Marissa has recovered from anorexia nervosa and is an advocate for eating disorder awareness, treatment and recovery.
She developed Nourishing Routes (https://www.nourishingroutes.com) as a way of empowering individuals to be more compassionate and work towards full recovery from disordered eating and eating disorders. Marissa shares her thoughts and experiences on real recovery from an eating disorder.
"For me, recovery is about regaining life, freedom and love of oneself, not just gaining a certain amount of weight or ‘normal’ eating. It is as much about emotional and social functioning in the real world, alongside an identity that is separate from a being who revolves their world around food, weight and/or exercise."
To help you gauge what recovery might mean for you, here are some of the key things that allowed me to understand what real recovery would look like in the context of my own life:
• Being able to go to sleep and wake up without wondering what I'm going to be eating in the morning.
• Scheduling my day around life, rather than around what I will and won’t be eating.
Not spending hours planning meals for the next day or obsessively calculating calories.
• Going to a restaurant spontaneously, rather than planning in advance and scrolling through menus online to pick a "healthy" or low-calorie option.
• Ordering a meal to come as it is stated on a menu rather than making a billion adjustments so that it feels safer, ‘healthier’ and guilt-consuming to eat.
• Enjoying the prospect of eating with others rather than creating very safe and lonely spaces to eat in (with rigid controls and the need for everything to be perfect).
• Planning a day with social activities in mind first, and then food, without worrying about where and when we will be eating.
• Going into the supermarket and choosing foods that I genuinely enjoy, including my favourite chocolate bars, rather than healthy cereal bars that are lower in calories but taste dreadful.
• Choosing snacks based on how appetising they look rather than looking at calorie labels or how much fat and/or sugar that they contain.
• Looking forward to planning time out with friends without worrying about food or wearing a fake smile and personality.
• Feeling part of the real world and able to be fully myself while stepping outside the small bubble that used to keep me feeling safe but also restricted and lonely.
• Laughing whole-heartedly and finding joy and fun in everyday life.
• Not worrying about eating meals at certain time periods, and being able to eat spontaneously at any time of day.
• Baking cakes and tray bakes, licking the mixture out of the bowl before it goes in the oven, and actually eating the results myself.
• When going out to a cafe, ordering coffee and tea with ‘normal’ or full-fat milk without asking for skimmed or ‘skinny’ alternatives.
• Being able to eat a main course AS WELL AS a starter and/or dessert without guilt - and continuing to still eat throughout the day or evening if I feel peckish.
• Honouring feelings of hunger, even if I might feel like I have probably eaten my energy requirements for that day already.
• Hearing about a new diet or wellness regime on social media and not being tempted to follow it; knowing that it is just a lure away from what is going to help you find life rather than more restriction and rules.
• Being able to have a full day of relaxation and spending large amounts of time sedentary without worrying about how much exercise or physical activity I "should" be doing.
• Walking around the block for enjoyment rather than trying to walk a certain number of steps and obsessively trying to walk further in order to burn off more energy.
• Being able to move my body for pure fun and enjoyment rather than because it makes me feel like I can deserve food, or compensate for what I have recently eaten.
• Looking in the mirror and feeling appreciative of my body rather than focussing on the parts that don’t appear perfect or like someone else’s body I admire.
• Being able to listen to other people talk about dieting, losing weight, or their body shape without feeling the urge to restrict food.
• Not feeling guilty for eating more than other people I am eating with.
• Not feeling triggered or having the urge to restrict food when encountering someone who is slimmer than me, or has an eating disorder.
• Carving out time for self-care everyday without needing to "earn" permission to take care of myself and enjoy things.
• Allowing myself to buy nice things that I like or enjoy without feeling that I don’t deserve them or have to earn them in some way (other than actually earning money).
• Sometimes eating more than my body needs or what I’m hungry for, just because I can and am enjoying eating, without directing negative thoughts and feelings towards myself afterwards, or trying to compensate later.
• Knowing that my identity and purpose of existence on this planet is not to worry about the quality of food I eat, what I weigh, or the thickness of my thighs.
• Being able to love who I am right now, unconditionally, while being able to think about life goals that don’t involve or revolve around food, exercise or trying to control weight.
No one on this earth can determine or understand your real recovery other than you, but this is part of the beauty that makes the journey towards recovery such a wonderful one. Your eating disorder and mission for recovery so far, no matter where you are at, is not wasted time. Every day you have battled on, even when you have felt you couldn’t fight any longer, have all played a role in making you YOU. Your real recovery is all about you - finding the courage to look inside the darkness, but also the immense beauty, intelligence and wisdom that you were born with.