There is power in numbers. When it comes to the road to ED recovery, it can be common to feel isolated and hopeless, especially if your diagnosis is complex and you’re having a difficult time with recovery. It’s unfortunately very common for health professionals to get exhausted and may even “write you off”.
Luckily, in this digital age, the power of the internet can bring us all together. This is exactly what happened to Leith when she felt like the people she trusted to help her heal were starting to give up on her, she found a sense of community and togetherness in online communities. She overcame her ED and now guides others to do the same. You can learn more about Leith and her story here:
I struggled with my mental health from a very early age due to feeling different from my family, friends and peers. I always knew there was something ‘wrong’ but found it impossible to understand and articulate my emotions and thoughts. I faced many incorrect diagnoses and so was not able to receive the right help, support and validation I needed. I reached my breaking point in my teens after some stressful life events and a big move from England to Australia, which triggered my eating disorder.
My anorexia was never about body image issues for me, rather an accumulation of multifaceted situations, feelings and fears. I had several interventions of therapy and inpatient stays over the years but nothing helped. I was eventually classed as ‘too complex’ for recovery and told my mental illnesses would be chronic due to my resistance to recover. Everything changed, however, when I stumbled across people online who have recovered whose stories resonated with mine. I suddenly had a sense of hope that things could change and that there were others out there like me. I openly dedicated myself to recovery and am now living happily without an eating disorder.
How it started:
My eating disorder behaviors began when I moved to Australia in my teens. The complete change of culture and having to leave my friends and ‘normal life’ behind left me feeling completely lost, confused, overwhelmed and out of place. I became anxious and severely depressed which led me to inadvertently start eating less and do harmful things that, at the time, I didn’t realize were disordered. Looking back, I realize now that I had unknowingly gone into an energy deficit – of which intentionally reversing was one of the huge components of my recovery. Despite having previous experience of being around disordered behaviors (competitive sport at school, diet culture etc.), I was never aware of the extent of its damage. Honestly even if I had been aware, I think I still would have had the naïve mindset that many people have, that someone ‘like me’ couldn’t possibly develop an eating disorder. I know now that eating disorders can affect anyone and awareness of this is sorely needed. I only began to realize and accept that I had anorexia when others became worried and took me to a doctor who then officially diagnosed me.
Leith’s challenges during her healing journey:
Aside from the typical challenges of recovery, and fears of not being comprehended by those around me, the main challenge for me was still feeling totally out of place in the world and fearing that I would go back into a life where I felt totally misunderstood and unsafe – not necessarily by others but from myself. I was resistant to recovery for so long because I felt that all that was waiting for me on the other side was the mental health issues I had before I became ill with anorexia. Even though anorexia is hell, I began to think that at least there was physical evidence to my internal pain and the thought of letting that go was unbearable to me. Plus, when conventional treatments fail to work, it’s easy for people to give up on you and make you feel like a hopeless and helpless case (this is NEVER true).
Later on after recovering, it was discovered that I am on the autistic spectrum and suddenly my whole life made sense. This showed me the importance of exploring and finding the root causes of our issues and it is only by discovering them that we can find the answers and make sense of everything. Saying this, I hope my story will show others that recovery is still possible even if you don’t have all the answers yet.
When she decided to seek help:
I had been in and out of treatment for several years before I actively sought help as I was simply too consumed with the eating disorder to be able to even consider recovery. My illness had been the only thing in my life so far to give me a sense of consistency, familiarity and safety (albeit dangerous). However, after years of illness I was exhausted and desperate. I knew I had 3 options: continue to live as I did until I died, take my own life or attempt to recover. I wanted to give myself one last chance, so started to do some research and stumbled across certain theories online of the cause of anorexia that resonated with me and made me understand why I had become unwell and how I could recover. Not only this, I found that countless others had recovered despite the odds and were now living free and happy lives. It gave the hope I desperately needed to start my recovery journey.
Her support system:
I spent many months watching recovery videos on Youtube and following Instagram profiles of those who had recovered. I reached out to the mum of someone who had recovered who was offering hypnotherapy and recovery coaching. She ended up being the main person that aided my healing journey (and is now, funnily enough, my future mother-in-law!). She truly saw me and gave me a tailored approach to my recovery which she had learned from her son’s recovery process. She also introduced me to a more holistic view of recovery and taught me how to apply spiritual laws which was not only personally incredibly helpful to my recovery but to how I live my life now. She encouraged and guided me out of my illness and I am forever grateful to have her in my life!
How she healed:
The main source of my healing was knowledge. Understanding my eating disorder was really empowering and gave me confidence to take action throughout my recovery process. Some of the main principles I learnt which I based my recovery around were:
• A huge component of restrictive eating disorders such as anorexia is biological; the onset of anorexia is often brain-based caused by energy deficit. Therefore it is imperative to reverse this and create energy balance again by eating as much as your body is asking you and allowing your weight to restore.
• It is possible to rewire your brain and thoughts by consciously doing the opposite of what your eating disorder is telling you. This is why hypnotherapy and mindfulness was so important for me. You cannot rewire your brain, however, if it is unnourished and under-resourced which is why therapy doesn’t work when you are still performing eating disorder behaviors and your body is unwell.
• The eating disorder is not you – it is a separate entity. The thoughts it creates are not yours and therefore you can go against them. It’s you vs your ED.
• If you ever feel like you can’t, it’s your subconscious trying to protect you from something you don’t want to do due to fear. You can do it.
• Rest and relaxation is vital for physical restoration, mental clarity and emotional peace.
• Diet culture is toxic. It’s also everywhere. Do everything you can to disengage.
