**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
By Cathrine Pace-Davis
I became willing to take a look at my life seriously in 2013 when I found the PHP program at The Center for Balanced Living (now The Emily Program – Columbus). Prior to this, as is the case for many of us, I had already been in and out of the eating disorder recovery realm for many years. I would begin treatment with a zest for life and a willingness to get up every day and actively participate; however, at some point I would start ruminating over my physical body and begin negatively appraising myself. My zeal would fizzle out. Waking up in the morning became grueling, and I would find myself looking for ways to be alone so that I could sneakily go back to engaging in behaviors. And just like that, I’d be sitting in treatment, longing for the day when I could freely engage in behaviors once more. I began to lose heart as the obsession of the mind grew more rampant the more I gave in to it, all the while I sat in group taking notes, participating in activities, and learning how to live life one day without my eating disorder. My time at CBL was not for nothing, though; I had an arsenal of skills and tools at my disposal just waiting to be used.
It took me a while to hit a bottom miserable enough to become honest, open, willing, and consistent with recovery. At some point the behaviors and rituals became a chore I dreaded having to endure, and I began fearing the inevitable if I did not stop. However, as a result of my biological dependence on ED, I was going to need a higher level of care, no matter how “done” with it I had become. I had experienced residential treatment centers before, many of which felt very hospital-like and restrictive, causing me to have a lot of apathy toward the process. I also had some food intolerances I knew about, as well as ones I was not aware of, causing me to need a residential program that allowed me to avoid the foods I knew I could not tolerate, rather than giving a finite number of foods on a “does not eat” list. I promised myself that, should I find a residential place that took into consideration my individual needs and proclivities, I would give it my all and recover for good.
Finally, in 2015, The Emily Program constructed a residential site in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, two hours away from my hometown. In 2017, after spending 28 years in despair, TEP was the first time I entered residential treatment with the motivation to recover by any means necessary. There were certain things that TEP did differently, which caused me to trust my body and perpetuated my will to do the right thing.
I did not believe, after being in my illness all those years, that my body knew how to digest food on its own. On day two at TEP-Residential, I had my first individual counseling session and was told that my weight had actually gone down. When I asked for proof, I was shown my numbers. Seeing my admission weight and current weight restored my faith in my body’s ability to do the right thing and connected me to myself on a whole new level.
Like many of us, I am good at fooling myself into thinking that I do not need to eat, especially when I do not feel like eating. Following my meal plan is how I keep out of my head and disengage ED’s hold over my life. I have set meal times, and I make everything I am responsible for eating based on my meal plan. The process of making my food—weighing, measuring, and putting it together—followed by bringing it to the table helps return me to my body and restore my mind-body connection. This process causes my biological response system to kick in, triggering feelings of hunger as well as satiation.
Nutrition classes at TEP were different; we learned about fat, carbs, protein, vegetables, fruits, and their essential role throughout the day. For me, fats and carbs were avoided at all costs. I learned how I was setting myself up for a binge in avoiding fats, as it is the lack of fat that can trigger a binge the hardest. When I am tempted to binge, I was taught to eat a few nuts or another fat source. When I put this into practice after leaving residential, it worked without fail every time. Upon leaving residential, I also planned my meals for the next several days and made a point to go to the grocery store before getting home in order to stay on track and create a seamless transition.
Today I still follow my meal plan and weigh and measure my food in order to counteract my tendency to think I ate too much or not enough. At the beginning of recovery, I had to take antacids daily as a result of eating foods I was unknowingly intolerant to. The day after I returned home from treatment, I had an appointment with a dietitian with whom I was connected through CBL, who gave me the LEAP MRT test in order to find all the foods and chemicals to which my body is intolerant. I am still well today and I do not have food-related issues like acid reflux, bloating, gas, and even abdominal pain, and I haven’t taken an antacid since.
I never would have believed I would be here writing these words. I just didn’t think it was possible until I decided I was going to find freedom.
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