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My box of fears: why I was scared of anorexia recovery

My box of fears: why I was scared of anorexia recovery

At the beginning of my anorexia nervosa recovery, I did the exercise of writing on little scraps of paper all my fears related to that process and placing them into a box. Then, I put that box at the Lord’s feet, offering to Him all those fears and granting Him sovereignty over them. It was an act of trust, meaning that I was going to do what I had to do, and the result depended on Him. I was going to work on my recovery for Him, in spite of all the fears that overwhelmed me, and He’d take care of me and protect me from all those consequences.

Today I’ve decided to open that box and I’ve found just what I had imagined: many of those fears haven’t become real at all; others have, but now it doesn’t affect me anymore: I can see it’s a good thing.

Let’s see 15 of them:

1. "That my bones won’t poke out anymore"

I used to find some kind of morbid pleasure in passing my hand through my body and feeling all the prominent bones. Now I see that was something degenerated in my mind: it’s not beautiful.

My bones haven’t either disappeared towards the depths as I feared: the collarbone is still visible, and I can feel all of them if I want to touch them. But they’re rightly covered by fat (yes, a small layer that is good, healthy, and doesn’t make you look fat at all) and, better yet, by muscles! When we think of gaining weight, we usually visualize it as gaining only fat, but it doesn’t have to be like that at all.

VERDICT: partially fulfilled, but I’m ok with it. Things are better when they’re in their right place.

Me just before starting recovery

2. "Being unfaithful to God’s will"

The main motivation of my anorexia was believing that it was a holy fast, a special calling from the Lord. The meaning of my life. Although, obviously, I’d chosen recovery because I’d suspected that it wasn’t like that, there was something inside me that kept chewing on it, thinking that maybe I was making a huge mistake, or that maybe I had actually given up on that path because I was weak and wanted to look for an excuse to give in to earthly pleasures.

Now I can be a light for others who are still trapped in the claws of the evil one, who’s behind eating disorders. Now I understand that starvation is a grave sin against the fifth commandment, thou shall not kill. And that my body is a precious piece of Creation that I must treat with respect, care and dedication as a good steward.

VERDICT: proven 100% wrong.

3. "Being forced to reach a weight that is too high"

That is, that the doctors wouldn’t let me stop at a comfortable weight, or at the minimum healthy weight, but would force me to keep gaining.

This is happening: I’m at the minimum healthy weight, and I don’t know whether it is the optimal point for my body: for example, I have yet to get my period back. And truth is, that scares me. But I’m taking it with peace. I have good body image, and I can even see I’m still thin and gaining a bit more isn’t going to suddenly make me look fat, but can in fact be good for me.

VERDICT: partially fulfilled, but now I don’t really care.

4. "Having to restrict / knock myself out with exercise"

I thought that, in order to stop gaining weight when the moment came, I’d have to take drastic measures and control everything to the millimeter to prevent my body from overshooting.

But it’s found its balance point by itself. My body has stabilized and yours will too. Have trust.

VERDICT: proven wrong.

5. "Look normal"

I wasn’t really scared of getting fat in the sense of being overweight or even plump. But I was scared of not getting my ideal point right and ending up looking skinny fat, soft, mediocre. Perhaps I’d get to that point but the weight wouldn’t be enough and I’d have to keep gaining past it, or perhaps that point wouldn’t exist for me and I’d have to choose between being extremely thin or “normal”.

Todo falso. Toda persona tiene ese punto, que por cierto no es un punto, sino un rango, y ese rango no se va a dar en un peso que no sea sano, ya que sería por naturaleza contradictorio. El Señor nos ha creado de modo que la máxima salud coincide con la mayor belleza.

That’s all false. Everyone has that point, which by the way isn’t a point, but a range, and that range isn’t going to happen in a weight that isn’t healthy, because that would naturally be contradictory. The Lord has created us in a way that maximum health and maximum beauty coincide.

VERDICT: proven wrong.

Me now

6. "Being fatter than others"

I was used to being the thinnest of any group I was in, and that gave me a feeling of relief and confidence. As I started to gain weight, since I saw myself much bigger than I was, I thought that I was already getting fatter than others. But ok, I could accept that it was false, that my body image was distorted. And that if they were indeed thinner, it was their problem because that would mean they were sick.

