Recovering from an eating disorder is a difficult journey mentally and physically, and throughout the recovery there will be a lot of physical and mental changes in the person who is taking this journey. It is a stressful and confusing time for the sufferer and the people surrounding them. It is by no means a simple drive on a straight road, in fact it’s the opposite; a bloody bumpy, uncomfortable road – Think pot holes, broken traffic lights, shit weather (basically any other travel inconveniences that you can conjure up) – it’s that kind of journey.
One part I want to talk about is the word “healthy” and it’s implications with ED recovery.
For the most part, healthy is a really lovely word. A lot of people would gladly take someone saying they look healthy as a compliment, it can assure them that they are looking fresh and fab. And healthy really, genuinely is intended as a compliment. Like when a baby is born the parents beam over their beautiful, healthy baby, it’s obviously a very good thing. Many people will have the goal to live happy and healthy. Happiness and health go hand in hand. When you get rid of a cold or a flu and you no longer feel like a rotten tea towel and begin to feel/look healthy again, it’s great! Healthy = WOOOOOOOO yeh!
When you are trying to overcome an ED, the goal at the end is to be mentally and physically recovered and HEALTHY. The physical side of recovery, a lot of the time, happens quicker than the mental restoration. A person will, on the most part, appear physically recovered waaaayyyy before they are mentally recovered, simply because external changes are more apparent than internal ones. You can see someones body physically healing, but assessing the psychological healing process is pretty hard, because it’s not visible the others. And this is where the word healthy becomes an issue. When someone is looking healthier than before, doesn’t necessarily mean they are feeling healthier. Health is as much a feeling if not more than an appearance on the outside, and someone being told they look “healthy” or “well” or “better” when they don’t feel any of these things can cause damage. This is because:
- It can make them feel like they don’t warrant support if everyone thinks they are “okay” now, which can detract from progress
- It may cause them to be less open and honest about how they are really doing
- When you feel like shit and someone says you look the opposite, it makes you feel almost like you aren’t allowed to be feeling that way
- And probably the most harmful reason, EDs twist how the mind views things, and a lot of the time, healthy/good/better/well will be transferred in the sufferers mind as “FAT”. With an illness that is ruled by food/weight/size/shape this is just how the mind skews it.
This isn’t the sufferers fault and it isn’t the person saying the positive words fault either. It’s the piece of shit illness of an eating disorder. A word can seem like such a small thing, but it can have a big impact in such a fragile situation. I’ve experienced recently comments on how I look “so much better”, and on good days, I’ve taken it positively, because who wants to look unwell, right?? But in times when I am not feeling so positive, it’s lead to crying, self-hate and a lot of scrutinizing my body. I know this is a something many in recovery have experienced also.
Now this is why recovery is difficult for everyone involved, my heart goes out to every person who supports in helping or is just there for someone when they are recovering, because its frikkkkking hard and confusing. If you are offering support your intentions are only good and lovely, which is why when a sufferer takes something the opposite way intended, recovery can some days make the people involved in support networks feel like they are walking on egg shells, which is shit. It can make the people who are trying to help feel like they are doing things wrong – this isn’t the case – there is no rule book, there are no rights or wrongs, and every journey is different. This is just something I have found from experience, and have discussed with others who are trying to beat an ED have also agreed, we really hate the word healthy.
I think some advice for people supporting others in ED recovery, is the avoid commenting on how a person looks. They might be looking better in your opinion, they might be looking worse. We live in a society that is saturated with the obsession of how people look, when real character, personality, kindness and love comes from within someone, and those things are the things that count, so compliment those rather than an external image. Focus on how the person is doing and how they are FEELING. Because they might look like they are doing well but on the inside they may be in turmoil, and they might look like things aren’t going great but internally they are feeling proud, motivated, confident, well, healthy and determined to keep going.
Again, our real beauty is internal, our feelings are on the inside and this is what counts, not the outer image of someone.