writing Gena, love – jasper

  23. Hi Gena,

    I love that you have a passion for bringing awareness and open discourse around eating disorders. Thank you for the balance you bring to your blog between health and eating disorder awareness. I find that a lot of treatment modalities focus on weight gain and not health, so it is nice to read about your experience of recovery by becoming an advocate for the raw/health lifesttyle.

    I also appreciate the fact that many people with eating disorders have a biological propensity towards this and have certain personality traits in common. This helps to alleviate some of the guilt and shame for me. Thank you.

    Pretty please check out the new blog a luvly girl Jenny and I started in January about our experience with bulimia:).

    http://beautybeyondbulimia.wordpress.com

    xoxo
    Erin

  24. Although I read all of your post I rarely comment. But what you said about admitting you had a problem really hit me. I feel that my disordered eating which turned into anorexia started around age twelve and peaked at sixteen, which is when I admitted to my mother that I thought I had a problem and started seeing a therapist. At that time I thought once I admitted I had the problem that I would be “on the road to recovery.” And, while I was by admitting I had a problem, things most certainly did not get better quickly as I imagined. My anorexia turned to bulimia when I started eating more and lasted for several years. Now, almost 24 yrs old, I still have disordered eating although I eat mostly healthy (healthier than your average American at least) and am a healthy weight. However, I do also channel my compulsions into other things. I straighten things, clean up messes that aren’t mine, etc. My mom was severely bulimic (to the point of destroying her teeth), my dad has obsessive compulsive tendencies and has a binge/restrict relationship with food. My mom is obsessive compulsive about having the house clean. I have no doubt in my mind that my misfortunate relationship with food was passed down to my not only by nurture but also by nature. I truly doubt I will ever be “cured.” This is so much a part of my makeup and my past that it will always be a part of me, but acknowledging there is a problem, analyzing the behavior, and taking steps to make it better can drastically change and better things and I feel like I can personally attest to that. And being vegan also drastically helps! 🙂

  25. Great post Gena, and I think you’re completely right on every aspect. I know that my ED tendencies have come up in other places, but still show up as their good ol’ selves every once in a while…or more often than not. It depends. I need to find other ways to channel that energy/anxiety that I get into my passions…it’s just hard.

  26. Wonderful post 🙂 This is something I find myself explaining to fellow former-sufferers, and I tend to use an example comparing EDs to another illness I’ve struggled with to try and illustrate my point: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

    As someone who has struggled with both an ED (diagnosed and treated during college) and OCD (diagnosed and hospitalized at 14), I’ve noticed similarities in recovery with both.

    With OCD, you are never fully “cured.” Your brain chemistry is out of whack and will continue to be so for the rest of your life. In therapy, you learn to deal with your obsessions and not resort to your compulsions; basically, acknowledging the thought (“Oh my gosh, I just touched that pen and someone else who was dirty might have touched it”) but not giving in to the action that your brain is telling you to do (“I need to wash my hands right now”) because you realize that it’s irrational.

    With EDs, it’s the same thing. You acknowledge the thought (“I ate too much at dinner AND splurged for dessert; I’m stressed that I’m going to gain weight”) but don’t give in to the action that your brain is telling you to do (“I’m going to live off of 300 calories for the next few days to even it out”) because you realize it’s irrational.

    You may be recovered, yes, but that doesn’t mean you’ve changed your brain chemistry. It means that you’ve learned how to cope with these thoughts and realize that they are irrational. Just because you have the thought does not mean that you have to submit to it.

  27. This is truly an amazing post, and I look forward to the replies of your readers who are in a better position than me to speak on the grounds of recovery.

    But I can speak on the fact that my disorder and behaviors have never been motivated from a desire for thinness and physical perfection. The behaviors and rituals are simply things I cling to to relieve my ever-present anxiety, things I’ve been doing in one form or another since childhood. Nothing I do is in an effort to physically compete with anyone else, but rather to quiet my mind and secure some sense of false control. I imagine letting go of that illusion of control and dealing with things in a healthier way will be my vision for recovery. I want to not cling to control for contentment.

  28. Within the area of research (in agreement with you), anorexia is without question conceived as a bio-socio-cultural manifestation. The degree and manner with which these three dimensions interact remains part of the discourse. I personally (and perhaps counter to your perspective) find that feminist and unduly sociocultural-based theories of aetiology (media blaming etc) to obscure the true sinister initial causes of eating disorders. Those perspectives seemed so tangential, inexpert and predicated on a world view of anger and resentment. I found them counter-productive to my recovery.

    Strangely, I feel a certain protectiveness vis-a-vis my (past) severe anorexia. The behaviours described by Aimee Liu (moderate restricting; beating up oneself emotionally; seeking thinness etc) are so endemic to women in western societies with or without histories of eating disorders that I feel, by association, that they minimize the gravity and mortality of severe eating disorders. All suffering is unnecessary, terrible and without a hierarchy whether it be EDNOS or otherwise; but, somehow I still feel like there is a vast chasm between the experiencing of these half-lives of recovery and the midst of a near-mortal eating disorder. They almost seem alien to one another.

