What Life Is Really Like 'After' an Eating Disorder

woman recovering from eating disorder

Twenty million women will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life. It's not a fad. Or a lifestyle choice. An ED is an all-consuming, life-threatening illness. And when you're in the thick of one, wanting nothing more than to shrink yourself down until you can actually feel yourself begin to disappear, recovery seems impossible.

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It takes courage to seek treatment for an ED, but unfortunately, there's no magic pill that can make you look into the mirror one day and feel at peace with the body you see. Full recovery can take a year, or it can take decades.

And while 80 percent of ED sufferers DO recover, what does that mean exactly? What happens afterwards?

The Stir spoke to two ED survivors: Blythe Hurlburt, 44, a personal trainer and mom who struggled with bulimia in her thirties, and Ashley Baird, 28, whose disordered eating began when she was only 14.

Here, they share what life on the other side of an ED is really like.

What can you share about the beginning of your ED?

Blythe: I had always battled body image and weight issues since my late teens ... By my mid-30s, I couldn't like myself or my body anymore. I excessively dieted, gained weight, restricted, lost weight ... I started to completely eliminate food groups, learned ways to chew longer and move food on my plate so others wouldn't notice how much I ate or how little. I found the world of exercise and began to obsessively calculate how much working out would negate my food intake.

Ashley: I think a variety of factors triggered [my ED]. Part of it was my perfectionism and personality. Part of it was feeling like I didn't fit in socially. Part of it was being praised by my family for being so thin. I felt pressure to remain that way.

When did you get help?

Blythe: In September of 2014, I was in the hospital for taking too many laxatives. [I had been] exercising excessively and [eating] minimal meals for the past nine months. My best friend spent hours calling places until we heard of a new intensive outpatient program in our area. I was taken over that day.

Ashley: During college, after years of suffering in silence, things had gotten so bad that I couldn't even read a page of my textbook. My brain was so starved. I couldn't concentrate and this was scary for me since I'd always been a perfect student. Also, my depression was at an all-time low. After admitting to my parents that I needed help ... they helped me get the services I needed.

More from The Stir: Moms with Eating Disorders Need to Look For These Warning Signs in Their Children

What helped you recover?

Blythe: My recovery was a combination of an intensive outpatient program 12-15 hours per week, medications, and family support, as I was 42 years old.

Ashley: In-patient treatment, then stepping down to a day program and eventually, outpatient appointments. However, recovery is not a straight line and my journey involved relapses and going back into in-patient several times.

Was there a specific milestone you reached that made you feel you'd truly recovered?

Blythe: One was when I was able to share openly with my family ... that I was in need of help. That was a huge milestone, to face my fear of them possibly not wanting to help me. The second was when I came out in my profession. I'm a fitness instructor and personal trainer and I had been living a double life. It was so freeing to be able to come clean.

Ashley: While out to dinner with friends one time, I had picked out something on the menu, was enjoying eating it, and engaging in conversation with my friends when I realized an eating disorder thought had not even popped into my head. I realized how freeing it was to not worry about the food and really enjoy it.

What part of your recovery are you most proud of?

Blythe: I'm most proud that I've been honest and open with my 14-year-old son. He was 12 when I went into the program and smart enough to know things were not normal for me and our family. I also know he's an athlete and EDs have a genetic predisposition. My mother had one ... He is and was the reason I fought for my recovery. I knew I could pass this on to him and I wanted to battle that statistic now.

Ashley: I'm most proud of going through recovery ... And being almost done with my graduate program to become a marriage and family therapist so that I can help others.

More from The Stir: My Daughter Had Anorexia: How Overcoming It Brought Us Closer

What do you still struggle with?

Blythe: Body image issues, hands down.

Ashley: It's difficult and frustrating to listen to people who are body shaming or talking about the need to go on diets ... Every food in moderation is good. Diets are restricting and lead to disordered eating and don't help you feel better about yourself. 

How do you cope on a difficult day?

Blythe: I avoid mirrors, or cover them. I leave positive affirmations for myself. I connect with my body in a healthful way through yoga or a flexibility class.

Ashley: I don't turn to my eating disorder as a coping skill any longer. I cope by talking to my support people, sharing my story of recovery, and engaging in the things I love to do in life.

What advice can you share with other women?

Blythe: Love yourself. We are worth so much more than this torture we put ourselves through. Train your mind as much as your body. Desire to be strong instead of thin.

Ashley: Never give up hope. I never believed recovery would be possible, especially for me. Get professional help as soon as possible ... You are worthy of healing, even if you don't feel that way. Asking for help is scary, but it is most definitely worth it. Life without an ED is so much better than I could have ever imagined.

If you or someone you love has an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Assocation for help: 1-800-931-2237

 

Image via Jose AS Reyes/Shutterstock

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