The Five Phases of Healing from an Eating Disorder - Emma

" When I was nineteen, I told my parents I had bulimia. They didn’t believe me. Or at least they didn’t believe it was the dark problem that it was. They told me I was beautiful and asked if I ‘was over all that now’ and we hardly spoke of it again.

Having now recovered I want to help smart, loving parents, avoid the traps my folks fell into – focusing on ‘healthy’ food, being active and telling your child s/he is gorgeous.

My parents did nothing ‘wrong’. They simply didn’t know how to promote a body positive mindset to their children in a culture that values thinness and promotes weight-loss at every turn."

If you're shifting the way you relate to your body, there are five phases you can expect to encounter.

1) Realisation

The first glimpse you’ve entered the first phase of healing is seeing that restriction, binging, obsessive exercise — whatever ‘triggers’ your body shame — is not a one-off thing. You’ll get that the things you did in the name of fixing your body have slipped from being a dalliance, or even a romance, to this heart plummeting fact; you simply can’t stop and now it’s an issue.

This is usually the point that shame sets up camp and digs her heels in. The grim reality that your problem is out of hand and beyond your power starts to drive you crazy, disconnects you from your family, your peers and erodes any self-esteem you had, to begin with.

This phase took me the longest to move through and left the most damage in its wake. For years I knew I had a problem, and while I tried over and over and over to fix it, nothing seemed to work. With each attempt, I slipped further into my private world of fear and loathing.

You see, I lived under the misguided tenant that restriction would ultimately rectify everything. My hideous body was my issue so I falsely believed that if I could just follow a diet more rigorously, lose a few pounds and get my self-control under management, everything would work out.

It wasn’t until I realised ‘admitting I had a problem’ was only the start line, that I began to heal in earnest.

2) Willingness

You'll know you're ready to get into the hard work of healing when you find yourself ready and willing to do whatever it takes.

This happened to me one unsuspecting afternoon as I sat on the bathroom floor, post purge, beyond tired of fighting against my body-obsessed brain. I couldn’t stand another minute. I don’t know exactly why that binge was different to the rest but I’d come to the end of my rope. Banging my fists against the cool floor tiles I declared: Enough! I will heal. I have no idea what that might take, but I’m going to figure it out.

Can you see what happened there? In that moment I became willing.

Willingness is a crucial ingredient in the heady mix that allows us to move to the next, most demanding phase of healing. Demanding, as you will see, because it requires letting go of the belief that we can fix our lives via the enchanting promise of changing our bodies.

3) Surrender

Surrender, the third phase of healing, starts the moment you get that you have no idea how to live without controlling food, weight and your body. You put down your sword, declare to stop fighting yourself and start seeking to learn new ways of being.

Let me tell you, realising I had to give up control over what I ate and trust my body, was not good news. I’d built my life, up until then, around the belief that one day I’d wake up skinny, all pain and suffering gone.

Letting go of control, and choosing to trust, were the two most formidable and in turn, life-altering practices I’ve had to learn.

The most direct route to learning these life-changing skills is through the practice of acceptance.

4) Acceptance

Acceptance is the phase where you start making peace with what is: How your body looks, the kinds of foods you desire, the decisions you’ve made, the past you have lived, what has and hasn’t happened to you, the emotions you feel and struggles you have. All of it.

This phase is the most paradoxically challenging. Why should we accept something we hate so much? What’s the point in accepting what we do in the name of changing our bodies if we know those things are completely bonkers? Surely wanting our choices to be different will light the rocket under us required to make changes?

These are great questions. They are ones I had to grapple with and ultimately find answers that worked for me. You will need to do the same for you.

I started by examining the belief I held that went something along these lines: If I accept myself exactly as I am, with my food madness, my body with all its imperfections and shortcomings, I won’t ever get the life I truly want. I’ll be destined to eat and obsess and be stuck in a shameful life forever.

With pebbles falling in my heart, I realised I was already destined to that forever — and with a major dollop of counter-intuitiveness, I decided to fully accept everything about myself. Suddenly the bits I was fighting against, the very core that I was trying to eradicate (my crazy food mind) started, almost magically to slip away. Shame stepped back as peace stepped forward.

Do you follow what I’m talking about here? Once I fully accepted myself exactly as I was, I stopped fighting against myself and when I stopped fighting, peace naturally, mysteriously arose in me. Body-shame, binging and self-disgust visited less often and didn’t stay as long when they did.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to acceptance. Or at least, none I know of. It’s difficult, often painful work to make peace with everything you are and everything you are not.

And, while I am pointing at the often arduous tasks required to heal, I’ll add this: Acceptance is not a phase you can skip. It’s fundamental.

The good news is: with acceptance comes freedom and peace. While acceptance is tough, it is the phase where real, life-shattering goodness turns up. Somewhere down the dusty track of acceptance, I got to grasp how stubborn the universe is in its desire to shower me with blessings. The universe, of course, is doing it’s best for you, too.

5) Gratitude

And now we come to the best and final phase of healing. It’s the one where the hard work pays out and you’ll find yourselves looking back, feeling nothing but thankful for the path you have followed. If someone had told me back in the dark days that eventually I’d be glad for the truck of shit I was living through, I’d have thought they’d lost their mind. Or at least completely misunderstood my plight. But they would have been right.

Healing can bring you deep joy, tranquility and self-love. You’ll see how far you’ve come and compared to people who haven’t had your experience you’ll notice a depth of compassion, wisdom, and serenity.

If you’ve yet to experience the life-changing magic of phase five, I’m holding in my heart that you’ll stay the distance. I want you to know the tunnel can be long, confusing and distressing. But it does get better. And when it does, the better is beyond what you’ll believe.

But it’s important to note — before you start thinking I have healing one hundred percent nailed, that I have fixed myself and arrived as some nirvana, let me get real with you.

Healing, when I was in phase one, looked like a task to be completed and ticked off. I imagined it working the same way as recovering from a cold does; in time it would clear up and go away. It hasn’t panned out like that for me, or I suspect anyone.

It’s more like a continual deepening of the five phases. Some days I’m knee-deep in problems I’m unwilling to admit to, let alone surrender or accept. Gratitude feels so far from home I struggle to remember it exists.

Other days, I’m stubbornly glad for my body, my appetite, my vitality and my life occurs as a gift. Wherever you find yourself on your individual path to recovery, remember this: Life occurring as a gift is possible for you too.

-You can find out more about Emma here-