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By Nina Martynchyk, a former patient at Ellern Mede who is now an eating disorders awareness campaigner

In many cases, eating disorders aren’t really about food. And recovery is about so much more than meal plans and weigh-ins.

Apart from learning how to have a healthy relationship with food, I believe that recovery from an eating disorder is about learning how to have a healthy relationship with ourselves and the world around us.

In many cases, escaping the grips of an eating disorder isn’t easy and everyone going through the recovery process deserves support from people around them. During my own recovery, I experienced days when things seemed to be getting easier and days when everything seemed to be crumbling. I thought that if I struggled, this meant that there was something wrong with me. I thought that I would have a light bulb moment and suddenly I would be one of those enlightened people who are fully ‘at one’ with the world and meditate all day and if this didn’t happen then I was simply a waste of space, things would never get easier and recovery would never happen.

Although, now I see that this was just my perfectionism finding a way to make me feel bad about myself – again. The truth is that I did have a light bulb moment, although there were many after that as well. In my case, recovery was a process. Some days, weeks, months were easier and then I would struggle again. Then there would be another light bulb moment and recovery would become easier again. I recently travelled to India to stay in an Ashram. I found this helped me become more in touch with the world around me (even if I did sleep through the 5 am meditation sessions). But I am certainly not enlightened and I have realised that enlightenment is definitely not necessary for me to enjoy life. I can now see that it is a very unrealistic goal to set myself.

My recovery process revolved around learning how to cope with trauma I had experienced, without resorting to restricting my food or trying to gain a sense of control over my external circumstances through my diet. I had to learn that my depression and pain could be managed through therapy and by utilising the support of those around me, instead of internalising all the anger and hatred I felt due to what had happened to me in my life and turning that on to myself.

Losing my mum at a young age means that there is probably always going to be a sense of loss in my life. Although, as I become more comfortable with feeling unpleasant emotions such as grief, I am also more comfortable experiencing emotions that I previously felt I didn’t deserve to feel, such as joy and happiness. The truth is that we can’t always control what goes on around us and what happens to us. Yet, with support, it is possible to learn to manage pain without resorting to punishing ourselves.

External circumstances do not have to be perfect for someone to embark on a journey of recovery. That having been said, every person needs to feel adequately supported and safe when they are going through this process. I firmly believe that it is important that the person recovering is as open as possible with people whom they trust to enable them to access the support they need. Developing an eating disorder isn’t a choice, but everyone firmly deserves to utilise and access all the help which they can. I have also found that sometimes the best support doesn’t always come from the places one expects.

Recovery is about internalising the fact that we deserve to unconditionally love ourselves. It’s about leaving our eating disorder to fully partake in the world that is beyond its walls. It involves becoming ok with the fact that sometimes life gets better and then gets harder but things never stay bad forever. Essentially, recovery is about coming home to ourselves.