Is It Just A Bump in the Road, or Are You "Failing" at Recovery?

HealthyGirl.org reader Jessica, 20, has been having a bumpy time and has started to question whether she’s maybe just…a lost cause. She’s written in before and found all of your advice really helpful, but says she just can’t seem to make it stick. Ready to weigh in?

We ALL hit a few (or a lot!) on our way to getting sane about food.

Q: Since the Q I sent to HealthyGirl a while ago, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Things got pretty bad a week-and-a-half-ago when I took more laxatives than I’ve ever taken before (previously it was just a few once in a while and I never felt effects). It made me pretty sick and confirmed what I knew–that is not a way out–and I threw them all away.

After that, I went for a whole week without binging and more or less sticking to a balanced meal plan my therapist helped design. That was a huge record for me. I felt absolutely wonderful, physically, but also mentally because I knew I was capable of doing it. I didn’t even have urges to binge; I thought I was home free.

Then Tuesday night everything collapsed. No specific event happened and nothing really triggered it emotionally; something just snapped. I’ve been bingeing pretty much non-stop since then, and can’t seem to get myself motivated to get back on track again, even though now I know I’m capable of going binge-free. It makes me afraid that I’m really not ready to give up bingeing, that when I tell myself (and my therapist, and my parents) that I’m ready to get better, I’m lying, that something inside me is holding to it still.

I do realize that people have blips on their path to recovery. But every strategy I try seems to fail: like before bed last night, I meticulously planned out my meals and exercise, so that I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Yet after hitting some point this afternoon, none of that seemed important anymore. And I’m afraid I’m using the “people mess up when they’re recovering” truth as an excuse to let myself mess up.

So I wanted to ask: how do I make sure this is just a bump in the road, versus a barrier to me getting back on the road altogether? After you, or others, messed up, how do you go back to feeling confident again? How many rock bottoms do there have to be before there are no relapses?

A: Hi again Jessica. I can tell you right now with total and complete conviction: This is a bump in the road. How do you know? Because you haven’t stopped reaching out. You haven’t given up, given in, shrugged your shoulders and decided this is just how your life is going to be.

I can think back to when I was 20, or even 25, and remember feeling exactly the way you are now. Like, come ON! Why can’t I make this stick?! You know why? Because emotional eating/binge eating/disordered eating is deep—really deep. For some of us it truly takes years to fully recover. I feel like I went through several of these sort of “WTF” moments over the years, and while each one was hard and discouraging and painful, I didn’t give up. And THAT meant I moved forward.

Simply not giving up means you’re moving forward. Every time you make the choice to take another step toward recovery by reading a new book, journaling, telling your therapist a truth—even if you are still bingeing your face off—you are moving forward and you are laying important groundwork for recovery.

You’re determined, I can tell. Just give yourself a little bit of a break and try to treat yourself with the gentleness and acceptance you would a friend.

There are lots of next steps you can take, and each one will help move you forward. Some of the little things I have used to move me along over the years were books (when’s the last time you read a book about binge eating? Why not pick one up and start reading just one page a day, every morning at the same time to set up a healthy routine?), using a food and hunger journal (not everyone finds them helpful, but I did), and support groups (have you ever tried a face-to-face support group? They’re truly kind of amazing. I went to one weekly for three years and it was invaluable. I didn’t stop bingeing right away, either, but it moved me along).

If I were you, I would decide to do one little new thing toward recovery right now. Don’t make it some huge deal, just decide on a gentle next step that you feel you can handle right now. You’re on the road—you really are! The key is just not to stop. It might be going more slowly than you’d like, but you’re getting there.

Please, HealthyGirl.org ladies, can you share you stories for Jessica? I imagine every single one of us have felt like a lost cause at some point in our journeys. Let’s show her there’s hope!

xo…Sunny

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10 Responses to Is It Just A Bump in the Road, or Are You "Failing" at Recovery?

  1. Heather says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time!

    I can empathise with Jessica on many levels, wanting to move forward so desperately that when old behaviours dig their heels in, it can feel like the world is caving in.

    I think this has happened to me many times in the years since I first developed disordered eating. The first times, I was so deep into my disorder that I couldn’t really commit to recovering. Most of my attempts were to stay alive (not even happy or healthy back then). Since then, there was a long period of time where I didn’t actively work on recovery – just kind of focused on living. Over that time, my weight stabilised more or less (albeit unhealthily high for me) but the feelings never went away.

    Most recently, I had a ‘moment’ yesterday. I decided to give yoga another go, having found a meditation tape useful of late. I went to the class and it took a lot out of me not to stare constantly at the other people, all of whom seemed so much better than me, and particularly at a beautiful, think young woman next to me. I got through the class, quite enjoyed the actual yoga, and headed home. Right then, the urge to binge kicked in. I bought lots of food on my way home, knowing it was “wrong”. I showered to buy myself time before the binge. I called my boyfriend. And then I ate two sweet things, rather than everything I had. I still feel crap about it, but even though my interventions didn’t work, I tried them rather than give in first time.

