How do you maintain recovery from an eating disorder, even when it gets boring?
When we talk about recovery from an eating disorder, we usually focus on the ups and downs. The euphoric highs and the crushing lows. What we seldom acknowledge, however, is the mundanity.
When I started recovery from my own eating disorder at the age of 19, while it’s impossible to be fully prepared for how strenuous the process is, I had expectations. I was as ready as I could’ve been for the dark moments crying in the shower and excited for the wins of eating my first sandwich.
What I wasn’t anticipating, however, was how the day-to-day of recovery was going to be so much harder.
My eating disorder started developing when I was 12 years old, and I struggled a lot before even admitting I had a problem worth doing something about. As I’ve pursued treatment and healed in ways I never thought imaginable, I’ve become aware of how boring recovery actually is after a while, which makes it tricky to maintain.
As torturous and challenging as recovery is, it’s also very uninspiring and a far cry from how it’s portrayed in the media and online.
When we see recovery from an eating disorder depicted in a film, it’s either very bleak or incredibly romanticised. And, if someone does fully recover, the camera cuts, the credits roll, and we’re just left to assume they went on to live happily ever after with an eating disorder-free life.
We see it in To the Bone, a film about 20-year-old Ellen (played by Lily Collins) who endures a lengthy battle with anorexia as she struggles to maintain various recovery programmes.
At the end of To the Bone, Ellen experiences an awakening. A lightbulb moment. Viewers are led to believe that, for the first time, she actually wants to get better. But then the movie ends after she returns home to continue her treatment plan.
Then that’s it. She had her moment of realisation after hitting rock bottom, then built herself back up and recovered.
When we see recovery from an eating disorder spoken about on social media, we see motivational quotes with picturesque backgrounds and TikTok videos of encouragement. Either that, or we read people’s stories of relapse and struggle.
From the onset, recovery is painted as a long winding road, filled with hurdles and obstacles, but one that does have a finishing line worth crossing.
But, what happens when you’re actually recovering yourself and you start to realise that life in recovery isn’t always black and white. Sometimes, it’s grey and murky. Sometimes, it’s just going through the motions. Sometimes, it’s just accepting that this is your life now and you’re expected to carry on with it.
Once you’ve experienced those initial highs and the euphoria of that first meal, conquering that first fear food, once you’ve healed your relationship with exercise… it can get very monotonous, and that’s what makes recovery really difficult to stick with, because the rewards aren’t endless.
There comes a time when no one cheers for you. You reach a point of just being expected to sit down at the dinner table and engage in conversation. There comes a time when people don’t acknowledge you doing the little things anymore because they’ve become a habit. It’s no longer news.
No one is ‘proud’ of you for simply eating once you reach day 500 of recovery. Or day 1,000. Or 10 years down the line. Because that’s just what you do and who you are now even though, sometimes, that 1,000th day is just as hard as the very first.
Once you no longer feel victorious after eating a meal, it all feels very same-y as you’re hit with the realisation that this is just it now, every day for the rest of your life.
So, how do you persevere and maintain your recovery when you simply can’t be bothered, because eating is part of your life like it is everyone else’s, not something you’re congratulated for?
One thing I find particularly helpful is switching up my meals so I’m less likely to skip them. Adding variety to what I am eating makes the mundanity of three meals and three snacks every day for the rest of my life a little less tedious.
I also try to invest time and effort in my meal preparation. This might be making an experience out of a shopping trip, experimenting with new recipes, or dancing around my kitchen to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ as I wash my peppers and chop my onions. Even as food becomes integrated into the fabric of my daily life in a way it wasn’t before, and comfortably sets up home there, that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun with it and make meals an event.
Having goals and targets in recovery is very important, especially in the early stages. It gives you an incentive and something to work towards. It instils pride in you when you hit them as you realise, hey, maybe this is all worth it after all.
So, carrying on with this even when recovery is just my everyday lifestyle can help me find new ways to make it exhilarating and life-affirming.
If I’ve been to a restaurant for the first time, my next goal is to go back and order something different from the menu.
If I’ve accepted an invitation from a friend to eat lunch out, next time I want to be the one asking them.
If I’ve eaten a burger for the first time in ages, next time I want to have cheese on it.
There’s also a risk of those eating disorder thoughts crawling their way back in if routine becomes very repetitive, so it’s good to spice things up to ensure every day and every mealtime isn’t predictable. Sometimes, even altering my breakfast time by 15 minutes adds variety.
The biggest thing, though, is ensuring I have regular check-ins with myself.
When I initially embarked on the recovery process, I had to constantly have moments of self-reflection where I reminded myself why I started. I was checking in with myself frequently to assess where I had come from, where I was at, and where I wanted to be. This was particularly useful in times of relapse or uncertainty, as it provided me with the push to keep going as I saw how much progress I’d already made.
While I don’t consider myself fully recovered — because recovery is a process, not a destination — I like to remind myself that this normality that I’m tired of is something I once craved. At one point, it didn’t seem possible for me to put Netflix on and snack mindlessly while watching a new series. It never occurred to me that I could be someone who eats out without checking the menu of a restaurant days in advance. So, in my moments of reflection, I tell myself that this stability is better than the chaos of being up and down in recovery, and certainly better than the destructive depths of an eating disorder.
Sometimes, I wish my recovery was as exciting now as it was when I did things for the first time. The first time wearing those shorts that show off my legs. The first time eating lunch. The first time trying a new food combination. The first supermarket shop. The first skipped workout.
But, ultimately, boring can be good. Boring means I’ve conquered so much to reach this point of calmness. While recovery still feels utterly impossible at times, the dust has started to settle and I’m adjusting to my new life, allowing myself space to craft my identity beyond my illness. Sure, the initial euphoria of recovering has fizzled out, but I certainly don’t want to regress and have to do it all over again.