Getting stuck in the recovery community – when “recovering” becomes your identity

I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, but never got around to actually sitting down to share my thoughts. That was until yesterday, when i brought up the topic of having exercise/gymrat/cardiobunny as my identity a few years ago. I became known as the “fitness person” and the runner in high school. It became my identity and later on when i started university, and realised that at least half of the people in my program were also interested in working out and known as the fitness person. I wasn’t really different… but also, because of having my identity be the fitness person it also made it harder to rest, thinking that… who am i if i am not working out? Over time, i had to learn that my identity is not in exercise and it doesn’t lie in my illnesses, either the past or present ones. I had to recreate an identity for myself, and see myself as more than just the fitness person or more than just the sick girl. Instead realise i was so much more than that.

What i wanted to write about in this post is getting stuck in the recovery community online. The recovery community on social media can be positive and helpful – you can feel less alone, but at the same time it can also be negative and keeping you sick.

You make friends with other people who have the same illnesses, you become known as the person who has an eating disorder and it becomes ALOT harder to let go and move on. If your whole identity – whether in real life or on social media, is based on having an eating disorder…. what happens when you are in recovery and need to let go? When you are no longer sick…. you will go through an identitiy crisis.

But you need to realise that you are so much more than the sick person. So much more than the person with an eating disorder. And even if you want to connect with people who have the same illness and can relate with you… it is not good to get too attached so that you can’t move on.

Remember that you are more than your illness – you are also your hobbies, the things that make you happy, your goals and your dreams, your thoughts. You need to find who you are – or recreate yourself if you have lost yourself in your eating disorder. I personally had to sort of recreate who i was after my eating disorder as i had lost so much of myself… But also that everything i had gone through had changed me and shaped me into a new person. So in a way, i don’t think i would be the person i am today if i hadn’t gone through everything i did in the past.

In a way, i guess you could say i haven’t truly let go…. because why do i still write about eating disorders or past experience from time to time? Or why do i have “recovered from anorexia” in my bio on instagram…. Is that truly letting go? Some would argue that no, i haven’t let go completely, and i accept that. For me personally (how i think right now, maybe my mind and thoughts will change in the future), but right now i think that i can still use my past experiences to help others. And many who see that i have recovered message me and find inspiration in what i post/write.

I can’t change the past or what i have gone through, and in a way it will always define me. But i no longer have eating disorder/sick person be my identity.

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One of the best steps to move forward for me was to let go of my old blog. Sure, there is so much positive on that old blog, so many people i could and was helping and so many good advice posts. But it still took up such ahuge part of my life and still holding onto the illness, even if i wasn’t sick, it was still a part of me as i had to keep going back down memory lane to write advice posts.

Not to mention that i realised that i never get any negative comments about my appearance anymore. Back when i had my old blog i used to get regular comments of people accusing me i was still sick or saying that i was too thin to be healthy or that i was working out too much. Or just overanalyzing everything i did and every choice i made. But now… none of it. And it is great. It may be that i don’t share as much of my personal life, so there isn’t as much to overanalyze and i don’t share as many pictures of myself…. but mostly i think that people don’t define or connect my present choices to my past eating disorder. I.e if i ever choose a salad when eating out i would get people telling me it was my eating disorder – even though i had been recovered for years and they had no idea what i was going to eat later, or that i was just craving a salad.

Finding people who can help you and inspire you can be beneficial in recovery, but at some point you need to move on. You can not have your identity be the sick person – you are so much more than your illness. Your illness is not YOU – no matter what illness you are struggling with.

Learning to find things you enjoy. Recreating yourself. Spending time with friends and family. Stepping away from recovery communities or others who are sick – so you can spend more time with healthy people. Find hobbies and interests and find goals and dreams to work towards.

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And it is also important to mention that you can not put your identity in your size either… i.e “the skinny person”. If your identity is your size, it will be much harder to gain (or lose) weight. And if you constantly surround yourself/see images of thin people with eating disorders, not only will your perspective on body image be skewered, it will also be alot harder to gain weight and reach a normal/healthy weight.

People like to put labels on others and group/categorize them… it makes it easier for the brain to just categorize people. But don’t let others define you, and even if you are known as the sick person, or the skinny person, or the fitness person. Remember that you can break free of those identities and you can RECREATE yourself and be whoever you want to be.  You get to label and identify yourself as whoever you want to be… if you want to be the artist, or the musician, or the horse rider, or even the vegan. But you can identify yourself as the happy person, the energetic person, the positive person. Your identity doesn’t have to be your illness.

 

Some posts from my previous blog that may help:

You are not your eating disorder

Recovery is about fully letting go

“Who am i?” – finding yourself

 

Dealing with extreme hunger and binges? | Nutrition advice | Masterpost

Having extreme hunger or extreme cravings or uncontrollable binging sessions is not a healthy relationship with food and is often a sign that something is wrong.

