triggers.

This past week I had a good conversation with someone about triggers and eating disorders. It made me realize (for the umpteenth time!) just how different everyone’s journey with an ED can be. There is no one set of symptoms that everyone shares. There is no meal plan that works for everyone. There is no list of triggers that affect everyone the same way. There is no singular means of recovery. There is no one way to heal. And I think that’s one of the reasons eating disorders are often under-diagnosed and misunderstood.

Whenever I post about my own experiences (as I recently did here), I want to stress that this is my journey that I am sharing — it is not and should not be yours. My main purpose in sharing my story is to encourage understanding and increase empathy among people without eating disorders/mental illness, and, for those with mental illness, to remind you that you are not alone, that God loves you, and that there’s a space for you in the church body.

jevgenij-voronov-63310-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Jevgenij Voronov on Unsplash

I believe that one of the most important things that each person with an eating disorder should do in their road to recovery is to figure out what hinders and what helps them. After being in ongoing recovery for over half of my life, this process comes much easier now than it did in the early stages — in which everything can be triggering.

Here is what my list looked like in the early stages:

HELPS

  • keep track of what I consume in a food diary so that I receive enough calories
  • crafts/other busy work
  • therapy

HINDERS

  • weighing myself
  • working out
  • cooking/spending time in the kitchen
  • meal planning
  • dietary restrictions (e.g. being a vegetarian, etc.)

It was NOT a list I created, but it was what my doctors prescribed, so I went with it. And you know what? It didn’t work. I didn’t move forward. If anything, I fell further behind in my recovery. I lost weight rather than gained it — plummeting from 108 lbs at 5′ 6″ (which is what I weighed when I was first diagnosed) to 98 lbs. My depression and anxiety increased. And I had trouble finding the will to do anything at all.

So, eventually, I quit therapy. I quit meeting with my nutritionist. And I concentrated on figuring out what was best for me and my recovery. I am not in ANY way trying to tell others what to do as I write this. If therapy works for you, then that is great! I just knew it was doing the opposite for me, so I had to make some changes. I share this so that you can be encouraged in your own ongoing recovery. That you find the strength to figure out what works best for you in your journey.

Here is what my list looks like now (15+ years later):

HELPS

  • working out and aiming to stay in a healthy weight range — not ONE target weight
  • cooking/spending time in the kitchen
  • meal planning
  • being a vegan
  • exposing myself to diverse body sizes (especially those my age!)

HINDERS

  • keeping track of what I consume in a food diary (VERY BAD FOR ME)
  • therapy/nutritionists
  • spontaneity (especially when it comes to food-related things)
  • fashion magazines/photos of thin (especially prepubescent) bodies
  • movies about eating disorders (I am very visually-triggered)
  • buying clothes that I don’t love on my body but thinking ONE DAY I will. I no longer force myself to buy stuff without sleeves or bikinis, and I have found such freedom

As you can see, my list has radically changed. And that is okay! It should change as we evolve in our ongoing recovery. Again, this is MY list. What triggers me might not be an issue for you, and vice versa.

The goal is to spend time with yourself and get to know what choices you can make that will move you forward.

There is no one way to have an eating disorder; there is no one way to recover. The important thing is that you keep going.


If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience, either by writing a guest post, or doing an interview with me. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.

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