    This year I decided to actively participate in moving forward and away from this issue, and it’s been really hard. I’ve done many of the things Sunny suggests, and sometimes they seem to be revelatory; other times it feels pointless. The following quote from Sunny’s article gives me hope:

    ‘Simply not giving up means you’re moving forward. Every time you make the choice to take another step toward recovery by reading a new book, journaling, telling your therapist a truth—even if you are still bingeing your face off—you are moving forward and you are laying important groundwork for recovery’

    I can feel like I’m doing nothing *but* groundwork, as my fears keep me from truly engaging with food and cooking in such a way that might help me break free for the moment, but hearing this makes me think that perhaps it’s not futile. If we have strong groundwork, then any falls we will inevitably experience will not mean falling back into nothing. We have things to build on, work through and reach for, when previously all we had was food.

    Thank you Sunny for your interesting and thought-provoking posts!

    • Katie says:

      How can you say your interventions didn’t work, Heather? You only ate two sweet things, rather than everything you bought! To me that sounds like a victory.

      • Heather says:

        Thanks Katie. I think because it’s been 5/6 years since this whole thing started, it’s hard to think I still have it hanging over me at all.

  2. Angie says:

    Hi Jessica, I have been exactly where you are. I have been stuck in that type of cycle for a long time. I knew recovery was possible though and I kept trying. In the past couple of weeks I’ve started to feel a lot better. My days have not been perfect, but I’ve been hearing a lot of positive self talk that I feel so proud of/happy about. For example, some postings about body image helped me remember that I have a relationship with my eating disorder. I can choose to stay in the relationship or I can decide to not associate the eating disorder because it’s not a healthy relationship. I can also admit that I have an eating disorder, but that is not where I stop / end. I have more to my story than my relationship with food. I also realized that I compare myself to others a lot. When I do this, it’s a sign that I feel bad about myself. When I feel good about myself, I don’t take the time to do the mental comparisons that make me feel bad (about myself). I’m trying to recognize as soon as I get in the comparison mentality. If I’m comparing, something is off. For me, something physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental is off and I have to work on these four areas until I identify the trigger. I also have to let myself be imperfect. I get so paralyzed with fear that I go to the food. If I just manage to keep moving, I make tiny steps of progress which has been enough some days for me to stay out of the food. I am in no way perfect. I have had slip ups / binges/ no eating / disordered eating. That said, I’m having more good moments than bad and it feels great. It’s a relief because not so long ago there were more bad moments than good. Thanks to all in the community for posting/sharing/everything. It’s bringing me back and I really appreciate it. A

  3. Astrid says:

    This post came at an awesome time. I have been struggling the past week and a half. I keep kicking myself because it seems like its a lost cause to keep fighting if I am just going to keep having slips. But some things are very very different from a few years ago when I was really in the depths of my eating disorder:
    I went to the book store and got 2 books to help me. One on Italian (I want to learn the language), and one on living a Daring Life, to motivate me to keep going after my passions.
    I keep on painting.
    I wake up excited to start my day every morning
    I know (mostly) why I am slipping, and just need to be gentle with myself, because I know things won’t change over night.
    I know fully well that I am struggling and I reach out honestly and genuinely.
    I fully agree with Sunny. You clearly are just hitting a bump or two in recovery. You still have the strength to reach out. You are still wishing for a better and truer life for yourself. That is pretty amazing in my opinion!

  4. Hope says:

    Congratulations on a “normal” week of eating! Just keep telling yourself that you have done it once, and you are more than capable of doing it again. I notice, in my case, that my eating habits are regulated when I am around people often and thus can rationalize that I am, in fact, a “normal” human being. Sometimes isolating myself triggers a binge, so I suggest that you continue your normal routine, and “normal” eating would follow.

  5. Rachael says:

    Sunny, I just want to say again how much I love this site. I think this is the most resource rich, targetted information for women with eating issues and I hope you are so so so proud of all the lives you have helped!

    I look forward to new posts and check in the site every couple of days. Its just a great reminder that we arent alone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You are so bright, successful and achieivng wonderful things in life!

    Cant wait for the book to be released in Australia!

    • Sunny says:

      Yay! Rachael, it really means a lot to hear you say that. It’s all of you who weigh in and read and comment and email me and Morgan that make this a real community, so thank YOU, too. :) xo…Sunny

    • Sunny says:

      I love this, Andrea: foods, weight, size being in their proper place. A part of your life, yes, but not of outsized importance or influence over your feelings. That’s what I call food- and body-sanity. Thank you for sharing! xo…Sunny

  6. […] out of it. But I did. And you know how? (This is such a common occurrence among us—just read Jessica’s story.) I kept putting one foot in front of the other. And kept trying new things. Whatever you have […]

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.