Recovering from an eating disorder

I did the hard part and changed my behavior, so why do I feel like rubbish? As counterintuitive as it seems, it’s probably a positive sign, but one that caught me off-guard.

The backstory

I’ve struggled with disordered eating and dysmorphia for most of my life. I’d restrict intake, binge/purge, and overexercise. The things I would manage to keep down were not very beneficial either, from a nutrition perspective. I never for a second believed that this was healthy, but I wouldn’t know the extent of the damage until I reached the recovery phase.

The turning point

In my depression research, I found out that I have an MTHFR mutation1, and started a new treatment plan. Things improved a little bit, and I could think clearly enough to realize that for this to really work, I would need to address my eating disorder. I’m not sure how it happened, but I started eating a lot.

I now have at least 3 substantial meals, every day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, almost like clockwork. What helped me sustain this behavior, I think, was proving to my emotional mind what my reasonable mind already knew: it’s possible to eat very well, and maintain a healthy weight.

Things seemed be progressing nicely. Was that really it?

Repairing the damage

Soon after I made this rather drastic change, I stopped sleeping almost entirely. My joint pain flared up, and entirely new pains and aches emerged. How could this be, when I was treating my body so well?

Looking for answers, I came across a possible explanation: repairing the damage caused by malnutrition is a painful affair. Processes such as nervous system repair, bone remineralisation, and connective tissue repair cause pain and discomfort2.

A complimentary hypothesis3 is that the body, in starvation/energy conservation mode, can readily suppress distress signals:

An eating disorder has very effective signal-jamming abilities when it comes to your body’s distress signals to the brain when you are actively practicing restrictive behaviours.

Once the situation improves, these signals are expressed again:

Most people who begin recovery feel like they’ve been hit by a freight train of aches, pains, swelling, and deep, deep exhaustion…

I don’t know if this fully explains why I can’t sleep, but it certainly doesn’t promote relaxation, and insomnia does seem fairly common in recovery.

Looking ahead

I’m not sure there’s much I can do about any of this, other than let it take its time, and try to keep my hopes up. It’s been two months since I made what feels like a definite change, but the abuse I put myself through went on for over a decade. Undoing that damage, to the extent possible, will probably take quite a while.

  1. More on that in this post. ^
  2. The Eating Disorder Institute. Phases of recovery from an eating disorder part 5 ^
  3. The ED Institute. Pain I: why is there so much in recovery? ¶ 3 ^

Published in mental-health, personal