However, I knew that once I got to a healthy weight, I was likely going to meet girls with lower weights and therefore thinner than me, without them necessarily looking sick because they could be “almost” at a healthy weight.

Now that has largely ceased to affect me, because I feel much more confident in my own body. Yes, perhaps another girl is thinner, so what? I’m fine. Her loss. Because it’s not about weighing the bare minimum not to look sick, but to reach your maximum splendor.

VERDICT: partially true, but I don’t care anymore.

7. "Not doing as much mortification as I should"

I used to see the things I did because of anorexia as mortifications and sacrifices: food restriction, hours and hours of exercise, tightening my belts as if they were corsets, etc. I believed I was behaving just like the great saints. And I was afraid of becoming weak, or falling into the error of modernist Christian laxity.

To start with, recovery has clearly been a much greater sacrifice, it’s been much harder, I’ve suffered horribly, it’s been a torture, a nonstop exhausting battle that has left me empty of any strength so many times.

But, in addition, offering up something difficult to God doesn’t automatically make it good. If it’s bad, it’s bad, and your intention doesn’t change the nature of the act.

If you’d struggle to kill your family but you do it because you think God’s commanding that from you, I don’t care about your intention, your guilt might be reduced, but you’ve made a huge mistake and God hasn’t received that as a pleasing offering. Well, the same applies if you kill yourself, even if for some reason that’s regarded as good and praised by many Christians.

VERDICT: very, very, very wrong.

8. "Not having a margin so I can afford to gain weight if something in case of an unexpected event"

The concept of a margin had always obsessed me. I was worried that at some point something unexpected might happen that could make me gain weight, and therefore I should always maintain a weight below the one I’d like to have, so if I gained it wouldn’t be a problem because I’d only get to that weight.

That obsession was one of the main causes for me to end up weighing only 33.5 kg. Because, what a coincidence, all the unexpected events (such as trips) always lead me to lose and not gain weight. And when things went back to normal, I didn’t make an effort to regain what I’d lost, because well, that way I had even more margin.

I was scared then that, once I got to a healthy weight, I was not going to have any margin. That’s false because its stems from two wrong ideas: a BMI of 18 is not the maximum allowed, but the minimum; and your ideal weight, where you feel and look good, is not a point but a range as I’ve already said.

The best approach is to try to be at each moment within the optimal range, and make an extra effort when there come situations that make this more difficult. It makes no sense to stay 99% of the time at a worse weight because of the 1% of the time when unexpected events might happen and make you gain weight. Or lose weight, which is in fact what usually happens to me.

It makes no sense either to think about it long term, like: “but when I have children”, “but when I’m old”… At each moment you’ll be able to be within your ideal weight range, which by the way will vary as well. But the good range at each moment will also be the range of more beauty for each moment, remember that.

VERDICT: it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

9. "That others will think I looked better when I was anorexic”

I felt so embarrassed when I imagined others could think why on earth I’d gained weight, if I looked better before. That they could compare photos and prefer the “before”. 

First of all, what others think shouldn’t matter to you at all, especially because people have been brainwashed with stupid beauty standards which normalize what’s sick.

But, in addition, that’s not what has happened, no one thinks that. Maybe because it’s not only about an increase of the volume of your body, but your skin gets better, your hair turns silkier and thick, your nails get stronger, your eyes shine more, and you radiate more energy and vitality. Objectively, the healthier you are, the more beautiful you look

It’s true that, at the point I am, this fear has come to me again, because now nobody seems to think that I need to keep gaining weight, and I don’t know what will happen. Everyone takes for granted that I’m fine physically. But hey, I know I still have room to improve and, if this method has worked for me so far, why wouldn’t it keep being like that?

VERDICT: it hasn’t come true. And if someone thinks that, they’re an idiot.

Me just before starting recovery
Me now

10. “That everything will be the same but I’ll just be fatter”

I projected my situation at the moment towards the future… Everyone was telling me that mental recovery would follow physical recovery, and I’d see things differently, but, what if it wasn’t like that? I used to imagine a future in which I still saw myself ugly in the mirror, felt fat, fought non-stoppingly against my mind, was yelled at by the ED voice, had breakdowns at meals, compared myself to everyone around me obsessively, etc. But, to add insult to injury, everything would be much worse since I’d be fatter and therefore would suffer more. 

