Recovered From an Eating Disorder: One Philadelphia therapist's journey to healing
By Abby Emmert M.A.
The Start of an Eating Disorder
As a recovered therapist, there is a lot that is reflected back to me in working with others that reminds me of my recovery journey. The start of my eating disorder didn’t look like many would assume, but probably matches what many experience. It was my sophomore year in high school when I started taking “health” more seriously. As an athlete, a lot of my disordered behaviors were masked as “performance enhancement” based. Spending my rest days in the gym or running even if I had practice after school was originally motivated by wanting to improve in my sport but that quickly turned into a life of its own. Next was stepping on the scale obsessively, eating foods that didn’t fully nourish my body, and catching on to any new trendy diet that promised the “fix” I was looking for. When at first these new behaviors “worked” it felt like I was doing something right. At the time I perceived myself as improving in my sport, but I was feeling lighter and more comfortable in my body but boy was I wrong. How I define ‘comfortable’ now is different, but at the time that looked like making myself as small as possible to basically evaporate and get as little attention as possible. Clearly very dangerous and probably a sign something else was going on.
Progression of an Eating Disorder
What quickly became a downward, dangerous spiral of restriction turned into late night episodes of binge-eating. My body had to find a way to get what it desperately needed…nutrition. Binge-eating turned into a vicious cycle of my body trying relentlessly to put weight back on that it wanted but I was terrified of dealing with. Cue freshman year of college where the bingeing increased and was matched with purging. I remembered feeling like I found a fix. The restricting was uncomfortable so the bingeing “fixed” it. Then the fullness from bingeing became uncomfortable, so the purging “fixed” it. Or so I thought. A year and a half of purging later, I would find myself hunched over the toilet, eyes bloodshot with tears pouring down my face thinking the bottom of the toilet was the image I would see the rest of my life. What should have been the best years of my life — playing a sport I loved with friends I never thought I would have at a school that promised me everything — but I was clinging onto something that told me there was no other way out.
Getting Help for Eating Disorder Recovery
What I realized later was I never understood that each “fix” I thought I had found was just a bandaid layering more dangerous problems on top of the ones I already had, often hiding the deep pain I was scared to face. Just when I thought I had been able to figure it out on my own, take control back into my hands, the eating disorder would grasp harder. I realized I needed more help, that I didn’t need to do this alone. The first step was telling the people that I knew loved me most. I understand now as a therapist that oftentimes having even just one person who believes in you can be the beginning of resilience and healing. I was lucky to have more than one. But let me tell you, those conversations were HARD. They were painful, embarrassing, shameful, depressing, infuriating, and so much more all at once. Can you relate?
Looking at the people who love you, telling them the secret you have been hiding, and not knowing what they will think of you is one of the most terrifying things I have ever encountered. But what came with that was freedom. I was no longer fighting this war on my own. I had back up, reinforcement, support, and accountability. What came next was a plan that looked like prioritizing my health and recovery and putting anything that got in the way on the back burner. This wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely necessary. And when I was tempted to fall back into old habits, thats where the reinforcements came in! Finding a treatment team was next. As an ED therapist now, I can see this process so much more clearly. But at the time, it looked like throwing a dart at the wall and hoping I hit something when searching for a therapist. I was lucky to have found great support at different points in my recovery, but I was privileged in having the options that I did. I also needed different people at different points on the road because, let's be honest, starting treatment didn’t mean I was really ready to change any behaviors. Some therapists pushed me, and some met me where I was. Hence the cycling of different ones at different points along the way. Finding the right therapist can be essential to healing. Learn more about our team of eating disorder therapists here.
The Eating Disorder Recovery Journey
After 3 years of treatment and starting medication, I received some very hard but important feedback from the one therapist that stuck— Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes. I could stay in treatment my entire life and appear on the outside like I was getting the help I needed. But until I decided I wanted the behaviors to change, until I decided I wanted something different for my life nothing was going to change on its own. I thought, “How many times did I have to do the same patterns and see nothing change before I decide to commit and do the work?”
If you are going through this process, it's important to know that there is no single moment that changes everything for you. There is no switch that flips and everything is easier. Although this feedback changed my perspective, the work was still HARD. There were still tears and slip ups and mistakes and days that I quit. But I continued to fight. Each small battle that I won added up over time and I saw that the temporary discomfort was going to be the same as if I fought for recovery or if I stayed in my eating disorder. If I was going to be uncomfortable either way, I at least wanted to fight for something better in the end. Slowly but surely, steps that once put me in tears felt easier. Foods that I never would have touched became weekly meals. Exercise routines became less rigid, friendships and relationships became stronger, and my body began to trust me again.
If you had asked me in the moment in the bathroom with my head over the toilet if I thought this reality would ever change, I would have said no. I thought my eating disorder was terminal. You do not need to see the end goal to get started. I didn’t, but the end goal is so worth it. If you have one person that believes in it for you, lean on them. And take small steps, celebrating every win along the way! You are a warrior, and you deserve recovery.
5 Reminder for Your Eating Disorder Recovery Journey
So, as an eating disorder therapist that has personally recovered, here are 5 short and simple reminders I wish I had known:
1. Resilience requires one person to believe in you. Find that one person and lean on them.
2. Everything you need to recover is already within you. Harness that shit.
3. It’s okay to take breaks in treatment and re-evaluate what you need. But the only one that can make the changes is you.
4. Find a treatment team that you jive with. The energy between you and your treatment team is so important. Search until you find that.
5. Celebrate. Every. Single. Win.
Any step you take in this process is progress, and we are SO proud of you! Even if that one small step is checking out these resources, we are here for it! Whether you are just starting out in recovery or you have been on this journey for a long time we PROMISE healing is possible!!! You are so incredibly worthy of making peace with food and your body. You can heal from your pain and you don’t have to take it out on yourself.
Also please remember you don’t have to do it alone. Not only am I and all of the Recovered and Restored team cheering for you but find that support. It's ok to need help. We all need help sometimes. Plus there is SO much healing in community. There is no shame in what you're going through and you have not now nor will you ever be a burden.
Below are some resources for where to start if you are considering getting help today.
Other Mental Health Services Offered in PA, NJ, DE, SC, and FL
We offer a wide variety of services related to eating disorder recovery including trauma therapy! We offer Weekly Support Groups, Nutrition Services, and Family and Parent Therapy as well as Coaching, all tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual. We offer our services for Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, and Orthorexia online in New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, and Florida! We are here to offer our support and understanding in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
We have immediate openings right now for eating disorder therapy in:
Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
And recovery coaching worldwide.
Click here to get started with therapy today! : https://www.recoveredandrestoredtherapy.com/.
Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview