Pseudo Recovery From an Eating Disorder

Pseudo Recovery is often brought on by not assessing for psychological recovery and solely focusing on the psychical aspect of recovery. Pseudo recovery can also happen through a person in recovery still using behaviors deemed as socially acceptable to the public. Below is my experience with living in pseudo recovery, and what changed since entering recovery.

If you would have asked me a year ago if I was in recovery from my eating disorder I probably would have said yes and that I had been in recovery for “a long time.”

I was doing better than I was at my worst and I was skating through life with bits and pieces of my favorite behaviors, but just enough to keep me out of a hospital bed or residential treatment center. I would have told you I was happy. I was fine with living with bits and pieces of my eating disorder. It was comfortable for me. When I think back to a year ago I feel sad for myself.

I spent about 6 years living in this cycle of “doing alright” and “on the verge of being back in treatment.” And I thought that was how it would always be. I thought pseudo recovery is what everyone in recovery was doing, I thought it was all I would get, all I deserved.

Washington, NJ Neda Walk 2015

So what exactly is pseudo recovery, if you struggle with an ED I am sure you know, if you have never struggled with an ED than god bless your soul. Pseudo recovery is fake, it looks like real recovery, it can even feel like real recovery, but it’s really just misery. For me it looked like following strict rules about when and what I could eat, still weighing myself often, and abusing laxatives and exercise- because I was eating so those things didn’t matter right? At times in my pseudo recovery I would become vegetarian or vegan again to try to control my eating more. My mind focused a lot on food and body image but it wasn’t as much as when I was checking into rehab so I thought I must be cured.

I looked at people like my friends and coworkers, women on social media, and other women that posted about eating disorder recovery, that said they were cured when they stopped eating refined sugar, they began exercising daily and only eating “clean.” My friends and coworkers told me about their diets that made them feel “so much better.” Was that how I could recover? Did I need to just go on some magical diet? Was this the life I was destined to live?

I feel sad for all the times I talked about recovery with people when I was living a lie. I know it was wrong, and if I could go back and let the people I talked to know that what I was doing was not real recovery, and that real recovery was possible I would.

I think the most intense part of pseudo recovery is the emotions. My behaviors may have even dissipated at times, but my feelings and emotions were insane. I would cry hysterically about feeling fat and guilty. Was life always going to be like this?

Pseudo recovery was probably most hard because for a decent portion of that time, my weight was what you would call “normal.” I was so stuck on thinking that if my weight was normal I must be fine. (I know this is a personal bias, and I have done a lot of work to get past this belief.)

I know that an eating disorder is not based on my weight, times being denied treatment that I needed due to my “normal” weight, made that hard to believe. It was hard to reach out for help or talk about what I was going through because I felt like I was just looking for attention. Like I must be better now if my weight was no longer within what the DSM outlines as “sick enough.” So instead I settled for this fake recovery. I wish someone would have told me that the first thing to come back in treatment is often physical and the last is mental. I wish this would have been drilled into my head instead of the amount of calories in one serving of Cheerios with or without milk.

Pseudo recovery is dangerous because your ED is right there waiting for you to decide “this isn’t worth it, I’m not happier like this.”

I think that really my pseudo recovery was always like a really slow relapse. And eventually it got to a place where I was so miserable of how I was living the past 6 years that I just gave up. There were times, about a year and a half ago, I sat in my car crying calling treatment centers, considering going back. I had just gotten a new job and was in grad school and I knew I couldn’t do that, i didn’t have time, I could do this myself, I wasn’t that bad, all of the great excuses me always use. I knew my behaviors were now out of control. I knew I shouldn’t be stepping on the scale 1,000 times a day. I knew I shouldn’t be counting “macros” or ordering salads when I wanted fries and a burger. I knew that just because I ate one “bad” thing didn’t mean I shouldn’t eat for the rest of the day. I was so out of control.

I don’t know what clicked for me on that day I was crying in my car but I knew I wanted to change. That was in March of 2019. Let me be really clear I did not magically get better that day. I actually began working with a trainer and asked him to help me gain weight. I know that sounds insane but to me it seemed right. I tried nutritionists and dietician’s and therapists and it didn’t work. The trainer worked for the first month. But I knew I was still living a lie and that focusing just on the physical would only get me so far.

Sometime in May I was sitting outside talking to, my now boyfriend, and he mentioned something about my ED recovery. I made a joke about never being in recovery for more than 60 days and he said “I don’t want that chaos in my life.” Chaos? Me? The next week after that I thought a lot about what he said. I had never heard someone set a boundary like that. Most of the people in my life danced around the truth of my ED and didn’t have much to say until I was the elephant in the room. at the end of May I wrote down the date and decided it was time to do more.

Eating chips past 7 o’clock and defying my eating disorder like a champ, June 2019

I looked for a therapist, I found one, I didn’t like her, and then I found another. I began working on my fEeLiNgS. I started getting honest. I gave up control. I was given the idea to write down a date, so that even when it’s hard, I can use my stubbornness as a strength and continue pushing through.

So what is different now? Since May 30th, 2019 I have stepped out of the comfort of pseudo recovery and relapse and have given real recovery the shot it deserved. I have made mistakes please don’t get that wrong. But I have continued to fight to get better and better as time has gone on. I have slowly changed my behaviors and my actions. Some things I gave up right away and quickly was able to change, others were sort of difficult and took time and patience.

I do not have a scale but I would randomly step on one at the gym for the first few months, just to make myself feel bad. I slowly stopped doing this, because it didn’t feel good and I decided I didn’t want to keep doing things that didn’t feel good. I stopped using exercise and laxatives to work off a dessert or a spicy chic-fil-a sandwich with fries. I told people, everyone, how stupid I thought there diets were. I spoke up. I tell people when I am feeling bad instead of keeping it inside. I eat what I want when I want, even if that means dinner was 5 o’clock and a snack at midnight. I stopped holding onto my pants that don’t fit me in hopes that they would “accidentally fit me” again.

I try to focus on how i am feeling mentally not physically- this is probably the hardest. I used to say I feel fat and now I have to say I feel sad or I feel alone or I feel scared and I am very stubborn and do not like to admit that. I try to focus on my movement as enjoyable and not punishment, which introduced me to weight lifting. I look at my health as a whole, mental and physical, and not based in weight. I try to focus on things that make me happy, not miserable.

This was sort of all over the place. All I am saying is that living in pseudo recovery isn’t worth it, and we all deserve real recovery.

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