Binge eating (or bulimia – where you also compensate for the binging) is actually a lot more common than people realise, and it is an eating disorder that many can keep secret for years. Infact it is believed that the statistics are lower than in reality because so many people keep their illness a secret and don’t seek help for fear of embarrassement. Often it is not an eating disorder that people can see from the outside, i.e such as when someone loses a lot of weight due to anorexia. People with binge eating disorder can be a normal weight and keep their illness secret for years – a lot longer than other eating disorders.

Having cravings and over eating is not the same as binging and having unctronllable eating sessions.

 

Having extreme hunger with or without binging is often a sign that you are not eating enough or your diet isn’t balanced. Extreme hunger can happen for many different reasons such as…

Are you eating enough carbohydrates?

Are you eating enough healthy fats?

Are you eating enough protein?

Are you sleeping enough and drinking enough water?

Are you eating enough calories and eating regular meal times?

Are your hormones in check/balance…? 

Do you have a healthy body fat percentage?

Do you feel satisfied after eating a meal or do you still feel hungry/have cravings?

 

If you are feeling extremely hungry my recommendation is to eat…. We are brainwashed with eating mini portions and eating “diet food”. Thinking that we can only eat according to portion sizes… but you know what, your body often knows better than generic portion sizes and recommendations. They are just guidelines, and not something you have to follow. Eat the amount that YOU need.

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Eat an extra snack, take that extra portion of food, eat 8 meals in a day if you feel that that is what your body is calling after. It can be scary, especially if you are used to only eating a few times a day or eating mini portions. But listen to your body… that is key.

It can be scary to listen to your body when it is constantly hungry and you feel like you could just keep eating non stop. But there is often a reason for that feeling, and the best thing is to just eat what your body is calling after.

And remember to NOT restrict if you do eat more – that will just end up in a binge-restrict cycle. Try to eat regular meal times and eat until full/satisfied, and then eat again when you are hungry even if that means 30 minutes later.

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You might just need a few days of eating more (yup, you can end up eating several thousand calories and THAT IS OK.) for your body to calm down. It may be due to hormones, stress or too low body fat. (Too low body fat can impact your hormones and make you feel extra hungry.) Also if you have been on a restrcitve diet – even just a short time can make your hormones go wild and make you feel extra hungry.

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If your body has been restricted from calories or certain macronutrients it deprives your body and then signals kick in to “store food and want all the food” in preperation for starvation/times with little food. And to regulate your hormones and signals you need to eat more, give your body all the nutrients and energy it needs, not stress or feel guilty. But also having a healthy body fat percentage and healthy hormone balance are two factors that regular hunger and cravings.

If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, extreme hunger can last several weeks. And if it is due to stress or hormones, then you need to fix the actual problem – but also eating more can help the cravings and hunger.

I would recommend regular meals and eating more. Eat bigger portions and if it doesn’t go away after a week or two where you allow yourself to eat more – no restrictions. Then maybe go to the doctor to get blood tests or see if there is a medical reason for the extreme hunger (if it isn’t because of restrictive dieting or an eating disorder or too low body fat.)

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It may just be that you have been undereating unintentiontinally, or maybe you are too active and don’t eat enough. Or maybe you just need more carbs or more fats and you haven’t been eating enough of those macronutrients.

I hope this helps anyone who has extreme hunger. Just remember that extreme hunger which lasts for more than several days as well as extreme cravings are often a sign/symptom of something. Also note, this is just advice and i would recommend going to a doctor, dietitan or a therapist if the extreme hunger continues for a long time.

If you are eating enough and eating balanced then there shouldn’t be any extreme cravings, binging or extreme hunger.

Remember, the body is smart. If there is problems or unbalance in your body it will show symptoms and send signals to try to repair the problem. Listen to your body!

 

More posts about extreme hunger, cravings, binges etc:

Extreme hunger – facts and advice in recovery

Lots of posts from my previous blog:

Extreme Hunger
Emotional eating vs. Extreme hunger
Recovery reminders and truths
Gaining weight after anorexia: What to expect
Hunger and fullness
Calorie intake in recovery
Fear of continuing to gain weight after reaching a healthy weight
How to eat after recovery
Phases of recovery
Overeating because its delicious
Making a change and overcoming fear
Increasing meal plan and fear of weight gain
Eating intuitively masterpost
Facing fears and restrictions
Dont compare your eating to anyone elses
Eating more than others
Metabolism and calories in recovery
Facing fears and restrictions
Eating normal foods
Disordered eating times

 

Exercise addiction – my story & advice

If you love exercising it often requires more willpower to not exercise than it does to go workout.  Many would find this hard to believe. But just like with anything, if you love it you want to do more of it/have more of it… example if you find a new series you want to watch you might spend a whole day/week watching the series, for those who love exercise they want to do it as often as they can.