Not at all. Those who tried to calm me down were right. Mental recovery has been slower, more intricate, complicated and painful, but little by little it’s settled. It seems completely counterintuitive, but when you weigh more you see yourself better, you feel better, some thoughts go away, the volume and frequency of others decreases a lot, you get more confidence, you’re happier. Because the mind heals, even at a physical level, it was malnourished and that’s why you couldn’t think straight. And because surrender and trust let Jesus act in you and break the chains of the devil.

VERDICT: proven false. Everything is much better.

11. "That I won’t look like the models”

Models defined for me the paradigm of beauty, the supreme ideal. And I knew most of them weren’t at a healthy weight, so, if I was forced to reach that instead of settling a little under, I’d obviously weigh more than them, and I’d drift away from that ideal. 

Something that helped me a lot to combat this was finding out other types of “models”, different types of women with healthy weights who had wonderful and desirable bodies. The fitness community at instagram was a great source of inspiration. You have to be careful, since there’s also unhealthy people there, but generally speaking it’s a much more positive environment than that of the models. Now I pity them because I know they aren’t letting themselves reach their full potential.

VERDICT: we could say it’s true. But it’s a positive thing.

12. “Going a size up”

More than a fear, this was a certainty; what I didn’t know was whether I’d be able to cope with it or it would be too psychologically overwhelming. I had the idea that sizes weren’t just arranged from smaller to larger, but from better to worse

I was strong enough when the moment came, of course, the Lord always gives you the grace you need. Now I understand that the best size is the one that best fits your best body. It’s not about changing your body so it fits into the “best” size, but about seeking your best body, and then finding out what’s the best size for you. It’s about being confident in your own body and not looking for external validation from a number.

VERDICT: it’s become real, and that’s great!

13. “Not having a flat stomach”

At the beginning of recovery, all the weight seemed to go straight to the tummy and concentrate there in a disproportionate way. This is partly obsession and body dysmorphia, but it’s partly real, normal and… it goes away! 

Indeed, it’s often where the weight goes first, because it’s an area where we have several vital organs that are in need of a recovering layer to protect themselves. So you look disproportionate, but not because you have a large belly, but because the rest of the body is too skinny. In addition, since you’re suddenly eating a lot more, the body isn’t used to processing those amounts and you get more bloated. 

As time goes by, everything reaches its balance, the weight redistributes and the belly ceases to be prominent. In fact, abs at the end of the day a muscle that needs food to grow. If it doesn’t have it, no matter how thin you are, you’re never going to see them. And having visible abs isn’t a sign of health or physical fitness at all anyway.

VERDICT: false. It’s something that gets worse at first, but then gets better.

14. “Not having a tight gap”

The tight gap is the space between your tights, and it’s become the indicator of thinness par excellence, which every person obsessed with thinness looks for and shows off as a trophy. 

Whether you have it or not at a healthy weight is going to depend on your genetic structure. I think I have a small one, but only when posing for it (most photos showing a tight gap are posed, having it in a relaxed position with your feet together is actually a red flag).

And, when I’m walking, many times my legs rub, but I don’t even realize anymore; in fact, now that I’m writing it I remember how much that used to bother me and make me feel like shit, and now I had forgotten about it until this moment. I don’t even notice it anymore. It’s normal. Feel proud of it.

VERDICT: it isn’t totally true for me right now and, above all, it’s lost its relevance completely.

15. “Being a glutton”

I used to pride myself on my self-discipline, on being able to resist the pleasures of food that everyone else succumbed to. It was a false illusion of self-control, since the truth was that I was controlled by the ED. But I was afraid to become a “pig”, an earthly person addicted to food. I found the thought of ending up like that repulsive. 

But I’ve learned to respect hunger as a normal physiological reaction of my body, to not judge my hunger signals and to honor them as much as possible. That is, I acknowledge my body signals, and it’s in my power whether to act consequently or not, but since I’m responsible and I know I must take care of it and nourish it right, I voluntarily choose to respond to them most of the time.

VERDICT: it was false. Now I’m truly in control. I don’t “give in”: I decide.

I know how hard it is to trust when you’re in the first stages of recovery and your fears seem absolutely real and unavoidable. You see how horrible the present is, and you believe the future is going to be like this or worse. You think everyone around you is lying and they just want you to gain weight. 

But I insist again, trust. Do it scared, but do it. Choose recovery every day, even when it’s excruciatingly painful. Have hope. “Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27, 14).

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