I want to start off by saying that I am not a dietician, psychologist, or doctor of any sort. If you are experiencing serious medical concerns, please go see a doctor as soon as possible and if you are having any abnormal, anxious, depressed, or suicidal thoughts or feel like you need a trained ear to help support you please seek counseling from a professional.
For me, recovery from my eating disorder took a long time and happened in several phases. Boiling the whole process down to a series of easy-to-follow steps just isn’t realistic because this disease is complicated and different for everyone who is affected by it. This is my recovery story and though it may not be exactly the “right” method, it is the one that set me free.
TRIGGER WARNING – There are descriptions of restrictive eating in here.
The day I googled “symptoms of anorexia” I felt my stomach sink as my eyes scanned the pages identifying with all the evidence I saw. After a lot of crying and googling for more answers, I was finally ready to accept that I might have a problem. However, I sat on that knowledge without doing anything about it for a long time. I told my boyfriend and my parents and they were supportive and not surprised but I didn’t really know where to go from there. I made an appointment with a therapist, I did some more online research, but mostly I just ignored the truth for as long as I could.
I saw therapists and went to doctors but the most impactful discovery for my recovery was online communities. It all started with my Tumblr recovery page. I discovered other girls who were recovering from anorexia and what that process looked like for them. I spent hours and hours reading posts from recovering girls and the articles they found interesting. The first step of course, was to increase my intake. It happened slowly over the course of a few months. I increased to 1200 a day then 1300 than 1500 and so on until I settled on 1700 a day for many months. I stopped all workouts that weren’t yoga. I made a list of all the food that scared me and I vowed to try and eat everything on the list at least once. I started photographing my meals and posting about my days on my tumblr. I was in this state, which I refer to as “quasi-recovery” for over a year. I went through several periods of relapse where I would return to my old ED behaviors before returning to quasi. I was still an unhealthy low weight, but I wasn’t losing anymore I was maintaining. At least I was eating I thought… sure, I was still cold all the time, afraid of certain foods, isolating myself, losing my hair, not menstruating, feeling depressed and suicidal, I sprained my ankle in my sleep because my bones were so weak, and sitting down still hurt because all my bones stuck out of my body… but for some reason I still felt like I was “recovered”. Just because I wasn’t eating only 500 calories a day and the fog in my head was dissipating I thought the battle was won. The problem was that numbers still ruled my life and I was not happy. I was not recovered.
The beginning of my salvation came upon the discovery of youreatopia.com and the Minnie Maud method of recovery. In summary, it is a system of recovering in which the person eats at least 3,000 calories (some cases it is 2,500, and some it is 3,500, but for me, it was 3,000) and stays as sedentary as possible. This is all in an effort to restore one’s metabolism, while simultaneously expanding from the mental restriction of anorexia. The 3,000 calories required is the minimum, however, if one’s hunger is not satisfied at 3,000, then they are encouraged to eat until satisfied. In fact, many people who recover this way experience what is called extreme hunger and can eat upwards of 10,000 calories a day. Minnie Maud is named after the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which is an fascinating study of starvation on the human body. I was spellbound by the study, and I encourage you to read through it too to discover the negative impact of calorie restriction. Minnie Maud is controversial because the woman behind it all doesn’t have any known credentials but many girls follow her advice with success regardless. I had known about Minnie Maud for months but never truly considered it as the right option for myself. In truth, it scared me. I think my eating disorder knew that doing this would work, so it constantly told me it was the wrong thing to do. I haunted the online forums but never truly committed. Then one day after almost 2 years of quasi-recovery, I just did it. I ate the minimums and didn’t move all day. It felt horrible, I hated myself, but also a little tiny part of me felt a little freer. I started following the guidelines every day.
The extreme hunger was very real. At the worst of it I was eating over 5,000 calories a day and I had the feeling of food being stuck in the back of my throat constantly. I worried incessantly that I was becoming a binge eater but I just kept going because I didn’t know what else to do and I wanted this to work. With the freedoms the minimums gave me I was finally able to eat foods I had avoided for years, pasta, cheese, ice cream, candy, avocados, bread, and so much more. I finally was able to stop counting calories like a maniac. One exciting day that I will never forget is the day that I was able to delete MyFitnessPal from my phone. The app had been controlling me like a mindless zombie for years and all of a sudden poof! I didn’t need it! I still had a lot of negative thoughts, the first few months on Minnie Maud were not all roses and sunshine. I had to cover all my mirrors and hide my scale. I was truly gaining weight for the first time in years and that made me more nervous than anything else. However, a big component of the Minnie Maud system is the theory of a “set point.” That you can keep eating the minimums for the rest of your life and eventually the weight gain will taper and each body will hover around the weight that is right for it. I was skeptical, but I had read success stories and knew girls who had recovered and I used the anecdotal evidence to keep myself going.
Two months in to Minnie Maud my ex-boyfriend of almost three years broke up with me. It was so devastating for me at the time. He had been there from the beginning and had always been supportive. The problem was he bore the brunt of most of the negative thoughts. I depended on him for emotional support and it just got to be too much for him (tangent: let’s not blame that breakup on me though, he was a cheating asshole who left me for someone else and couldn’t own up to it like a man.) I thought that it would be the worst thing for my recovery, but in truth after grieving for a month I started making more progress than I ever had before. I didn’t have him as an emotional crutch and I finally had to just depend on myself to push through. The bulk of my recovery happened in the five months after he left me. Mid way through that same year I looked at myself in the mirror and knew the battle was truly over. The last hump of recovery was the hardest. In my final month of recovery I was still counting calories and weighing myself. I was eating tons of food – to the point of stomach pain every day. My body and brain were begging me to eat. and eat. and eat. I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t stop. I never stopped. I felt large, and insecure, it was not easy. Then one day without me even noticing, it was easy. One day – I didn’t count my calories. I didn’t step on the scale. I didn’t think about food unless I was eating it. My body felt fantastic. I felt fantastic, and I knew I was healed. I don’t think about numbers, I don’t care about food, and every day I love my ever expanding beautiful soul.
In the end, I gained 40 pounds back. I experienced painful swelling, bloating, and stretch marks but I pushed forward anyway. I ended up at a weight that I could truly love myself at without hurting myself. The best part of recovery was feeling my personality return and grow into something more exciting than it had ever been before. I did stop gaining weight eventually despite not changing my eating habits. I was the same weight I had been before I became anorexic because set point is real. I haven’t obsessively counted calories in almost a year but I have to imagine I’m still eating near the minimums every day and my weight has stayed stable give or take a pound or two since the initial weight gain. I don’t usually weigh myself, I can just tell by my clothes. I felt truly recovered from the thoughts and the actions about 7 months into Minnie Maud. Today, I eat and eat and eat – not because I think I have to but because I live in an amazing city with delicious food. I eat because I work in an industry that feeds me decadent delicious free meals. I eat because it is an important way that I connect with the people I love. I eat because food is delicious. I eat because we need food to live. I eat because I remember what it’s like not to and I will never go back to that life again. I am recovered.