The important thing though is to find a balance with exercise. Because exercise is good and something everyone should be doing (of course, individual situations such as when you are sick, injured or in recovery then exercise would just do more harm than good. And in those types of situations exercise is not recommended.), but too much exercise might just lead to negative consequences such as lower immune system so you get colds more often, you can injure yourself if you don’t recover and get enough rest. But also exercise is a stressor, it stresses your muscles, nerves and your brain so if you are constantly exercising without giving your muscles and brain a time to rest you can go into “overdrive” and burnout with problems such as restless legs, insomnia, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite/eating too much, extreme fatigue etc

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In the past i suffered from exercise addiction. Some say that is not a real thing, but for me it was very real. I would purposely set my alarm for 5 or 6am in the morning, get up and stand/move and then for the rest of the day i would be standing, moving, walking, running, exercising until around 11pm or 12am when i would finally allow myself to lie down in my bed, and even then i would begin shaking my legs and moving, anything to not be still. I was terrified of being still, terrified of sitting. I genuinely thought that if i sat down i would gain weight and balloon up. I have had many arguments with my family as they couldn’t get me to sit down, i refused to travel or sit in the car longer than 30 minutes so would refuse to go anywhere that was longer than 30 minutes drive away. I refused to go to the cinema as it would mean sitting for 90-120 minutes, i never sat on public transport and not even when extremely tired would i rest. It was a compulsion, obsession and my exercise was done out of fear, anxiety and guilt, it was not something i liked doing but something i thought i had to do. Those years of compulsive exercise have lead to me having injuries in present time, both in my hip, knees and back as i used to stand in weird places to not get seen as well as hunching over alot as my back muscles couldn’t keep me straight, but also i did alot of walking and running in the wrong form of shoes which is something i deeply regret as i can get alot of pain in my knees and hips now a days from that.

Eventually with the help of treatment and my family i learnt that sitting and resting was ok and i began to get better at resting. But then i began working out again and due to school related anxiety and stress i began to abuse exercise again and it wasnt something i did consciously… it just happened. It went from 30 minutes running to eventually doing 1,5-2 hours of cardio everyday as i thought that was the only thing that counted as exercise. Eventually from 2013 when i began to strength train i have worked on that golden balance with exercise. Trying to find what works for me and what i have now realised is that balance varies over time…. sometimes in my life going to the gym 6 times a week is balance that works, other times 3-4 times a week is balance as i have other more important things in my life. Sometimes balance with exercise is just leaving the house, going out for a walk and other times it is running and doing crossfit style workouts. It all depends on my life situation. But also remembering to always listen to my body… to do what i enjoy and what I want to do. It is easy to scroll through social media and see all these people doing tough workouts and working out daily and forget to realise that that is presumably their job… to film their workouts, share their workouts and just be an online workout inspiration. Whereas i have school, school assignments and other things in my life that take up my time. But also everyone is different, i have injuries that prevent me from doing squats or heavy deadlifts, but i can do other forms of exercise instead i don’t need to squat just because it seems like everyone else is doing squats.

Finding balance with exercise is hard and it takes time. It is all about listening to your body asking yourself if you really want to exercise. And if you do, what form of exercise… maybe it is just yoga, maybe it is running, maybe it is HIIT, maybe it is stretch or swimming… it can vary. You DONT have to go to the gym or have a really tough sweat session to call it a workout.

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What saddens me is to see people who are in the same situation i was a few years ago. To see people who never seem to rest, always at the gym, always tired, always working out…. i just want to reach out to them and tell them that it is ok to rest, it is ok to skip a workout. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t workout for a few days or a week or two. Your muscles won’t break down and disappear, you won’t suddenly gain 5kg fat, and yes… you can still eat even if you don’t workout.

Many don’t see overexercising as a problem because one of the biggest problems in society is that people DON’T exercise enough. Now  a days people are far too still, they sit almost 24/7 and eat too much processed food, and that is an epidemic with many health problems. And it is only a small percent of people who are overexercising, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem that needs help. What i have also noticed is that all the health recommendation and all the news about needing to walk 10 000 steps a day, get up every 60 minutes, move, walk, sit less…. all of that information is being followed by the people who already workout… by the people who are already active and suddenly they are trying to fit in more steps, more workouts and more movement into their already active lifestyle, while those who actually need to follow the advice don’t. It’s tough when there are 2 such extremes and both are problematic.

In the future i want to help both those who over exercise and need to learn to rest as well as those who don’t move at all and need to find a sport they enjoy doing and get more active!

If you are struggling with overexercising or want to know more about my story, below are some links to previous posts which you can read.

How i stopped overexercising (written in 2012, so i have made alot of changes and different mindset since then!)

Masterpost of exercising and exercising in recovery. How to find balance with exercise.

The importance of rest and my exercise addiction

Resting doesn’t mean you are fat or lazy – answer

Links about over exercising

 

If you need any advice you can always comment below and i can try my best to help 🙂

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