    • What a smart comment!

      I do think you may have misread my perspective in terms of the sociocultural thing; I, like you, do not believe that misogyny and media are the major culprits of disordered eating, at least not as I lived it. I think they are important contributing factors, sure, but I agree that they’re somewhat tangential, to use your word.

      I do think it’s crucial to draw a line between severe, near-death EDs and disordered eating, which encompasses the former but also many other and less severe cases. I had relapses of varying seriousness, but was never near death, so I do respect that you lived through a region of this disease that I did not, and I would never mean to suggest that severe anorexia is just like perfectionist tendencies and chronic dieting; it’s not. Thank you for making sure that we’re capable of recognizing these distinctions.

      With that said, the article spoke to me because I did have an ED that was clinical, and I can see shadows of it in more mundane and commonplace tendencies (restricting, guilt, etc.). So there is continuity there in my case, and probably in some others. Not, however, in all. Again, I really like it when people call attention to precision on my blog and help me to avoid generalizations and recognize degrees of severity when it comes to these talks, so I appreciate the comment.

      G

  29. thanks for this post! It’s good to know that I am not the only who who suffered with an eating disorder in the past. I am also a perfectionist. I hate that those stupid thoughts will never completely go away, but I am MUCH happier at my healthy weight that I am at right now 🙂

  30. This is an amazing piece of writing, Gena.
    I sincerely appreciate every word and thank you very much for sharing.
    <3

  31. This is a great read and a great topic to discuss. Recovery and recovered are such variable terms for each person. For me being in recovery has had many different phases. I liken the whole process to a dance, two steps forward, one back. Eventually ending out ahead.

    In terms of being recoverED I don’t know that I will ever be there, but each day it gets a bit easier and I get to know myself better.

  32. This is a great post, Gena. It can be exceptionally hard to remember and deal with several things on the road to recovery:
    – that recovery is not simply a straight upward sloping line, but rather a series of ups and downs with an overall upward sloping trend.
    – dealing with the inevitable setbacks (engaging in/succumbing to behavior at first or later on even being haunted by the occasional ED thought) and the emotional toll they take. It’s so easy to become disheartened and revert to the black and white “I’m always going to struggle with this” mentality.
    – that recovery is not a finite destination, but a continued journey. I think of the definition of recovery for each person as ever-evolving, just as we as individuals are. In the same way that our idea of happiness changes, so too does our picture of our recovered selves. I simply have faith that as we make better, more conscious choices in all aspects of our lives, we travel further along the road to recovery. I’d like to clarify that I absolutely think we at some point consider ourselves recovered, but, as you said, we’d have to eradicate certain personality traits that first made us susceptible–not plausible, and not a good idea since those traits lend themselves to many positive things in our lives–so even someone who has been recovered for many years will have the occasional disordered thought, and that’s one aspect of it being a continuous process.
    I’m so glad to hear how much incredible progress you yourself have made. You are inspirational to many people!!

  33. Gena, thank you so much for this.

    For the first time in my life I’m properly, sensibly on the ED recovery bandwagon, and some days I think that I’m not far from being “recovered”, whatever that means. I doubt I’ll ever know that it’s happened; it’d be nice if there was some formal cut off point but it’s probably better that there isn’t!

    For me at the moment, I define recovery simply: not binging and not purging anymore.

    However I can feel that definition evolving slowly into something else, which I think will make more sense in the longer term. To me, recovery feels like listening to myself, instead of talking at myself. Really engaging with what my body wants, instead of the rules I make or others make for me. If I’m really living from my own desires instead of censoring them, and listening to my body instead of hurting it, that’s what I think recovering feels like. Now that I am doing that more days than not, it feels like my life is moving away from one where EDs can happen, because the times I don’t listen to myself are now feeling strange, instead of it being the norm to deny myself what I wanted to do what I “should”.

    This is a really rich and wonderful topic to discuss, and I would really like to see some Green Recovery posts focusing specifically not just on how people have recovered, but how people “stay” recovered and what that means.

    Thank you as always for your fantastic work, and this beautifully written piece.

    Lauren xx

  34. I had no idea that genetics were at the root of most ED’s – very interesting. I think what you said about embracing the aspects of your personality that originally fueled your ED is so important. All to often I look back and blame myself for being too much of a perfectionist or too obsessive and controlling, but you’re right there’s absolutely nothing wrong with traits like that as long as they’re harnessed and channeled towards the right things.

    To me, I felt “recovered” once I was truly able to see the err of my ways. What scares me the most is that I was SO convinced I was fine, even after I came to terms with being underweight. I fended off concerned friends and colleagues with genuine disbelief and it wasn’t till many months later that I was able to see just how restrictive (and destructive) my diet and exercise regimen was.

    Wonderfully thought provoking and well written as always – thanks for sharing the article as well. Putting Gaining on my Amazon wishlist pronto!