• Being consistent is everything. There’s a difference between motivation and commitment. To recover, you have to have both; motivation alone is not enough. Recovery takes time, but is very possible if you, as my coach constantly told me, ‘just keep swimming’.
• You are unique, therefore your recovery will be too. Find what works for you.
• Trust those who have made it to the other side. Follow their guidance and suggestions and learn from their mistakes.
• Don’t try to do it on your own. Reach out to family, friends and those in the ED community.
• You are bound to have blips. That’s part of the process.
• You deserve recovery regardless of your size, weight or ‘severity’ of your suffering. Full recovery is possible for everyone and health exists at every size.
• Mental hunger cues are just as valid as physical hunger. Honor them both always!
Her favorite modality for healing:
Throughout my healing process, I found self-discovery to be a valuable, exciting and inspiring modality.
Life with anorexia was easy – anorexia was my identity and whole world. So the thought of leaving that behind was a challenge I had never really considered until I began my recovery. Who was I without my illness? Self-discovery turned out to be a process I really enjoyed; it allowed me to romanticize my life, dream and set fun personal goals. I needed to discover what I truly enjoyed and was passionate about, rather than what I was previously doing because my anorexia told me to.
For me, self-discovery was all about creativity. I wrote every single day of my recovery and learnt so much about myself throughout the process. I learnt what my true values are, what I want to do with my life and how I want to be seen by others. It allowed me to practice gratitude and reflection in ways I had never done before; I truly believe this level of introspection is what guided me to where I am today!
For those who are skeptical of ED recovery and its effectiveness:
I think a lot of people don’t realize how many approaches to ED recovery there are. If you are skeptical of a certain therapy, try it and see if it ‘fits’. For me, despite it being the most effective therapy for ED patients, CBT never worked. I tried it many times, and with several practitioners, but the approach just didn’t suit me. And that’s okay! Recovery is possible for everyone. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get on with one approach. DBT, hypnotherapy, Maudsley, family, interpersonal psychotherapy… The options are endless! And note: whatever works for you is valid – whether that’s journalling, nutrition, art; if it makes you feel good, and encourages your recovery then it’s a good therapy for you.
Whenever I was feeling lost, I would find inspiration online and from people who have recovered. This gave me hope that so many people do recover from their eating disorder and do so following many different approaches.
The main thing to ask yourself is whether you truly want to get better. If you are ready to recover, you can always make it happen.
Leith’s current struggles:
In terms of my eating disorder, I am now fully recovered which I am so grateful for. I sometimes struggle with sensory issues around food due to my autism which I am still navigating my way through as I was only diagnosed a couple of months ago. I am learning that, as long as I am keeping myself healthy, it’s ok to eat whatever you want, in whatever form; whatever makes you feel comfortable and allows you to enjoy your food.
It’s not uncommon for neurodivergence to develop anorexia. I would advise people in that position to find their own way of recovering which is, from my experience, not always similar to the way that is conventional. Part of recovery is finding out your own true desires, needs and boundaries within the world away from your eating disorder. It can very much be about trial and error and being open to trying new things until you find what fits your requirements. It’s also part of recovery to learn how to not compare yourself or your way of living to others – so practicing what feels natural to you is important. A lot of my recovery looked like only eating one or two, high calorie foods at a time (e.g a tub of peanut butter) which is not what’s typically recommended. However I truly believe that if I had not done this I wouldn’t have recovered. This technique allowed me to get the energy I needed in the simplest way possible without getting overwhelmed or overstimulated. Being autistic isn’t easy, let alone coping with an eating disorder as well. But recovery is possible, no matter your circumstance.
The most beneficial resource during her healing journey:
Learning from those who have recovered whilst opening my mind to all the options (methods, outcomes etc) is what helped me to remain focused yet flexible during my healing journey. It also helped me tackle my recovery from every level. I found it just wasn’t enough to simply focus on the physical. I also had to address emotional issues, find ways to bring mental balance whilst also exploring my spirituality. Eating disorders erode every part of our lives and so, for me, I found comfort and hope in actively trying to build them all up again and find my true identity away from the anorexia.
Why holistic health:
I chose a holistic path of healing because traditional methods didn’t work for me. I think I’ve always been quite open-minded, so when I got to the point of my illness where I was just fed up with living as I was, I knew it was time to try something new.
As mentioned, I never particularly struggled with body image, but I still felt it was important as an eating disorder survivor to learn about diet culture and size-based privileges. This was something I had never considered, and really helped me challenge my subconscious biases surrounding weight gain and health. By the time I started my hypnotherapy, I was committed to full recovery and felt a malleability in my mindset – I was ready to have my views challenged, my mind blown and my world changed.
I think that’s the thing about eating disorders: they are multifaceted and so complex that to me it only really makes sense to take a holistic path towards healing. There are a plethora of factors that contribute to any one person’s illness, so how can we expect to all recover in the same way? Find out what makes you feel good (not your eating disorder) and take the time to truly learn who YOU are. That’s what recovery is!
There are literally thousands of amazing resources our there, so like I say, have a look around and see which ones you feel align with your recovery goals.
Here are a few that helped me enormously throughout my recovery:
• Tabitha Farrar – both her blog and all of her books.
• Dr Joshua Wolrich – his instagram @drjoshuawolrich and his book, Food Isn’t Medicine.
• HatDidBeatThis – on instagram and YouTube, plus @Hatsmama on instagram.
• Daniellevankay – instagram and podcast.
Finding “your people” and what works for you is the key to a successful recovery from ED. It’s important to create a sense of community and find support either from those around you or finding people online. In today’s day and age, there are so many resources online that can help you get started.
Leith has personally experienced the road to recovery and is sharing her story and knowledge with everyone online. You can learn more about Leith’s story here:
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