Redefining Strength in Eating Disorder Recovery
**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.
Megan Bazzini is a writer—an aspiring YA novelist, cringe-worthy poet, and mental health essayist. She’s also a business school grad who has lived in LA, Hong Kong, and Milan. Now she’s returned home to New York, where she is a proud chihuahua rescue mom and works in technology strategy. Megan’s eating disorder recovery mantra is, “Keep going. Recovery is worth it.” You can follow her on Twitter (@BazziniBooks), visit her portfolio, or read more of her work on her blog, Butterfly Mind.
I didn’t realize how much being a runner became my identity—much like my eating disorder, indistinguishable from the rest of me.
I’ve always based too much of my self-worth on my athleticism and on the compliments I used to get about my toned body. When starting recovery, I feared the rest days I would have to endure and the inevitable body changes that would occur during weight restoration.
I worried that others would no longer be able to tell that I was an elite athlete just by the way I looked, and later, that I was also extremely sick. It made me feel special to challenge the fear in people’s gaze or their failure to meet my eyes, as they noticed my emaciated frame. Those looks affirmed that I was “succeeding” in my eating disorder, and that meant everything to me.
Sports and eating disorders are so intrinsically tied up in one another because they feed into the lie that burning calories and being “fit,” somehow makes you special. Exercise is so often used as compensation for those of us struggling with eating disorders. It is often our addiction, masqueraded as a healthy hobby. In a global culture that celebrates being fit, it’s very convenient for us to run away from our problems with sweat and utter exhaustion.
But the lies and the constant strategizing to work out, according to the eating disorder’s schedule, is incredibly taxing on our bodies. In my case, I knew deep down I was straining my heart and vital organs in the quest to satisfy my eating disorder. And, deep in my illness, I secretly loved it.
Now that I’m in remission, I know that my self-worth was never determined by how toned I may have appeared or any athletic achievement. My eating disorder falsely led me to believe those things, but they were not true. My eating disorder’s thoughts are not mine. Even though my competition days are behind me, I can still celebrate the part of me that thrives on feeling strong and capable.
I can still give thanks and proper fueling to the body that can hike, kayak, and lift heavy boxes for my mom. For so much of my recovery years, I didn’t run. I discovered other ways to move my body, but I feared the slippery slope to relapse if I laced up my sneakers.
As I weight restored, I sat with the discomfort of looking softer. Light came back into my eyes and I unlearned that being sculpted equals health. I learned that nourishment is health. Exercise had been my go-to for every insecurity and stress. In recovery, I discovered new things about myself, like my love for writing, poetry, and music.
On Tabitha Farrar’s blog, I read that no one ever recovers from an eating disorder and immediately comes out looking toned—those words gave me strength. I began to trust the miraculous healing process the body goes through during recovery. I learned that strength is so much more than a physical measure. It is a mindset. It is someone beating an eating disorder. It isn’t defined by someone’s highest or lowest weight or their hours spent exercising. Strength is the unmistakable light in someone’s eyes that comes with the renewed hope for life—for discovering that we are not our eating disorders.
As I started to internalize this message, I woke up one day with the undeniable urge to run, and so I did. Not to break records, burn calories, or control my body. To feel myself move in a way that has made me joyful for so much of my life. By the end of my short, breathless, yet wildly freeing run, a poem came to me and I said it out loud:
I’m running again;
Without fear, Mental math
Hips squeaking, Bones creaking
Feet moaning, Let it end.
Stomach squeezing, Never eating
Thoughts swirling, Almost hurling.
Always a fight, can’t stand upright
Without shoes, it hurt to move;
Counting my paces, always in races
Worth measured by a number,
Never easy, always harder.
If someone told me one more time,
You look so fit! I would’ve died!
My body’s sore, punishment I abhor,
I can’t take it anymore.
ED, let me be, I’m mesmerized by the new me.
I’m back on track, your thoughts are whack;
Your jumbled words crowd my head,
Leave me alone, I refuse to be dead.
In the end, without my best friend,
Numbers rewind, I can run again.
To all the athletes, non-athletes, eating disorder recovery warriors, and those who support our fight—it’s possible to start again. To celebrate a side of you that feels so tied to the eating disorder that tried to destroy you. To disentangle and reclaim the parts of you that you choose to embrace. Because recovery is the most powerful choice of all. It’s when we decide to be us again, or maybe even discover ourselves for the very first time.