An Eating Disorder Is Forever: How Recovery Affects My Life Every Single Day


My relationship with food has been fraught for most of my life–even before I had a diagnosable eating disorder. As a child, I knew the shame associated with eating long before that shame began to completely control my life. You have to eat. Every day, a few times a day. Food is everywhere. You can’t escape it.

Recovery is a stupid word. It feels too heavy, like it gives too much power to my eating disorder. But I am, unquestionably, in recovery–there’s not a better word. I’m in recovery, not recovered. Recovery is just another stage. It hasn’t gone away.

I started treatment in high school. I had lost 25 pounds in a little over two months. All of the food I ate was green–cucumbers, apples, and celery, for every meal. I weighed myself six or seven times a day. Green was healthy. Green wasn’t dirty, like meat or cheese. Green was safe. I was neither anorexic nor bulimic, although I certainly restricted, binged, and purged over the 5 or so years that I had had an eating disorder. Over the course of those five years, I lost and gained significant weight as my disorder changed. I had what we call EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

There are people who don’t think about their relationship with food. They get hungry. They eat. End of story. I get hungry and eat and call it a major victory. Every morning when I scramble some eggs and cut up an avocado, I’m working against a small yet powerful voice in my head that’s telling me my food is dirty. It used to be the only voice. Now I have others, and they’re louder. But I can still hear my eating disorder talking. Eating “normally” feels like an act of rebellion. A meal is never just a meal. If I’m painting a bleak picture, I don’t mean to. When I say victory, I mean it.

I’m proud of where I am. I can’t believe that I have days where I eat an enormous sandwich and ice cream and I don’t want to kill myself or run until I throw it all up. There are days when I just feel normal, and don’t assign value to food. Like a person who eats and sleeps and shits and doesn’t have to weigh myself after every single activity. I rarely eat an entire bag of chocolate chips, not even tasting them, and then lie on the floor wailing with panicked sobs for two hours afterwards, drinking a gallon of water to try to feel clean. Celery is for tuna and snacking. Apples don’t control my life. Food isn’t always green, and it’s not dangerous.

The best part of recovery is that I’ve found a relationship with food that includes joy. When I began treatment for my eating disorder, my therapist encouraged me to cook. To really learn how to make the food I was forcing myself to eat. To learn about food. Cooking, trying new food, and reading food magazines became therapeutic for me in a way I didn’t anticipate. It’s a way of exercising control in a healthy, productive way, and to undo the shame-filled baggage I’ve wrapped around food and eating. I have a community built around food now–my friends and I love cooking together, eating together, and trying new restaurants.

But the less happy parts of recovery seep into my newfound happiness with food.

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    • Natalie

      Thank you for writing this. It’s very similar to my recovery story. And when I tell someone about my eating disorder (which I don’t always do, but it helps to tell people too), they go “well, you’re ok now right?” and I am, but I’m not. I’m ok because I weigh a normal weight and I can eat and take joy in eating. I’m not because I still hate myself for eating and enjoying eating. I hate myself every time I weigh myself, regardless of the number. It’s a weird balance. I will ALWAYS be an anorexic. It’s part of who I am.

    • gmc

      I, also, found recovery and healing in learning to cook. I sometimes marvel at myself that I’m subscribed to 3 cooking magazines and that I registered for so many kitchen items for my wedding. It is something I can control and enjoy and give to others, and it has helped me immensely. It isn’t scary anymore.

    • bl

      This was a great read. I’m in recovery as well, though it took me awhile to feel that way. It’s hard to feel recovered when you wake up everyday thinking, “man…I have to eat AGAIN? I just ate breakfast yesterday…Lunch time already? I’m still full from breakfast” and so on. It finally clicked to realize that the truth is I’m just not a food person. Eating is not a source of fun/joy/reward/etc. for me so I should stop waiting for it to feel that way. The important thing is that I get up everyday and eat three meals a day DESPITE not wanting to. That feels like recovery.

    • Lindsey Conklin

      This is really powerful, Julia. There isn’t a day that I don’t place value on any food that I eat. whether it be healthy and “green” or “dirty” and totally unhealthy. it’s definitely forever, but I’m proud of how far you’ve come :)

      • Julia Sonenshein

        thanks L, seriously <3

    • LynnKell

      Thank you for talking about EDNOS. All the ED talk out there seems to focus only on anorexia and/or bulimia.

      I wish you strength, I can’t begin to imagine what is it like to fight yourself every meal. I’m a stranger on the internet, but I wanna hug you and tell you you’ll be fine, you can do it :)

    • JLH1986

      Congratulations! I’m so proud of you. Recovery is a long, long road, a journey without a destination really. But it sounds like you are in a great place, enjoying the journey, and it’s bumps along the way. Recovery is hard some days. Just remember to take it as it comes.

    • HB

      I don’t know if y’all accept comments with links in them, but I’m going to try anyway. This is the recovery philosophy of one woman. Your piece discussed voice, and this is a great way of considering a similar thing:

    • Sam Inoue

      I understand this and thank you! I think about food constantly, making sure I remember to eat. Having kids really made it easier for me, I was worried about them and their health, so I taught myself to cook and want to eat. Even though I think about it, its getting easier with years that pass.

    • Hayley Hoover

      You’re such a freaking champion, J.

      • Julia Sonenshein

        <3 <3 <3

    • guest

      I suffered with anorexia for more than a decade. ‘Recovery’ too up a decade too, overlapping with the suffering decade. I want you to know that there IS hope that you can be fully recovered, where you have a normal relationship with food and you get on with living your life. I am fully recovered a decade now (coincidentally, this year I am actually 10 years recovered). You can be too if you keeping fighting the good fight.

      Don’t lose hope. You can be recovered.

    • Crusty Socks

      Eating disorder? I thought this article was about a reading disorder…

    • Cat

      I had an eating disorder for about 13 years. For the last 5 of these, I fought and mostly lost the daily battle of ED vs Cat. Eventually, something clicked. I resolutely knew that I did not want this to be a part of my life any more. That was a little over a year ago. The ringing in of 2014 marked the first year in a long time, that I did not feel the need make a resolution to beat my ED.

      Getting better was hard. For the first few months of ‘quitting’, emotionally I was all over the place. And it’s been totally worth it. I’ve grown a hell of a lot as a person in one year. I deal better with stress. There’s a point in everyday, when something reminds me that I don’t have an eating disorder any more – and I feel truly joyful.

      Recovery is a bit like learning to meditate. When you notice you have got distracted from your goal, gently bring yourself back. Eventually, it becomes natural :D

    • MamaLlama

      Great article. My husband still cannot understand that I do not ‘feel hungry’ anymore, unless I am at a point of starvation which means I could devour 4000 calories in 10 minutes if I wanted to. I lost my normal hunger sensation years ago. He also now respects that ice cream and pasta make me uncomfortable but he will never truly understand why. Thanks for spreading more awareness.

    • Samantha Escobar

      <3 <3 <3

    • emily

      This article speaks so much to me, I completely understand the “clean” vs “dirty” food way of thinking and it’s something that I’m still trying to overcome myself. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us